Magazine says it’s time to debate breastfeeding beyond babyhood

Shocking or no big deal?

A woman breastfeeding her three-year-old son is the cover photo of this week’s Time magazine for a story on “attachment parenting”, and reactions ranged from applause to cringing to shrugs.

The photo showed Jamie Lynne Grumet, 26, a stay-at-home mother in Los Angeles who says her mother breastfed her until she was six.

She told the magazine she’s given up reasoning with strangers who see her son nursing and threaten “to call social services on me or that it’s child molestation”.

“People have to realise this is biologically normal,” she said, adding, “the more people see it, the more it’ll become normal in our culture. That’s what I’m hoping. I want people to see it.”

La Leche League of Ireland is an organisation promoting breastfeeding. Jenny Foxe, one of its volunteer leaders, said the ideal breastfeeding relationship lasted until the child outgrew the need.

Speaking in a personal capacity, Ms Foxe said she still periodically breastfed her youngest son, now four-and-a-half years old.

Her other son, who is now aged seven, was breastfed until he was just over four years old.

“My four-year-old is weaning but I have been saying that for nearly two years. He now goes for two to three days without asking to nurse,” she said.

Ms Foxe said the picture of the young woman nursing her child on the cover of Time conveyed a very positive image of breastfeeding: “More images like that will make breastfeeding normal because humans are biologically designed to wean their children before the ages of four and seven.”

Some questioned why the magazine used the photo of Grumet, a slim blonde woman pretty enough to be a model, to illustrate a story about a style of childrearing that’s been around for a generation. The issue includes a profile of the attachment parenting guru, Dr Bill Sears, who wrote one of the movement’s bibles, The Baby Book, 20 years ago.

On Twitter, the cover inspired X-rated jokes along with concerns that the child might be teased when he’s older. However, on many message boards, there was debate about whether it’s OK to breastfeed beyond babyhood.

Bobbi Miller, a mother of six who lives in Arkansas, expressed disapproval in a tweet: “Even a cow knows when to wean their child.”

Of the cover, she said: “Why would this even be out there? It’s ludicrous. It’s almost on the verge of voyeurism.”

However, Bettina Forbes, co-founder of an organisation called Best for Babes that promotes breastfeeding and supports women who want to nurse their children beyond the early stages, said she hopes the cover “will make mainstream America less squeamish” about women breastfeeding children of any age. “It’s high time we talk about these things,” she said.

Reaction to the cover underscored a cultural rift between traditional childrearing and what some have deemed “extreme parenting”. The attachment philosophy encourages mothers to respond to their babies’ every cry and form close bonds with near-constant physical contact through “co-sleeping” (letting them sleep in the bed with parents rather than in cribs) and “baby-wearing” (carrying them on slings instead of pushing them in prams or buggies).

Time managing editor Rick Stengel said he had not heard of any retailers concerned about displaying the cover. However, he acknowledged the image was provocative.

“We’re posing an interesting question about a subject that couldn’t be more important — how we raise our children. People have all kinds of mixed feelings about that.”

Birth pangs

Two in five new mothers have struggled to cope with the demands of parenting during the weeks after birth, with a similar amount admitting getting “angry” with their baby, according to a poll.

A further 20% were often upset at their child’s crying during the first eight weeks, a survey by the NSPCC in Britain has found.

About 72% of new mothers wanted more professional advice before their baby was born, on subjects such as how to deal with anxiety, fear and depression, the effects of sleep deprivation and how to cope with their baby’s crying and sleeplessness. About 40% of the mothers polled either found it fairly difficult or very difficult to cope with the demands of looking after their newborn.

There was also a marked difference between the number of ante-natal classes attended by well-off parents compared with those from a more disadvantaged background.

The online poll of 516 women with babies aged under one found 57% “felt isolated with no one to turn to”.

“Lack of sleep, isolation and loneliness, and the fear they are not mothering in the right way can combine to make new mums feel distraught,” said Siobhan Freegard, founder of Netmums parenting website.

— David Wilcock


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