It has only been in the last 100 years or so that breastfeeding in public has become a taboo. And it is in western cultures that are based in Puritanic religions where there is a high degree of modesty (think chastity belts). We need to break free from these Puritanical roots and move forward (or backwards as the case may be) and embrace breastfeeding as an act of child-rearing, not as an immoral or impure act that people feel they must avert their eyes from.
Is breast-feeding while in uniform conduct unbecoming to a military mom?
The debate over nursing in public got a new layer recently, when photos taken on an Air Force base began to circulate online. In the series of tasteful professional photos showing beaming moms as they nurse their kids, one jumps out: the photo of two servicewomen with their uniform shirts unbuttoned and hiked up to breast-feed.
“A lot of people are saying it’s a disgrace to the uniform. They’re comparing it to urinating and defecating [while in uniform],” says Crystal Scott, a military spouse who started Mom2Mom in January as a breast-feeding support group for military moms and “anyone related to the base” at Fairchild AFB outside Spokane, Wash. “It’s extremely upsetting. Defecating in public is illegal. Breast-feeding is not.”
It was Scott’s idea to ask photographer Brynja Sigurdardottir to take photos of real-life breast-feeding moms to create posters for National Breastfeeding Awareness Month in August. One of the moms photographed in uniform, Terran Echegoyen-McCabe, breast-feeds her 10-month-old twin girls on her lunch breaks during drill weekends as a member of the Air National Guard.
“I have breast-fed in our lobby, in my car, in the park … and I pump, usually in the locker room,” she says. “I’m proud to be wearing a uniform while breast-feeding. I’m proud of the photo and I hope it encourages other women to know they can breast-feed whether they’re active duty, guard or civilian.”
She said she’s surprised by the reaction to the photos, which also feature her friend Christina Luna, because it never occurred to her that breast-feeding in uniform would cause such a stir.
“There isn’t a policy saying we can or cannot breast-feed in uniform,” Echegoyen-McCabe says. “I think it’s something that every military mom who is breast-feeding has done. … I think we do need to be able to breast-feed in uniform and be protected.”
The Air Force has no policy specifically addressing breast-feeding in uniform, according to Air Force spokesperson Captain Rose Richeson, who added, “Airmen should be mindful of their dress and appearance and present a professional image at all times while in uniform.”
Robyn Roche-Paull has been advocating for such a policy since she left the U.S. Navy 15 years ago. Her challenges in breast-feeding her son while on active duty – she recalls her “flaming red face” upon being reprimanded for nursing in a medical waiting room – prompted her to write a book called “Breastfeeding in Combat Boots” as a resource for military moms. She is now an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant who remains close to the military through her active-duty husband and her blog for military moms.
“If you follow the comments on my blog, a lot of the comments are that the breast-feeding mothers are the ones who need to be covered up. Nobody sees anything wrong with bottle feeding mothers or fathers,” she says. “Asking mothers to feed a baby by bottle when they are together, simply because they are in uniform, can both affect the mom’s milk supply and her willingness to keep breast-feeding or stay in the military. It’s simply one more barrier they have to face.”
The criticism of the photo goes beyond the usual nursing-in-public debate, though. One commenter on Roche-Paull’s website who identified herself as a retired captain in the Marine Corps said she advocated for breast-feeding moms in the military and now, as a civilian, she nurses freely on base. However, she writes:
“I would never nurse in uniform. I took my child to the bathroom or a private office when her nanny brought her to me …. Not because I was ashamed of nursing, nor of being a mother. All the guys knew I pumped. The military is not a civilian job. We go to combat and we make life or death decisions, and not just for ourselves but for those we lead. The same reason I would never nurse in uniform is the same reason I do not chew gum, or walk and talk on my cell phone, or even run into the store in my utility uniform. … We are warfighting professionals. Women before us have worked too hard to earn and retain the respect of their male peers. I don’t want my Marines to look at me any other way than as a Marine. When I am asking them to fly into combat with me and do a dangerous mission, I do not want them to have the mental image of a babe at my breast. I want them to only see me as a Marine. Let’s be a realistic folks. We give up many freedoms being in the military…Breastfeeding in front of my fellow Marines was one of them.”
