Have We Become Our Own Wet Nurses?

by Kate on March 19, 2021

I was reading an article in the New Yorker about breastfeeding and was stunned at the idea that we, as mothers, may becoming our own wet nurses because of the preference of pumping over breastfeeding.  As a mother who had difficulty with breast feeding because my milk had trouble traveling down my milk ducts to get to my baby, I relied on whatever means possible to give my baby the best that I could.  While formula ultimately became my only option, I find it disheartening to hear about the continued controversy over formula versus breastfeeding.  And now with pumping added to the mix… oiy!

Clearly the nutrients in breast milk are vastly superior to anything that can be manufactured, however, this argument seems to had led to unfortunate consequences.  Here in California, lactation consultants reinforce the practice of breastfeeding to the point of being pushers.  While I applaud the effort, I feel like their emphasis is misplaced.  Instead of reinforcing the notion that breastfeeding is as much about human connection as giving nutrients, the focus on breast milk has not made things better for the baby or the mother.

What a great pity that mothers are being encouraged to do themselves out of what must surely be the most important job in the world, raising the next generation.   Children are being given over to the often very capable hands of day care workers and nannies with bottles of expressed milk.  Capable but can we really say they have the same amount of time and attention needed to fully attune to the new baby.  Breast feeding is about more than giving nutrients to the infant, it is about attunement and bonding.  The first year of a baby’s life is so crucial and so much is now known about the impact of attunement and attachment on infants and the impact of neuronal development.  It’s strange that in a society that is gung ho about the academic development of children so little attention is paid to the all important emotional development which creates stability later on in life.  Surely bonding with mom, more than flash cards and tutors at the age of three, is setting them up for the ability to attend and learn later on.

Not to mention the headache attached to pumping.  Breasts fill and must be drained on a schedule.  The horror stories I’ve heard about women heading off to an icky restroom to pump for 15 minutes is shocking.  I mean would you feed your baby a sandwich in a restroom?   And as for the office restroom, it is dare I say humiliating to be hooked up to a pump like Bessie the cow and have your co-workers come in!  Some offices do have lactation rooms, which is a start, but again that skirts the issue.

I am absolutely not against a mom choosing to return to work after having a baby nor am I opposed to pumping.  What I am opposed to is the lack of discussion around all of the consequences of the myriad choices we mothers have.  Long term consequences.  I feel that, as a society, we should be discussing the effect of day care and nannys as well as breast milk when we discuss what is best for baby.  If we conduct experiments and studies on breast milk, shouldn’t we pay the same attention to the choice to contract out raising our children?

photo credit: Raphael Goetter

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