The Shaming of Motherhood: Breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting in Time Magazine

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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!

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/cutline/time-breastfeeding-cover-sparks-immediate-controversy-151539970.html

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.

30 comments

  1. Beautiful picture of you breastfeeding, much more typical and wonderful. I don’t know how long I will breastfeed (I’ve made it to 11.5 months so far) but this photo makes me want to stay with it for the long haul.

    1. Hi Andrea – You’ve done a great job so far. Keep it up as long as it works for you. The further out you get the easier it gets, too. They don’t nurse as frequently and they are bigger. Plus, my girl ALWAYS wanted to nurse right away after not seeing me for awhile. I felt so fortunate that we were able to have that connection and that it was comforting to her.

  2. You are so right on!!! I hope your response is emailed and passed along to thousands. If only we praised more in this country it’s sad to see “controversy” over a natural and beautiful thing.

    1. THANK YOU!!! I got up at 5:00 am to write a complete response because I knew today would be a big day for readers to be getting the other side of the story so to speak! I am so encouraged by your comments. Please post on your FB page and email it out if you think it will be helpful! Have a GREAT day!

  3. i agree that yours should’ve been the photo on the cover of time magazine not the current phony baloney one!

  4. This was a great post, even when read by someone who just posted a mild rant on Attachment Parenting. I think you are right that the Time covers sets us back. I have never seen anyone breastfeed like that. If the idea is to remind society how natural breastfeeding can be, why are we making it look as unnatural as possible? Even the little boys posture looks uncomfortable…There is no comparison between your photo and the cover.

    I like the concept of intuitive parenting. My journey didn’t quite go that way, but I prefer the term “intuitive” because it doesn’t have the same concept of “you are or you aren’t” that Attachment Parenting seems to carry.

    Glad I found your blog!

    1. It’s ironic. I’ve never been a fan of the term “Attachment Parenting” yet I do all of the things that attachment parents are propoents of. But I also wonder “who doesn’t want to attach to their child?” I think there are two sides to the coin. On the one hand, people who call themselve attachment parents benefit from it in that they have an identity and they learn some really important parenting skills by being part of that group – It is also something they can relate to. I think it can be very helpful and beneficial in that way. Other the other hand, it can come off as elitist and exclusionary. As a parent, I identify with the tenets of people now call attachment parenting, but I would never put myself in the category of an attachment parent. I’m a parent. Plain and simple. And, as a parent I do everything that I can to prioritize my child’s health and well-being which means that I put her attachment to me and her other caregivers above all else. We know from the research that a child’s attachment to her parents is very predictive of how well she will fare later in life. This is so long that I”m definitely going to have to take this and write a blog post about it! Thanks for reading the post and giving your positive feedback. Perhaps we’ll start our own subculture of Intuitive Parenting! :)

  5. I think this issue of Time magazine highlights that the interests of publications aren’t necessarily to spread news or discuss topics but to sell controversy. I’ve been hearing similar sentiments from moms like you and am glad that for the most part, we’re deciding that enough is enough with this divisiveness. Great photo by the way!

  6. The adversarial nature of the headline, and the staging of the cover photo just makes me think less of Time Magazine. I have no desire to read the Time magazine article. I would like to see your beautiful nonthreatening breastfeeding photo on the cover of a magazine. Perhaps one of Time’s competitors.

  7. I am a slender blonde woman, though rarely sharply dressed, and frankly, my kids have stood on chairs to get some ‘moo-moos’ while I have stood at the sink. My usual nursing position is actually with a kid standing on the ground between my legs while I sit OR while on my front in an Ergo while I type on my shoulder hight laptop station (like right now!)

    I totally appreciate your points, however I find no woman, however dressed or presented, and no child however positioned or wherever the gaze is focused, to be inappropriate when they are breastfeeding. While I found the articles title and byline to be a bit insulting, no image of a mother and child offends or threatens me.

    much love and respect!

