I just got out of a meeting with the best and the brightest - a Wharton student. I gave her a general overview of our brand Pippy Sips and flagship product, a breastmilk cooling device. She asked about the general mechanics of pumping and breastfeeding. “Can you breastfeed right into the device?” she wanted to know.
Over the years, I have worked with many college and graduate students from some of the best universities. This isn’t the first time that I have had to provide basic education about breastfeeding and pumping. In fact, the more I think about it, I should start all of these meetings with education.
The Wharton student’s questions were a natural segue into our overall mission at Pippy Sips: increasing the accessibility of pumping. Part of accessibility is education and awareness. The student stated that she had never learned about breastfeeding and that it was not part of her formal (or informal) education. She told me that she was Nigerian, and that when she spends time in Nigeria, breastfeeding is much more commonplace. She stated that women breastfeed everywhere, including church. She proceeded to state, “it’s much more behind the curtain here in the States.”
How do we learn about breastfeeding?
This got me thinking about how people learn about breastfeeding and pumping. Accessibility is about many things, including changes in law and policy and reducing stigma. But it’s also about general knowledge and education. As an entrepreneur in this space, I talk about these subjects all of the time and I continue to be mystified by the lack of knowledge surrounding these subjects.
Naturally, this makes me think about my own experience and how I first learned about breastfeeding. I think about the few times I interfaced with a breastfeeding mother when I was growing up. I most definitely never saw a woman use a breastpump (or even knew they existed). I have one clear childhood memory of a family friend breastfeeding her “oops baby.” She invited me and her older daughter to observe her feeding the baby and held an open forum for our young and naive questions (what does it taste like? Does it hurt? Are there different flavors in each boob?) My mother loved to tell me that each boob made a different flavor (chocolate, strawberry, etc.). This didn’t help my lack of knowledge surrounding these concepts.
I wouldn’t have my own babies until almost 20 years later. And what a shock it was when I first tried to breastfeed. And pump! No one had taught me about either and neither was intuitive. I was heartbroken when my baby couldn’t latch for 6 weeks and I had to attach myself to a pump 8-10 times a day. Most days, both of us were crying. I had thought that breastfeeding was supposed to be “organic” and intuitive. My invalidating thoughts were the only part that seemed to come “naturally.”
A lack of knowledge
And then I think about the “progressive” sex education I had in the Bay Area, California. I remember my young hip teacher with her long wavy hair talking openly about sex, rolling a condom onto a banana and showing us a childbirth video (never forgot those images!). But not one memory of breastfeeding and pumping information…Imagine if I’d seen a video of a woman using a breastpump.
I have not met one person that received formal education in breastfeeding. The best answer I’ve gotten thus far was from a young man who said that he learned about it in “child development.” I’m guessing that he is a very small percentage of the population.
Okay, so if it’s not part of formal education, why don't we learn about it in our daily experiences where there is potential to see breastfeeding IRL? In talking to the Wharton student, I was quickly reminded of the taboo surrounding breasts here in the United States. No matter how utilitarian the breast becomes when breastfeeding, our society always defaults to sex when the breast comes up.
Our brand’s social media advertising often gets taken down for using the word “breast” (AI bots can’t distinguish between a sexual “breast” and the word “breastmilk”). I also recall my own experiences breastfeeding and having my own family members ask me “are you gonna do that here?” or male friends struggling to make eye contact with me. Needless to say, breastfeeding is not widely accepted or SEEN in modern society.
A women’s rights issue
But there is hope. Recent experience has shown me that men want to understand and know more. For the most part, they inherently know it is a women’s rights issue. When I asked young men the most basic questions about breastfeeding (check out our series: Are You Smarter than a Lactator?™), common answers included: “because people should mind their business” or “I believe in women’s rights” or “it would have been helpful to have learned this.” I was pleasantly surprised by this generation’s persistence to support women. My correspondent and I both joked that we didn’t think we would hear the word “stigma” when filming.
I admit this isn’t a great ending. I don’t have a ton of answers. But I will say that I’m on a quest. I want to know how much or little society knows about breastfeeding (and pumping!). Because I know this lack of knowledge contributes to how a lactating mother is treated in the workplace, in the mall, on an airplane, in church, pitching a breastmilk cooling device to investors, at jury duty and all the other places they inhabit.
Knowledge could help to redesign our environment to not feel like it is explicitly designed to work against breastfeeding and pumping. I’m tired of hearing stories about pumping on bathroom floors, tossing out milk because a mom decided to leave her home, being told to “cover up,” etc. Something’s gotta give. At Pippy Sips, we believe pumping should be easier and more accessible for ALL.