Who would have thunk it? Every time I think I've got a handle on the myriad facets of modern parenting culture, another subculture or mini-trend comes along I knew nothing about. Thankfully, this one doesn't seem like it's riven by the internecine animosity and sneering media coverage that accompany most stories about the individual choices made by various mothers or fathers.
An article in Babble explores the phenomenon of "exclusive pumping" -- "EP-ing" for the in crowd -- wherein mothers "breast-feed" their children minus the breasts. Apparently, as breast milk gains currency as the liquid gold for our children's health, some women who find nursing difficult, impossible or simply distasteful have settled on feeding their children exclusively from pumped milk. There is even a Yahoo group of exclusive pumpers called Pumping Moms and a message board on iVillage.
The article gives voice to several mothers who have made this choice, including Jennifer Laycock, aka the Lactivist, who's about as big a booster of breast-feeding as there is. Their stories offer a testament to how committed many women have become to nourishing their children with breast milk even when they don't breast-feed and how even the slightest deviance from the La Leche 24/7 breast-bonding tenure requires clarification and even justification. The article also interviewed Dr. Ruth Lawrence, a breast-feeding expert, who suggests that breast milk in a bottle is superior to formula, though breast-feeding gives the baby useful physiological jaw-developing exercise that a bottle can't. Lawrence also notes that bottle feeding usually leads to overfeeding. What's more, bottled breast milk -- which mixes lower-fat foremilk with high-fat hind milk -- may not give babies the same lesson in moderating consumption that breast-feeding naturally teaches.
That many mothers end up "exclusively pumping" -- because of work schedules or a baby's nipple aversion or painful nipples or sickness or bad advice from dismissive doctors -- struck me as not terribly surprising. What did raise an eyebrow is that some women chose pumping over breast-feeding because having a baby sucking on their tit was "creepy." Is this a sign that society has so oversexualized the breast that women can't enjoy a good suckle without feeling like perverts? That may be one interpretation, but I would also posit that as we become increasingly comfortable interacting with machines, some of us may find intensely visceral experiences to feel weird and unnatural.
The one thing that was inspiring about this article and the discussions it spurred is that no one succumbed to the narcissism of small differences and implied that one mother was better than another because of her decision to whip out a bottle instead of a breast.