Have you read the article on breastfeeding in this month’s Atlantic? Dramatically titled “The Case Against Breast-feeding,” it isn’t an anti-breastfeeding treatise at all but a critical examination of modern breastfeeding culture, which, according to the author, rests on decades of specious research and can, in some cases, lead to the virtual enslavement of the mothers it’s taken society even more decades to “liberate” from their gender roles. What the author, Hanna Rosin, says about breastfeeding culture–that it has become the line in the sand that divides mothers everywhere–is true, but what she says about its role in working women’s lives struck me as dangerously one-sided itself.
The article presented facts and observations that had me both nodding and shaking my head, but the one paragraph that really stood out did so because when I read it I felt its implications in the pit of my stomach. Addressing breastfeeding while working–something I’m going to at least attempt starting next week–Rosin writes:
“The debate about breast-feeding takes place without any reference to its actual context in women’s lives. Breast-feeding exclusively is not like taking a prenatal vitamin. It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way. Let’s say a baby feeds seven times a day and then a couple more times at night. That’s nine times for about a half hour each, which adds up to more than half of a working day, every day, for at least six months. This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is “free,” I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It’s only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.”
Okay, I get what she’s saying and, yes, breastfeeding is a serious time commitment, but does it really “guarantee that [breastfeeding mothers] will not work in any meaningful way”? I sure hope not. And I have to believe it’s not true either, otherwise what’s the use in even trying, right?
I’ll agree that breastfeeding while working will certainly make things harder–typing with one hand comes immediately to mind as I support my nursing son with the other–but it’s just one among many adjustments all new parents (yes, men too) must make. Breastfeeding is a commitment, but so is driving a child to and from daycare before and after work.Of course having a child complicates having a career, but then who ever had a baby and expected life to simplify?
Where I take issue with the article here is its judgement that no “meaningful” work can be done by a breastfeeding mother. Not only is that discouraging to those of us who are going to try, but it’s dismissive of the millions of women who are successful at balancing those two parts of their lives. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible, and to say it is does a disservice to everyone out there who has made the hard choice to make a go of it in the first place. Returning to work after having a baby is hard for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is feeling like we’re up against the impossible before we’ve even started. What we don’t need is anyone telling us it can’t be done or that, if we somehow manage to pull it off, we’re less valuable because of it.