Hey TIME, this is what extended breastfeeding REALLY looks like.
I just read the recently published TIME article, “The Man Who Remade Motherhood,” which is an interview with Dr. Bill Sears, father of what you might call modern-day Attachment Parenting philosophy. My thoughts on the article itself and on dear old Dr. Bill can be found in my comments in response to Michelle’s post from earlier today, “Do Labels Divide Us?”
There is less internet buzz over the article itself, or even about the attachment parenting issues it covers, than discussion about the cover of TIME that accompanies the article: a 26-year-old gorgeous blonde, tanned mom, wearing skinny jeans, a tank top and a defiant look, breastfeeding her 3-year-old son (who looks closer to 4). Notably, the child is perched on a small chair and wears a noticeably “big boy” outfit, consisting of military fatigue pants, sneakers and a long-sleeve gray top, latched on to Mom’s left breast as he gazes nonchalantly toward the camera. Mom has her hand on her hip and her knee slightly bent as she and her child clearly pose for a staged shot.
Have you ever seen a real mom really extended breastfeed? Not just in the privacy of one’s own home (while visiting a relative or close friend, perhaps), but perhaps out in public at a park, a store, a meeting? Depending on who your friends are and the kinds of places you tend to frequent, I’m guessing your answer to this is probably not. But attend a La Leche League meeting, a natural childbirth class, or any kind of “crunchy” community, and you may run into a mom like TIME’s cover mom nursing a child who is one, two, three years old, or older. You may also meet moms nursing their small babies, without a cover or even a nursing top. I have experienced both. I have to say, it’s not in the least bit weird if you consider that making milk is what breasts are made to do … the sexual aspect of the breast that seems to predominate in this country is, well, absent in the act of breastfeeding. That’s how I feel anyway.
Still, the image of a toddler or preschooler breastfeeding — particularly in an overly posed shot like on the TIME cover — is jarring to many. Sadly, this is because our society views breasts as sex objects, and considers breastfeeding to be a private act that is best left at home, or at the very least, requires special rooms and clothing and cover-ups for both modesty and privacy’s sake. But when we talk about the alleged need for “modesty” and “privacy,” we are really talking about society’s collective failure to recognize the irrationality of our squeamishness over the breast. This is tragic, because this attitude forces mothers to choose between nursing in private, however restricting, or relying on formula for the sake of being out and about with the rest of society, despite the clear medical evidence supporting the importance of breastfeeding and the benefits of continuing the nursing relationship throughout infancy. While the squeamish may gently suggest that mom pump her milk and use a bottle for the sake of decency, my response to this is that not every mom gets the hang of the pump, or wants to use the pump. In short, if it’s easier for mom to nurse in public than to pump or just stay home or in a special room, you’re hard pressed to come up with a reason for her not to do so.
So back to the toddler nursing. Admittedly, I was once one of those people who said that if a kid is old enough to ask for it, it’s kind of creepy. Flash forward to today, when I now have an adorable 21-month-old who, even now at 38 weeks along in my next pregnancy, demands to “nurse mommy, on the couch now” and then begs for the “other side!” Creepy? Not to me. Do I do it in public? No, but not out of shame or worry about how others feel. Once my daughter began drinking whole milk, we started giving that to her while she was at daycare, and now our nursing sessions are naturally limited to evenings and overnights when no one is around. I will admit that when she first became a squirmy baby who would frequently unlatch, leaving my breast exposed momentarily, I did have my moments of “oh geez, better cover up!” But no one said anything to me when this happened in public, and if anyone did, they would have gotten an earful from me!
I hope that TIME readers can see past the unnecessary drama of this issue’s cover and see something else: that breastfeeding a child — whether for one week or one year, whether a baby or a kid ready to start kindergarten, whether at the mall or in the seclusion of one’s bedroom — is healthy, natural, and an act of love.
In short … hey TIME … this is what extended breastfeeding REALLY looks like: