Do my boobs make me incompetent?

Howdy, friends.

Working full-time while raising two young children sometimes makes me feel like I’m doing a half-hearted job at everything I do.

When I’m home with the kids, I’m often checking my work email, or thinking about work.

When I’m at work, I’m answering calls from daycare, making calls to the pediatrician and obsessing over how much I miss my kids (though that feeling goes away within 30 seconds of the first post-work toddler tantrum).

It can definitely feel like I’m always failing someone or something — the house is a mess, a story wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, dinner isn’t exactly homemade, my attention isn’t 100 percent anywhere, ever.

So I’ve always felt grateful that I am able to, at least, breastfeed my kids. Both of my babies were born early, but luck was on our side, and they were great nursers.

(Just an aside: This isn’t a slam on moms who choose not to breastfeed. I do it because I’m cheap, it burns calories, and, did I mention, I’m cheap? Plus I am way too lazy to make an actual bottle and too forgetful to ever remember to pack one.)

I have felt proud of my ability to provide milk for the kids — for 14 months for Jack, and now, for six months (and going strong) for Genevieve. Being a parent means watching yourself fail in ways big and small every day (and succeed, of course). But I’ve thought – look at that. ONE thing I am good at.

(Aside No. 500: I pumped so much extra milk for my son that when I went through all the frozen bags in our deep-freeze, I found a FROZEN TURKEY in the bottom. Seriously.)

So I was bothered when I read a recent study where researchers discovered that breastfeeding women are seen as less competent.


The three varying double-blind studies, released by Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that women who were described as breastfeeding were rated less competent in general, in math and work specifically, and were less likely to be hired by others, according to S.A.G.E., which published the report.

“What’s surprising is that the results from the study showed that the breastfeeding mother was excluded from a potential job opportunity,” wrote article lead author Jessi L. Smith of Montana State University, “even though none of the women were visibly breastfeeding. We can only speculate that the evidence for bias would be even greater if people were to rate an actual woman engaging in public nursing.”

Which brings me to another recent news development: Tennessee legislators recently lifted a ban on publicly nursing a child older than 12 months. I can’t believe that was even a law in the first place. Don’t people have anything better to do?

I’m trying to understand why someone would think a breastfeeding mom is less competent. Is it because I have to spend time every day at work pumping? By my calculations (read with a grain of salt because apparently I am bad at math, since I am nursing and all), I have pumped at least 264 times at work just since Genevieve was born. And don’t forget pumping usually one more time at home, plus round-the-clock pumping I had to do when she was first born and had some trouble nursing.

That is a LOT of time hooked up to a machine that makes me want to stab my eyes out.

Is it seeing me walk down the hallway at work carrying bottles of human milk that makes me seem less competent? Or that I have to leave at a certain time so I can be home to feed my baby (dear god, please don’t make me pump AGAIN). Is it trying to assess every single work outfit for its ease for pumping or nursing (or machine-washability for spills and spit-ups)?

Is it just that breastfeeding makes me too granola-y for corporate life? Is it just too mom-ish for work? I mean, it’s not like I’m doing it at my desk. Though, I would. I am not shy about nursing in public. And I have never had a single comment about nursing either baby – at the airport, restaurants, parks, wherever. Most people don’t even notice. (Wait, I did have one comment, from my mom, who says breastfeeding is gross. Thankfully I channeled my inner teenager and ignored her – but what if she had been my sole source of information about nursing. Would I have made it this far?)

The study went on to basically say this is unfortunate, and maybe stigmas like this keep women from breastfeeding and can’t we all just learn to get along.

I disagree. I don’t think this stigma (does it even exist?) keeps women from breastfeeding. I think it’s about a billion other things – lack of education, support from partners, workplaces and hospitals (even where we delivered, the neonatologist poo-pooed breastfeeding – thank god we had excellent labor and delivery nurses who fought him and an excellent pediatrician who overruled him and his outdated ideas). I think it’s the pure exhaustion of being the one who has to get up (again) at 2 a.m. There were many nights with both kids when I thought, my god, let someone else feed them. I am dying here. But I was able to stick it out – even through  four bouts of mastitis. Because my husband got up with the baby and the toddler in the morning and let me sleep in a little. Because I didn’t have major nursing issues. Because of serendipity.

If anything, I want to yell, my God, the dedication it takes! To be the sole person who can feed the baby. To spend a ridiculous amount of time strapped to a pump. To alter your diet if your baby has food allergies — I’m going on four months of no dairy here, people! That takes commitment.

The kind of commitment you would think you would want in a coworker.

Happy running.

This entry was posted in Genevieve, Jack, Nursing. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Do my boobs make me incompetent?

  1. Danni says:

    I would expect your co-workers to be more enlightened. And, if the study was done in Montana, well… (ha ha ha).

  2. Erica says:

    Amen, sister!! And thank goodness I don’t live in Tennessee, huh? 🙂

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