The XX Factor

Thanks For the Pump Room, But No Thanks

I realize I should be thrilled that Obama issued a memo yesterday asking for new guidelines for executive branch employees who are nursing mothers. After all, it is a fact of life these days that mothers sometimes go back to work while they are still nursing and the least they can ask for is some sympathy from their employers and a private room. I was grateful for both of those things, although they did not fundamentally alter the misery of pausing to hook myself up to a milking machine in the middle of a busy workday.

Still, I can’t help but think that these displays of devotion to the breastfeeding mother send us entirely on the wrong track when dealing with the problem of the working mother. The idea is absurd, for example, for a whole host of professions: bus driver, waitress, kindergarten teacher. But it is only slightly less absurd for the rest of us, who can more easily take breaks when we need to. In an ideal world, a mother or father would be home a decent amount of time (six months to a year) and then be able to return to work, pump free.

But we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world in which women get paltry maternity leaves and then are still expected, based on not all that convincing evidence , to breastfeed as long as humanly possible. So thanks Obama, but why put the onus back on us? If you really think breastfeeding is all that important, then help create a world where we can do it at home, not in a stuffy closet at work.