A few weeks ago, MIT held a hackathon to improve the breast pump. I am sure that I am not the only woman cheering about this as there is near-universal agreement that breast pumps are awful. Loud, uncomfortable, bulky. I always think of cows when I use mine.
I have breast-fed both of my kids, and I have loved it, with the exception of using the breast pump, of course. At my previous job, we had a space for pumping. Our office was family friendly and forward-thinking, and it was assumed that new moms would be pumping. I had it good.
The space that we had for pumping was a combination shower/toilet/changing area. The space was meant for people who exercised either before or after work, and it often smelled like the locker room for a football team. You didn’t want to touch anything in there, especially the occasional damp towel or T-shirt thrown on the floor. Still, it had a sink where we could wash our pump parts, and the room was usually unoccupied when I needed to use it. The door locked with a dead-bolt. I lived in constant fear that I would forget to lock it and be found by a football player/wrestler/weight-lifter. Not that anyone in our office participated in those activities. Regardless, the mortification would force me to resign.
Still, I believe that I had it good. My office wasn’t required at the time to provide a space for pumping or to give me time to do so.
While I’m grateful that the breast pump will be improved for future moms, I think that we’re circumventing the real issue.
There has been a huge push for women to breast-feed. A main component of this campaign has been educating women about the benefits of breast-feeding, particularly how breast milk provides the best nutrition for a baby. The assumption is that every woman would breast-feed if only she knew how good it was for her baby. The assumption is that women are ignorant.
Here is why women quit breast-feeding or don’t even start: Our country makes it incredibly difficult to breast-feed. Yes, in some cases, a woman physically can’t breast-feed. Most of the time, the problem is logistics. Pumping takes time, which means a woman has to either arrive early at work or stay late. Then she has to deal with the cleaning and sterilizing of pump parts and bottles every night. It is hugely time-consuming. And small businesses aren’t even required to provide time and space for pumping.
If our country considered the health of babies and new mothers important, we would have paid maternity leave. We don’t. We’re right on par with Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea. Leaders, all of us!
Wow! I got pretty fired up on my soap box there, huh? Anyway, this is all to say that I’m a big advocate of breast-feeding, which means I’m a big advocate of paid leave. Babies love boobs. Breast pumps really don’t. I guarantee that breast-feeding rates would leap if we had six months of paid leave. Let’s stop shaming women for our regressive health policies.