Another commenter on the blog replies:
“There is N-O-T-H-I-N-G more authoritative than a strong mother standing tall breastfeeding as she barks orders. It’s AWESOME that you’ve worked so hard promote breastfeeding, but I think you *might* be selling yourself short.”
The women in the photo have given some thought to the whole question of military versus maternal duties. To those who believe breast-feeding in uniform undermines the authority of a female officer, Echegoyen-McCabe says:
“I guess my thoughts are, if you don’t want to breast-feed in your uniform, you don’t have to. But you should have respect for those who do. … If anything, it should make people look at you as someone who is able to multitask.”
Pamela Sitt is a champion multitasker who lives in Seattle. She blogs about motherhood on her website, www.clarasmom.com.
http://www.brynjaphotography.com/?p=4377 A photographer captures the beauty of breastfeeding women.
Recently when the Time Magazine sported a front page spread of a young boy standing on stool breastfeeding, the media and public went wild with debate, furry, outrage and reaction over a behavior that some people call “Extended Breastfeeding.”
Since the article’s publication, I’ve been tossing this term around in my head and I realize that I’m not a fan of the term.
Why am I not a fan?
Well, first of all, the term Extended Breastfeeding inherently applies that the breastfeeding is being extended past some arbitrary line that is being drawn in sand that defines the child-breast relationship.
The term extended breastfeeding implies that the mother is breastfeeding her child longer than…longer than….well, longer than something.
Let’s debunk some of these myths.
There is not a point at which a parent “should” stop nursing.
What do we mean by should? Who defines what should is? Who gets to make the ultimate decision on should?
If we listened to the young mothers commenting on mothering forums, as I have, the line would be 15 months. Nursing beyond that age, as one contributor said “is just sick.” I think that sums up the general opinion some women regarding nursing a toddler. This perception needs to change regardless of what another mother chooses for herself and her child.
Nursing into toddlerhood has no negative health effects on the child.
The AmericanAcademyof Pediatrics (AAP) doesn’t have a problem with a mother nursing a child past infancy. Because of the clear health benefits the AAP recommends “exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months…with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.” 1 Additionally, they state that “mothers should be encouraged to continue breastfeeding through the first year and beyond as more and varied complementary foods are introduced.” 1
Nursing into toddlerhood is not emotionally detrimental for the child nor is the mother nursing to meet her own emotional needs.
There is no evidence to suggest that breastfeeding past a year or even into later years is emotionally unhealthy for the child.2 The assertion that the mother is breastfeeding her child for her own benefit is ludicrous. First of all, no toddler would participate in breastfeeding if he or she did not want to. For all of you parents out there, I’m sure you remember your 2 to 3 year old child’s favorite word: NO!
Forcing a toddler to do something is not very easy, especially if it requires them to curl up on your lap and hold still.
A mother cannot force a child to breastfeed.
Of course a mother can wean a child, but why wean a child if he or she is not showing signs of readiness? Children will wean themselves naturally when they no longer need the emotional security of the mother’s breast. Weaning a two year old child before she was ready would be like taking away her security blanket or favorite stuffed animal.
There is a misconception about toddlers and breastfeeding: Toddlers don’t nurse the way that infants do.
It would be the rare toddler who would go to mom for a long, nutritional nursing session at the age of two or three. Most children seek the breast out for comfort or security. By the time a child is in their toddler years most children are only nursing for short periods of time and usually before or after sleep. Even if they were seeking the breast out during the day, the mother is most likely starting to set limits on that behavior as well. It’s a process and one that is not easily controlled or defined by external forces. It varies greatly depending on the child, the mother and on the mother-child relationship.
The general rule of thumb is that nursing can and should continue as long as it is a mutually beneficial relationship.
