Sorry, you want me to massage my boobs for 21 hrs a week to bring back milk supply?
Op-Ed: In response to the Washington Post piece on ‘re-lactating’ during a crisis. AKA a step backwards for modern motherhood.
The last month has without a doubt been the most stressful time in recent history for working mothers in the US. I know because I am one of them. I am currently sheltering in place at home in San Francisco with a 3 year old, an 18 month old, a baby bump that is due any day now, all while working to launch a company, Bobbie. And I know my situation is not unique. Pressure is mounting from all angles as working moms turn corners into makeshift offices as stability unravels all around us. Many of us are now breadwinners, made-to-order chefs for endless mealtimes, homeschool teachers, housekeepers, master negotiators, lullaby DJs, and Zoom extraordinaires, all in a day’s work.
So you can imagine my outrage when a recent Washington Post article encouraged moms to use ‘the greatest asset they have during this pandemic- time’ to tether themselves to a breast pump and spend almost 3 hours a day to beg their dried up milk glands to desperately start creating breast milk again. How utterly absurd.
They call it ‘re-lactating.’ I call it a giant leap backwards for modern motherhood and lack of understanding of the reality we’re all managing. Re-lactating requires a mom to hand massage and pump for at least 21 hours a week, and studies online show that it is usually only successful with the help of a professional lactation consultant by your side, literally squeezing your boobs for you. To me, that’s a complete 180 from social distancing.
You see, the emotional hurdle is already difficult enough for women who have to, or choose to, stop breastfeeding and turn to formula in the first place. The guilt comes from all angles: social media, family, friends and perhaps the heaviest of all- the internal guilt we feel for not meeting our own expectations of exclusively breastfeeding. The last thing moms under intense pressure and stress need during a global pandemic, is an additional layer of mom guilt for not trying to recreate the breast milk their body naturally stopped making or they chose to stop producing. Or worse-off, trying to re-lactate, only to feel like a failure all over again when your pancaked boobs still run dry.
Can you imagine a culture that would ask fertility-challenged men to spend four hours a day attached to a machine in hopes it might recreate their sperm count? It would never happen. Why is this such a casual recommendation for working moms? Because we are constantly being fed messages like these that perpetuate our best is never enough; that even trying to breastfeed once is now no longer enough.
We need to stop focusing so myopically on solely creating breast milk above all else as it ignores the millions of other circumstances that define a feeding journey for mom and baby. Let’s be honest. Not every parent has boobs, others have gone through trauma. Some can’t create enough milk. Others don’t have a supportive job that allows for pumping all day. Some women are on medication that doesn’t allow them to, some are too tired from keeping the family afloat. Or god forbid, she just doesn’t want to., but they are happening to the silent majority, more than 80%, of moms in the US. There is no reason to be shamed for the feeding choices we’ve made. In fact, in times like this, women need more choices than ever.
While I recognize that the current formula shortage is scary and it is real, the pressure of a formula shortage should never become a burden to moms. The pressure should be put on the formula industry to evolve and become more reliable for parents. I’m hoping the company I am building, Bobbie, can be a part of that change where reliability is equally as important as quality.
I know this re-lactation piece was not speaking to ALL moms BUT by teasing a hail Mary concept to a national audience of moms around a topic as emotional as breastfeeding only ignites false hope. In reality it’s a moonshot opportunity for those who have the time and energy, which is not the majority of modern moms.
This pandemic has demonstrated the responsibility that we all have in moving the feeding conversation forward, making alternatives more accessible and affordable, and removing the undue pressure of a ‘one size fits all’ concept. We should be supporting each other with compassion, not pressure, and have unwavering confidence in however we choose to feed our babies.
Moms can do anything, but we can’t do everything. And that’s ok.
Laura Modi is the CEO & Co-Founder of bobbie, a VC backed baby company launching a premium, grass fed baby formula on the US market — and fighting the stigma, one story at a time. bobbie has not yet launched. Documenting from concept to creation, Laura and the team will be sharing the journey behind bobbie.