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  • Is Breast Milk 'Free' When You Consider the Emotional Labor of Breastfeeding?

    Breastfeeding is a choice many moms make to give their baby the best. But it comes with a cost.
Is Breast Milk 'Free' When You Consider the Emotional Labor of Breastfeeding?
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  • On top of the many breastfeeding and breast milk benefits, many moms choose to breastfeed because it’s a big financial help when you think of the high cost of infant formula. But is it really “free” when you consider the sacrifice moms make?

    Kera Lovell, Ph.D., a university assistant professor, posted this on Twitter: “Someone just told me she had spent roughly 4,866 hours of her life breastfeeding, and that breast milk is only free if we think of women’s time, bodies, and carework as worthless.”

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    Many responded in agreement with Dr. Lovell’s tweet. What it takes to produce breast milk and the toll it takes on women is often mentioned as a footnote, they say. 

    One tweeted in reply: “As a mother of two breastfed babies (15 months for the 1st, 16 months and still going for the 2nd) this statement filled me with instant gratification and rage. In the beginning, nursing was my round the clock ‘job.’ The older they got the harder and less appreciated by society.”

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    “My mom works as a neonatal nurse and she does lactation counseling. The ‘free’ angle was one of her points for convincing mothers who weren’t sure they wanted to do it until I pointed this out to her. Breastfeeding is a totally valid choice, but it ain’t free.”

    “I spent over 52k hours breastfeeding my kids...every minute of every day counts as the woman’s body is making the milk, using intense energy to make every drop. I’ve changed jobs just to feed my babe. The cost is immeasurable. The woman’s body invaluable.”

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    We have written about the invisible load or the emotional labor that moms carry, and it applies to breastfeeding. Because we are the one with breasts, we are the ones at our child’s beck and call. The pressure of breastfeeding as a mom-only job is exhausting, and our husbands or partners need to recognize that we cannot bear the stress alone — we need help.

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    In an article on emotional labor, Gemma Hartley writes in Harper's Bazaar, “It’s frustrating to be saddled with all of these responsibilities, no one to acknowledge the work you are doing, and no way to change it without a major confrontation.” 

    “The belief that women primarily are in charge of and accountable for the emotional climate in the home is still part of the invisible work that women do,” says Rebecca J. Erickson, a sociology professor and researcher at the University of Akron. “And part of the issue about that is that it’s seen as something natural in women as opposed to something that takes time, energy, and skill.”

    Breastfeeding is a mother’s choice, and it takes commitment and dedication. It may be time for us to see that breastfeeding does come with a cost and that it’s actually priceless.

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