After a couple of years, there are plenty of mothers who will tell you that the joy of nursing is fading. At that point the nursing relationship is no longer mutually beneficial and a mother may choose to encourage her child to wean. On the flip side, a child may choose to no longer nurse because he is ready to be done even if the mother enjoys that bonding time. However, the child-centered parent will follow her child’s lead and bring an end to the nursing relationship.
Between a combination of baby or toddler-led weaning and a mother’s desire to wean her child, nursing will always come to an end at some point in time.
Given the health benefits of nursing to both mother and child, as a society we should be supportive of any nursing relationship between mother and child.
Currently, breastfeeding rates are much lower than the government would like them to be and both the AAP and the Surgeon General are trying to encourage more mothers to breastfeed and for longer periods of time. The Surgeon Generals Healthy People 2020 objectives for the year are “82% ever breastfed, 61% at 6 months, and 34% at 1 year.”3 Although most mothers try to breastfeed upon giving birth, “within only three months after giving birth, more than two-thirds of breastfeeding mothers have already begun using formula. By six months postpartum, more than half of mothers have given up on breastfeeding, and mothers who breastfeed one-year olds or toddlers are a rarity in our society.” 4
By continuing to use the term “extended breastfeeding,” we as a culture, and as a group of informed, conscientious parents, are perpetuating the notion that breastfeeding has some finite, culturally-defined end and that it is the rare mother, the anomaly, the outlier, the “strange mom,” who nurses past this “normal” point. If we wish to change this we might want to be more cognizant of our choice of words. Nursing into toddlerhood is a normal way to nurse and perhaps we should be calling it just that. Nursing. Nursing into toddlerhood. Nursing an older child. Non-infant nursing. Let’s be creative and start talking about it in a way that will normalize the behavior rather than continuing to set ourselves and our healthy parenting behaviors apart from the rest of society.
from Breastfeeding Abstracts, February 2001, Volume 20, Number 3, pp. 19-20.
Misinformation about breastfeeding affects everyone in our society, including lawyers, judges, psychologists, and social workers. While there is no harm in breastfeeding past infancy and allowing a child to wean naturally, many professionals in social service agencies and family law courts are quite shocked to learn just how long a child may breastfeed. Lacking accurate information, these officials may overreact and conclude that breastfeeding a child of two, three, or four is somehow improper. As more mothers nurse longer, healthcare and lactation professionals need to be aware of legal issues surrounding extended breastfeeding, so that they can educate their counterparts in the legal and social service systems.
The issue of extended breastfeeding has been raised numerous times in United States courts, in both social service agency and family law cases. There are older reports of family law cases in which the court’s custody decision was affected by the belief that the child should have been weaned at an earlier age.1 However, a more recent custody case recognized that it was not inappropriate to breastfeed past infancy and discounted the father’s claims that it was detrimental to the child ’s development.2 It is not uncommon for fathers to raise questions about extended breastfeeding to gain leverage in custody decisions, even fathers who were supportive of long-term breastfeeding prior to the divorce. This tactic has been shown to work. After all, what do judges know about breastfeeding!
Social service agencies have looked at the issue of extended breastfeeding numerous times over the past ten years, but not one social service agency has upheld any finding that extended breastfeeding constitutes abuse or neglect, or is in any way harmful to the child. In only two situations has a child been removed from the home. Several years ago, a social service agency in Colorado removed a five-year-old child because the mother was still breastfeeding, but the court ordered the child to be immediately returned to his family. Last year, in Illinois, a child was removed from the mother ’s custody to foster care for over six months because a judge issued an initial finding that the child was at risk of serious emotional harm because of not being weaned. This case received a great deal of publicity. Though the case is still in the process of being resolved, the child has been returned to his mother, and the judge has vacated the finding of neglect.
