The Mommy Wars are alive and well. In the latest skirmish, the attack is squarely on the most womanly of arts: breast-feeding. Harvard historian Jill Lepore fires the first volley in the January issue of The New Yorker. "Is human milk an elixir, a commodity, a right?" she asks. Apparently, it has been all three and more, including a weapon of terrorism and life-saving medication:
Can a woman carry containers of her own milk on an airplane? Before the summer of 2007, not more than three ounces, because the Transportation Security Administration classed human milk with shampoo, toothpaste, and Gatorade, until a Minneapolis woman heading home after a business trip was reduced to tears when a security guard at LaGuardia poured a two-day supply of her milk into a garbage bin. Dr. Ruth Lawrence, of the breast-feeding committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, promptly told the press, "She needs every drop of that precious golden fluid for her baby"; lactivists, who often stage "nurse-ins," sent petitions; and the T.S.A. eventually reclassified human milk as "liquid medication."
The breast vs. bottle battle is not new, as Lepore's fascinating history of breast-feeding points out. In the mid-18th century, wet nurses abounded; as many as 95 percent of Parisian women hired servants to breast-feed their babies. A few decades later, breast-feeding was back. Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles) waxed rhapsodically about the "milky fountain, the source of such variety and happiness." Almost as quickly as the cult of true womanhood extolled the virtues of the breast, civilized American women at the turn of the 20th century decided their milk was drying up. Wet nurses were replaced with milk banks, which facilitated the medicalizing ...1