20 Dec 2018

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This  photograph, of a model posing wearing expensive brand name clothes and diamonds while she is pumping milk, is promoted as fierce mothering in the 21st century. As a mother who first gave birth in 1975, I think of mothering as a relationship; if she was breastfeeding her baby while wearing all this high-end gear, I would be happy. Seeing this photograph captioned as mothering makes me confused and sad.

In the 21st century USA, it is common for mothers to work, with 23% of them returning to jobs within 2 weeks of giving birth.  Many households today require two salaries; few companies offer any paid maternity leave. The country as a whole does not. Some women want to keep their career. Options abound for taking care of the baby: hire an au pair or a nanny or a wet nurse, or pay for a childcare program, or leave the baby with family. Women can continue to provide their milk while at work.

A mother pumping at work is doing two jobs, the one for which she is paid, and the unpaid one for which she sacrifices effort and time. In some cases pumping at work requires legal assistance, as not all employers are able or willing to provide a clean, non-toilet space with an outlet and a door that can lock from the inside. She is doing this to keep her connection with her baby, and to give her baby the best milk.

Also in the 21st century USA, breastfeeding mothers are cautioned against bed-sharing, the one evidence-based practice that makes longer breastfeeding duration easy and possible. Mothers and babies can breastfeed in their sleep. This bed-sharing campaign is becoming increasingly sophisticated, with a prominent physician giving guidance on how to navigate between the truth (that bed-sharing extends breastfeeding, and that breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS) and the risks of unsafe bed-sharing so that babies will sleep on a separate sleep surface from their mothers.

There is no plan to teach families about safe bed-sharing, another viable option. There is no recognition of the fact that when bed-sharing is dangerous, babies risk dying. ALL bed-sharing is lumped together as dangerous, and the nationwide recommendation is not to bed-share.

When then, do mothers get to be with their babies? They are up early to get ready to go to work, perhaps nursing and/or pumping one more time. Then they put their baby somewhere and go to work, away for many hours. They leave work to go get the baby and return home (except for the ones that are lucky or wealthy enough to have in-home childcare). They aren’t supposed to sleep with their babies.

Out of 24 hours then, a mother might be with her baby for two or three hours. For most of the day, the baby is being cared for by someone else.

How then, can the fundamental relationship of our species, that of mother and baby, even develop, much less be maintained?  With whom will the baby form relationship?

Young women seeing pictures of this model pumping, and possibly experiencing their own mothers being away at work for much of their own childhoods, will think that this normal, and is the best a mother can do. In one aspect, it is. But in another, how can an image of mothering be boiled down to being the one who provides the milk when others are providing the relationship, the close contact that human infants require for most of the day?

Paid maternity leave would add one more important choice for mothers. So would a safe bed-sharing campaign, like the Safe Sleep 7, promoted by La Leche League.

What do you think?




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