In 1992, in a highly publicized case in New York State, a mother claimed that she had lost custody of her child for a year because she was breastfeeding at age three. This mother had reported experiences of sexual arousal during breastfeeding, and authorities removed the child from the home, for fear that this mother might sexually abuse this child. Later, the social service agency in New York that took this action issued a formal statement, saying that there was more to this case than could be disclosed to the press, due to confidentiality laws. The statement also added that extended breastfeeding or even arousal during breastfeeding were not reasons for removing a child from a mother’s custody. Over the next few years, other social service agencies have also investigated cases related to extended breastfeeding, but have not removed children from their homes. These cases have been closed once officials received accurate information about extended breastfeeding and natural weaning. Breastfeeding, at any age, is not abuse or neglect.
Mothers who allow their child to wean naturally are being responsive to the child’s need. Contrary to the suspicions of those in our society who view breastfeeding as somehow being a sexual act, mothers who nurse older children are not satisfying pathological needs of their own.
Mothers who have breastfed past infancy rarely expected to nurse for so long, but they continue because it is so important to their child. At one time children all over the world were breastfed until they weaned naturally. It is only in our modern society that extended breastfeeding has fallen so far out of fashion that it is viewed as an abnormal act.
Breastfeeding experts do not advocate a specific age for weaning, as this is a personal decision for each mother and child. Authorities do suggest that it is best to let children wean naturally. For instance, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all babies be breastfed for at least one year, or as long as mutually desirable.3 In support of this recommendation, the AAP’s statement cites a study that discusses the age of weaning among American women who practice extended breastfeeding. Weaning ages in the study extend through age 6.4
Many people are surprised to learn that experts consider 4 or 5 years to be the average age of weaning worldwide.5 Research by Dr. Katherine Dettwyler, anthropologist at Texas A&M University, argues that the natural weaning age for human beings falls between 2.5 and 6 years of age.6 An informal survey conducted by Dr. Dettwyler indicated that many more women in the United States are nursing children past infancy, and she has reports of children as old as ten years old still breastfeeding. So many women are breastfeeding past infancy that two books on the subject have chapters on nursing past age four (MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER, by Norma Jane Bumgarner, and The Nursing Mother’s Guide to Weaning, by Kathleen Huggins).7, 8 Many people, however, are not familiar with the idea of extended breastfeeding, since older nursing children do not nurse frequently or urgently, and most mothers nursing an older child do not do so openly in public. They may not even admit to their doctors that they are still breastfeeding. It is ironic that our society does not seem to object to children sucking their fingers, pacifiers, or bottles past infancy, but many are outraged when a child who can walk and talk is still breastfeeding. Because our culture tends to view the breast as sexual, it can be hard for people to realize that breastfeeding is the natural way to nurture children.
More and more experts and professionals are encouraging extended breastfeeding, as there is substantial evidence that health benefits continue and increase the longer the child breastfeeds. The current recommendations of the World Health Organization and UNICEF are for all mothers to breastfeed until age 2 or beyond. Studies have shown that the antibodies and immunities in a mother’s milk are more concentrated the longer she nurses, to make up for the fact that the child does not nurse as often. Recent studies also indicate that extended periods of breastfeeding offer mothers protection against breast cancer.9, 10
Children who nurse past infancy have their own developmental timetables. Many nurse for only a few minutes at bedtime, upon waking, or at nap time. Some may go days or even weeks without asking to nurse. Some wean only to resume nursing when stressful events occur in their lives, such as the birth of a sibling. When little ones get sick, most mothers find that the amount of nursing increases. Breastfeeding is primarily for comfort as children pass their first birthday, and there is nothing wrong with that. Some people may assume that if a child is nursing past infancy, it must be influenced by the mother ’s desires or wishes. To the contrary, the child is the one who determines if breastfeeding is going to continue. It is well known in the field of lactation that it is very difficult to make a child breastfeed.
Health professionals, social service workers, and judges and lawyers in the field of family law need to become informed about extended breastfeeding. The good intentions of a poorly informed professional can result in a false report of abuse, or even a child being placed in foster care needlessly. Personal feelings or beliefs about breastfeeding should not be allowed to affect professional judgment. Unfortunately, women have been reported to social service agencies for extended breastfeeding by the very professionals from whom they sought help. Several years ago in Florida, a mental health professional reported a client to social services for allowing a five-year-old child to try breastfeeding again after he had weaned. The father was attempting to use this incident as a weapon against the mother in a family law situation. The therapist unwittingly went along with the father’s concern, and reported that the mother-child relationship was dysfunctional. When caseworkers at the social service agency learned more about extended breastfeeding and weaning, the case was closed.
