(*Note: this post was written months ago while I was still working, when more pumping sessions we’re relevant to my lifestyle. Fortunately that has changed, but the insight I got during that time is still very relevant to both myself, and the cows).
It’s 4am and the white noise machine barely covers the mechanical hum drum of my breast pump. I’m sitting on the couch trying not to disturb my husband or sleeping baby. It’s strange, choosing to be awake at this time of night when sleep is a rare luxury these days, but since I’ve returned to work, I want to make sure Miles has a good supply of milk in the freezer for the days I’m not here to nurse him.
My nipples are sore from being tugged on by a machine in the middle of the night and as I watch my milk drip one tiny drop at a time, hoping to get at least 5 ounces this time, the only thing that is keeping me going is the love I have for that tiny little human I created. If it weren’t for him, Lord knows I would be face down, drooling puddles on my pillow (now that I can finally sleep on my stomach again!).
The interesting thing is, it really is literally love that keeps me going.. Oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone” is what helps us mammals to lactate. Many working mothers who pump bring pictures and videos or even a onesie that smells like their baby, to help them lactate while pumping at work. That’s because it’s hard to get oxytocin flowing when you’re in a cold room, with your co-workers voices echoing down the hall, and your baby nowhere in sight. While breastfeeding, you have your little one right there helping those hormones flow – skin to skin contact, hearing him cry and whine out of hunger, watching him work for the right latch – all of these things are biology on our side. Hum drums and co-workers and cold closets are not. But one thing we bring with us into that pumping closet is our love for our babies, so one way or another, we get the milk flowing.
We’re not the only ones who produce milk, as I’m sure you’re aware. Every mammal does. And just like us, oxytocin is essential to milk let down for them too. Farmers know this. That’s why it’s good cow-milking practice to stimulate the teat for a few minutes before the milking process. The stimulation increase oxytocin. There’s a stimulate teat setting on my pump, too.
But the big difference between my pump and the cow’s pump is that I willingly hooked myself up to this machine. I am choosing to sacrifice time, sleep, and comfort for my baby. Cows (and goats and sheep) don’t get to take their babies’ used blanket to the pumping room with them while scrolling through last night’s impromptu photo shoot on their iPhone. In fact, their babies are torn away from that just days after their birth, usually for humans to consume as meat.
Cows are extremely emotional beings. Their love and dedication for their babies is not far from mirroring the love we have for our own. There have even been reports of mama cows hiding their offspring from farmers, knowing from experience that if they’re caught, they’ll never see them again. Cows who have been separated and later reunited with their babies can be seen very vocally celebrating the reunion.
But these other mammals – because of their lack of voices and thumbs – have their babies torn away from them and are forced to pump milk so we can haphazardly use it in our cereal, coffee and feed it to our own babies without even thinking twice about its source or the turmoil it may have caused that family unit. With an often misunderstood and vastly underestimated capacity for emotions, cows, sheep, goats and other milk producing farm animals have hormones just like ours that cause attachment and protectiveness and rage. They have milk that flows when their babies are hungry and nipples that need stimulating when their babies are not nearby, just like us.
As a decade long vegetarian, breastfeeding my own baby has forced me to take a long, hard look at the dairy industry and decide once and for all not to support an industry that makes it money by tearing babies away from milk-producing moms.