    1. Hi Kristin – Thanks for your comments. I think that what you said highlights on of the important issues in this discussion. This first point to be made is that YOU are not offended by the picture of an any pictures of women breastfeeding regardless of what they look like, etc. Sadly, that is not the case for the rest of society. Many people are threatened (or turned off, or disgusted or angered) by women breastfeeding in public. And many more people feel even more strongly about women breastfeeding older children. The picture, if it were ONLY a picture of a breastfeeding woman wouldn’t bother me, regardless of her looks. What bothers me are the blantant sexual undertones of the photo and of the fact that Time Magazine deliberately picked a very provocative photograph of what society has deemed attractive (slim, blond hair) in order to create these sexual undertones. I doubt even a picture of you nursing your babe while preparing dinner would have caused the same stir b/c that picture would have been one that was in a natural context. This picture has no context. It is a photo of a woman and a a man-child sucking on her breast in what is not a typical breastfeeding scenario. (l say man-child because they have deliberately accentuated his height and bulk and dressed him like a young boy. Look at the fatigues – do you think that is accidental? Absolutely not.) The fact that advocates of extended breastfeeders are not offended isn’t surprising. The unfortunate part about this is that most people are shocked and appalled at seeing ANY breast in the media or in public. (Think about Janet Jackson’s little mishap. Seriously, who cares?) Using a sexualized picture of breastfeeding and linking it to AP at the cost of creating a media stir causes people to have strong reactions and to go even further in the direction that we don’t want them to go. We want society to be MORE accepting of breastfeeding in public, not less. By sexualizing it and using a very attractive woman showing her breast (which I could care less about by the way), those who are on the fence about the issue could have the reaction of “Oh, look what those breastfeeders want to do now! They want to pull off their shirts and have their 4 year olds sucking on their breasts in public!” That’s the problem with all of this. It’s not about our (breastfeeders) reaction to this, it’s about the rest of the public and the media’s shameless use of what is a shocking photo for many in order to create a stir. A stir which could set back the work that people do to normalize breastfeeding in public. A picture such of that of me and my daugther IS less threatening. It’s less threatening to those who are threatened or afraid of seeing a breast or of having some reaction to seeing a woman breastfeeding. Furthermore, I would posit that the reason why most people react negatively to public breastfeeding is because the breast is sexualized, not seen as a form of nutrition and therefore if they see a woman breastfeeding in public they are ashamed or embarrased because it’s something that is associated with sex, not babies.

      Respectfully,

      Christina

  8. Kristen, let me clarify, I liked the cover photo. It is more the headline, and the fact Time Magazine is trying to offend people with the photo that bothers me.

    1. Sure! It was just your use of ‘nonthreatening’ to describe the OP’s beautiful nursing photo, which to me implies that the other photo was threatening. no biggie. I have just seen a lot of criticism in this thread and elsewhere about the way they are nursing. “who nurses like that?” “sexy blonde” etc.

  9. Interesting point, Kristen. The cover photo wasn’t threatening to me, I was just reflecting back someone else’s words. You can’t help it if you are a sexy blonde. But when it comes to you, I am more jealous than threatened ;-)

  10. Love this article! Thank you for sharing your story. The media is not interested in in-sensationalizing; it’s against their nature. Change takes real people living their lives in a real way that impacts people on a personal level. You’re doing that. = )

  11. You talk about the sexualization of breastfeeding on the cover of Time, and I really think that’s a valuable thing to take out and examine. In the 70’s and 80’s, few mothers breastfed their children at all, making the decision to breastfeed seem weird, crunchy and frankly unnatural. Fast forward 30 years and all those mothers who never breastfed (not to mention the children like me who were formula-fed from the start) are still around. And many of them (I only exclude myself because I did breastfeed) still think breastfeeding is weird and they wonder (since they have no direct experience of it themselves) if it isn’t somehow a sexual experience and we’re all just doing our best to conceal the fact from them. That is what put that particular image on the cover of a major magazine. That is what we’re up against when we decide to EBF. Then there’s the fact that very few adults in the US were breastfed long enough to remember it and it just seems weird to many, many of us that a kid could grow up with the memory of seeing his mothers boobs on a regular basis.
    But no magazine is going to do a story, interviewing mothers at different stages of breastfeeding, interviewing mothers who remember being breastfed themselves, doing an article about what breastfeeding is really and truly like for those of us who do it. It wouldn’t be controversial. It wouldn’t make everyone write a blog post. They think it wouldn’t sell magazines. Maybe they just haven’t thought of it, I don’t know. I guess I’m just wishing someone would run a primer on what it’s really like for everyone who can’t experience it for themselves, because frankly I think we could all do with a little more education and a little less sensation! I’m glad I found this blog, by the way!

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