This picture does cause your jaw to drop, doesn’t it? Time Magazine has successfully sensationalized breastfeeding and likely set a movement back for society’s acceptance of extended breastfeeding by years.
A friend on Facebook commented: “I think the shock value of the photo is not really a clear depiction of breastfeeding…it’s like they dressed the woman up all sexy, then dressed the boy like a little man to make it have a sexual context…when in reality, breastfeeding is not like that at all…but really, nature made us that way.”
My about-to-be-three year old daughter has gradually weaned herself over the past 6 months and it’s been a very natural and easy transition. (And I have to admit there were a few times when she did stand on a chair because she wanted a few moments of mama time and mama was busy folding the laundry.) I usually politely explained to her that we would save that for later. It also became a bit embarrassing while changing out of our swim suits at the Y after swim lessons and she was standing on the bench reaching for me!
I am familiar with Dr. Sears and I understand the theories behind “Attachment Parenting” and I engage in what some would consider to be practices of Attachment Parenting. But for me, however, the term Attachment Parenting is a new word for an old concept and I don’t feel the need to label my parenting as such. I didn’t need a theory of parenting to tell me that an infant will want to breastfeed, possibly into the toddler years. I didn’t need a theory to tell me that an infant will want to sleep close to her mother or be carried by her mother or other caregivers. (Co-sleeping and “baby-wearing” are behaviors that people who align themselves with Attachment Parenting see as being outside the range of normal parenting practices and thus fall under a term that defines new behaviors.)
For me, parenting has been an intuitive process. I look at the animal kingdom and at primates in particular. Does an orangutan mother ask her baby orangutan to sleep in a neighboring tree? No. And why not? Because babies are dependent on their caregivers and form attachments with them in order to survive. “Teaching” a baby to sleep independently is a behavior that we as a western culture have imposed upon our children for the sake of convenience. The individualistic society that we live in socializes children to become independent more quickly and for mothers to separate from their babies and toddlers sooner than is biological or developmentally appropriate.
Other cultures have been practicing the behaviors defined under Attachment Parenting for thousands of years. Look to any culture other than the U.S. or Europeand you will find mothers carrying babies on their backs, families sleeping together and toddlers nursing—perhaps even from a woman who is not her mother. Few societies have houses large enough for each child to have their own room. It’s only been in the past 100 years and in the more “developed” countries that every child having their own room starting at birth has become the norm. It is the way that we have socialized our children in response to wealth and an individualistic society versus a collectivistic society.
Breastfeeding past the age of three is not uncommon in many places around the world. It’s only in the U.S.that babies are encouraged to sleep through the night at an early age or to sleep in a separate room from his or her mother. (For a good research article on the biological importance of co-sleeping read Kathy Dettwyler’s research in this area.) In today’s Euro-American society, parenting has changed to fit the lifestyles of people who work, who want independence from their babies earlier, and who own homes with multiple rooms.
Finally, in a related post on baby led weaning, there is a photo taken of my child nursing during her weaning months. It’s a natural act. I neither promoted her nursing nor rejected it. In one comment about this post a woman writes:
“A sweet, relaxed photo. This is the one that should’ve been on the cover of Time!”
I take that as a complement because it says that this is the type of behavior that should be depicted for the world to see, not an overblown image that does not depict reality and which will ultimately do what the media generally does: Alter one’s perception of reality and distort it in a way so as to negatively affect one’s opinion about a social issue (such as relationships, body image, etc.). I mean really? How many super-thin, hot women are standing around breastfeeding while their toddlers stand on short chairs? Breastfeeding at that age is usually reserved for soothing a fussy, hurt, tired or tantruming child. It is also used as a nightly ritual for calming and connecting to one’s child. But how many people who view the image but don’t read the article are going to understand that extended breastfeeding (with “extended” being culturally defined) is becoming more accepted rather than less? None.
Shame on you Time Magazine.
I hope Time Magazine’s depiction of extended breastfeeding has not marred the general public’s opinion of something which is normal and natural. In addition, I am more than slightly appalled at Time Magazine’s tongue-in-cheek byline of “Good Enough Mother.” Breastfeeding is not a competition. It’s an individual choice as to how long one breastfeeds, under what circumstances and for what reasons. It’s shaming to those mothers and fathers who are rearing their babies in a manner that may be well thought out and who have solid justifications for their choices.