If a mother is reported to a social service agency for extended breastfeeding, or if the issue arises in a divorce or family law case, health professionals can assist by providing accurate information about the issue to everyone involved. Most of the time this sharing of information resolves the situation. If it does not, direct testimony from an expert may be needed to resolve the case in the mother’s favor.
Elizabeth N. Baldwin is an attorney, certified family mediator, and La Leche League Leader in Miami, Florida. Her practice concentrates primarily on family law cases where extended breastfeeding and mother-child separation are at issue. Ms. Baldwin is a member of La Leche League’s Professional Advisory Board, Legal Advisory Council.
1. Shunk v. Walker, 589 A. 2d 1303 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1991); Friendshuh v. Headlough, 504 N. W. 2d 104 (S. D. 1993); In the Matter of the Marriage of Holcomb, 888 P. 2d 1046 (Or. Ct. App. 1995).
2. Hoplamazian v. Hoplamazian, 740 So. 2d 1100 (Ala. App. 1999)
3. American Academy of Pediatrics Work Group on Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics 1997; 1000:1035-39.
4. Sugarman, M. and K. A. Kendall-Tackett. Weaning ages in a sample of American women who practice extended breastfeeding. Clin Pediatr 1995; 34:642-47.
5. Lawrence, R. A. and R. M. Lawrence. Breastfeeding:A Guide for the Medical Profession. St. Louis: Mosby, 1999.
6. Dettwyler, K. A. A time to wean. BREASTFEEDING ABSTRACTS 1994; 14:3-4.
7. Bumgarner, N. J. MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER. Schaumburg: La Leche League International, 2000.
8. Huggins, K. and L. Ziedrich. The Nursing Mother’s Guide to Weaning. Boston: Harvard Common Press, 1994.
9. Layde, P. M. et al. The independent associations of parity, age at first full- term pregnancy, and duration of breastfeeding with the risk of breast cancer. J Clin Epidemiol 1989; 42:966-72.
10. Newcomb, P. A. et al. Lactation and a reduced risk of premenopausal breast cancer. New Engl J Med 1994; 332:81-87.
My Breastfeeding Story
Starting from day one, breastfeeding was a horrible, horrible experience for me. I was in so much pain that tears came to my eyes every time my baby latched on. And the pain didn’t stop after the latch. It continued and continued. The nurses and the lactation consultants at the hospital all said her latch looked good yet it was still excruciatingly painful.
The breastfeeding was so painful that I decided to try to pump. I had just had a c-section and had never taken the pump out of its case. I guess I just didn’t think I would be using it so soon. So there I am, recovering from major surgery, trying to pump milk. And what do you know? The milk comes out pink…from blood. This is on about day two or three home from the hospital. A day or two later my little baby spit up on a white pillow case and I noticed a tinge of pink in it. Can you imagine? I didn’t know what to do. It was 11:30 at night. I called the nurse line and they said it was probably my blood coming from the nursing. I wanted to cry. I was at my wits end.
I went to a lactation consultant available through the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program who showed me a way of allowing the baby to crawl up my stomach to latch on. Nice in theory but not very practical and it still didn’t make things much better.
Over the course of the first couple of weeks, I got gashes on the external sides of both nipples. I had a peer breastfeeding counselor through WIC and I called her frequently. No advice made any difference. I tried different positions, different approaches and always got the same results. Pain, pain, pain. Over time I developed a theory that she was latching on well for the first few seconds but then pulling her mouth out, or her tongue back, so that she was actually nursing with her gum which is what caused so much pain.
