Hey TIME, this is what extended breastfeeding REALLY looks like.

May 16, 2012 by

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:

Me and Mackenzie, 21 months.

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Melanie Dunn tries her best to raise a family and nurture a marriage while working as a special education attorney, representing parents of children with disabilities. Her two daughters, a preschooler and a toddler, were born at home two years apart, and breastfed into toddlerhood. She is a mompreneur who loves discussing the intersection of the practice of law with the practice of parenting. Melanie also geeks out over difficult questions of gender roles, employment discrimination, and the challenges faced by parents in the workplace and in the public schools. She is a crunchy mom advocate for attachment parenting who nonetheless dresses up for work everyday.

12 Comments

  1. Love this! I am new to BFing and my daughter hates the cover. I don’t nurse in public out of courtesy for others because I know there are close minded people who will react this way, and the reactions to the TIME cover just confirmed my fears. I often feel like maybe if I looked more like the mom on the cover people wouldn’t mind, but unfortunately, two children were not kind to this mama and so I am stuck in restrooms or the rare nursing room so my daughter can eat.

    • Melanie

      Therese, imagine how many minds you could change if you smash the stereotype this cover is portraying and show people what a real BF mom looks like! I know it can be so hard when you don’t feel like you have the support, however. Good luck on your BF journey and please don’t hesitate to “stop by” here at ctworkingmoms if you ever want to chat about BF in public or related issues!

  2. Christa Allard

    You have so eloquently put into words what I’ve been thinking but didn’t know how to say. Thank you for putting this out there an showing what breast feeding really is about!

    I’d love to speak to you more about extended breast feeding and introducing cow’s milk…let’s chat soon.

    • Melanie

      Yes let’s chat soon … sorry I have not stopped by for a visit, it seems like every day there is something to do and then I nap for an hour or so and stumble around stupidly the rest of the day! Will see you Saturday though!

  3. Michelle

    VERY well said Mel! Bravo!

  4. Meg

    Thank you for this wonderful and honest response to TIME magazine!

  5. bernhardsonbunch

    This was really amazing. Loved it. And I really, really wish Time hadn’t contributed to the already unnecessary controversy about extended nursing. In my opinion, the cover really is in conflict with the whole idea of what AP is about. Not a nurturing photo at all. I personally think yours would have made a better cover! :)

  6. Melanie

    Thanks so much everyone! <3

  7. m.

    yeah, the problem is really that horrible pose on the cover. it was completely done to sell magazines. i really don’t understand why the mom — who actually seems pretty sweet and non-confrontational — agreed to do that pose. way to undermine moms, time magazine. and hooray for extended breastfeeding! or whatever else works for your family!

    • Melanie

      Yep, to sell magazines. It reminds me of that Bravo show “Pregnant in Heels” that I saw today. The maternity concierge was talking to her clients about their decision to have a homebirth, and of course the couple happened to be the weirdest looking and acting people you have ever seen. What better way to make non-mainstream parenting decisions look like something that only bizarre fringey people do? Nice to see you on here by the way, m. ;)

  8. Interesting piece! I’ve just written a piece on the TIME magazine article with a UK perspective. You might want to check it out on my website.

    • Melanie

      Thanks Nicola, and greetings from across the pond. I read your post – tried to leave you a comment but it won’t let me even though I’m logged in. I agree that a new mom may look at these images and see an unattainable standard of perfection that they must achieve.

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