Meet Jessica Shortall, a working mom with a career dedicated to the intersection of business and doing good. As the former Director of Giving for TOMS Shoes, she literally circumnavigated the globe with a breast pump. Pre-order her upcoming book by Abrams, “Work. Pump. Repeat: The New Mom’s Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work,” out Sept. 8.
We seem to be on some sort of mandatory schedule of One Breastfeeding "Controversy" Per Week these days. This week, it's an "uproar" over a Pennsylvania woman who, with her friend's enthusiastic consent, has been nursing her own son and her friend's son for over a year.
I have a bias in this one because I, too, have shared my milk with others. I'm a supporter of the Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin, a life-saving organization that sends donated breast milk to medically fragile and premature babies. So I already come from a place of knowing — scientifically — that safely sharing breastmilk with babies who need it is a really, really good thing. I have been a milk donor in multiple ways —to the Milk Bank, to a neighbor who couldn't physically nurse her newborn son for a short period of time, and to a co-worker who had a dwindling freezer stash and needed some mental relief from worrying about it. Each time I shared this great thing my body was making, I felt an enormous sense of connection to other mothers. I was giving them not just a healthy substance for their babies, but also peace of mind, and I am a huge believer in supporting other mothers whenever we can.
And yet, there's not typically an uproar over women donating breastmilk in a safe way. Why is that? What could possibly be different about nursing a child versus pumping and donating breastmilk? Think hard...think about it...what could it be...?
Ahh, yes: breasts. Literally the only difference is milk coming from breasts rather than via a pump and bottle. The milk is the same, the generosity and sharing are the same, and the consent of both mothers is the same. It's totally fine if we use a piece of farm equipment to get the milk out. The problem is the breasts. It's always the breasts.
Of course it comes down to breasts, because breasts are sexual. Every billboard and movie and magazine tells us so. They are only for consumption by other grownups. Therefore, that woman offering her breast to another woman's baby is creepy and inappropriate.
Doesn't it always seem to come back to our bodies, and what we're "allowed" to do with them? Don't nurse in public. Don't drink coffee while you're pregnant. Breastfeed your baby no matter what the mental health consequences to you. Do, don't, do, don't: the list of instructions to a woman on how she is allowed to use her body related to her baby is long and getting longer.
So here's my last word on it: When we use our breasts to feed babies — biologically ours or otherwise —it is not a sexual act. Everyone: take one big step back from the mamas, and go mind your business.
*The Bump Note:
The FDA cautions parents who are interested in milk sharing to consult a healthcare professional beforehand and make sure they are using screened milk. Using contaminated milk, whether purchased online or from an individual, can lead to the transfer of infectious diseases or chemical contaminants.