I told a visiting nurse who had come by for a newborn visit that I was having pain and she advised me to use a nipple guard. She dropped it off but didn’t show me how to use it. When I went to see another lactation consultant at a local hospital, she told that I had been given one that was too big and that as a result my baby was not getting milk properly and that my milk supply had dropped as a result of having an ill-fitted nipple shield.
I ended up trying to pump and nurse at the same time just because I felt that I needed to give my breasts a break. I’m pretty sure that my milk supply dropped simply because I did not know what I was doing.
On top of it all, I was doing all of the nighttime care by myself. My baby’s father would come over until about 11:00 a few nights a week but would then leave. She often wouldn’t fall asleep until around midnight and would then wake again around 3:00 for a feeding. I was sleep-deprived, completely stressed out, suffering from postpartum depression, and trying to hold it all together. I can’t imagine that any of this was making the breastfeeding go any better. Preparing and giving her a bottle was an easy alternative given all of the stress that I was under.
Nonetheless, I continued to try and nurse.
I am writing this because no one talks about the fact that breastfeeding might be difficult. We have this image of something beautiful and natural and, of course, pain free. That is not the case for all women.
Breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do for your baby but it’s definitely not the easiest.
If you are considering breastfeeding:
Looking back, I wish that I had known how to use the pump before the baby came. I wish that I had put the baby to my breast more frequently so that my supply hadn’t dropped. I wish I had known how hard it might be.
In the end I found a lactation consultant through the hospital who was able to help me. In her office, she would position herself just right and slap the baby’s face into my breast with the right amount of force and at just the right angle that I wouldn’t feel any of the pain that I had previously felt. At those times it felt good and it felt right. More so than when things weren’t going well, at those times I wanted to cry. My baby was sucking and was getting the milk she needed. It was a beautiful thing.
Over time, things got better. I learned how to help my baby latch on better and I got a nipple shield that fit properly and helped reduce the pain significantly. The lactation consultant would weigh the baby before and after feedings and show me that the baby had taken in milk. Most importantly, I felt like I had a support system and someone who was there to encourage me and work with me until I got it right.
When the baby got a little bit bigger, the nipple shield was no longer necessary. At the end of it all, I probably nursed her about half of the time and supplemented the rest. I just wasn’t able to pump enough at work to keep her fed throughout the day.
The take home message here is that breastfeeding might not be all that you imagine it will be. For some it may be, but for others it can be a challenge and a struggle. If someone were asking my opinion, I would say give it the best shot you can. It’s important enough for your baby’s health that it’s worth a little extra effort. On the other hand, if a woman decides it’s just too much to handle, I can completely understand. I’ve been there and I know what it’s like.
My girl has just recently given up the breast completely and she is about to turn three. She went on to nurse for a good two plus years and she enjoyed every minute of it! Can’t say the same for myself, but that’s okay, it was more for her than me anyway..!
On this site there is a series of three videos with a male physician teaching the mother how to get her baby to latch on. The videos are wonderful. (It will say 1 of 3, 2 of 3, and 3 of 3 for a total of three mini videos in the series. Each are about 3-4 minutes long.)
One of the things that this physician says is that he has worked around the world in Africa and South America. He states that in these countries the babies are on the breast for hours but in North America people become horrified if a mother is nursing for more than 20 mintues a side. This is actually something that my doctor had advised me against as well. Inform yourself about the possibilities related to breastfeeding. He also states that mothers aren’t taught how to properly breastfeed while in the hospital and promotes more education around breastfeeding properly.
Here is information in a text form if you like from a website I found.
“Attaching the baby to the breast correctly is the first and most important step towards successful breastfeeding. The vast majority of breastfeeding problems are caused by improper latch-on (the second leading cause of breastfeeding problems is feeding on a schedule instead of on demand). Here are some problems that incorrect latch-on may cause:
OK, so it’s really important to latch the baby on properly. Fortunately, it’s not very hard (although it takes practice; it might take anywhere from a few days to two months for your baby to become a pro at this). Here are a few things to pay attention to:
A friend suggested that perhaps this could have been the Time Magazine cover photo.
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.