Archive for the ‘Media Responses’ Category

My Personal View on Extended Breastfeeding

Welcome to Part 4, the last segment of my Time Magazine blog series. Thanks for following along! If you’ve missed any posts, you can go back to read my response to Time’s cover, article, and to attachment parenting. Today I’ll be talking about my view on extended breastfeeding.

For sake of definition, “extended breastfeeding” generally refers to nursing a baby past 12 months, though some may reserve the term for those who nurse well into toddler-hood and beyond.

Why this post? First, Time Magazine’s cover of a mom breastfeeding her 3-year old son roused a lot of attention nation-wide, and I want to contribute to the discussion. Second, I’ve found myself defending extended breastfeeding among friends who thought it was gross or weird, when I never thought I’d be one of “those moms!” This post is helpful for my own sake in clarifying how I got to this point- because I never used to think extended breastfeeding was cool. My mind was changed little by little, over time and exposure to research.

Growing up, I always thought it was bizarre to hear about a woman nursing her toddler (and particularly boorish if the child was school-aged!). I guess this view grew from assumptions of those around me, because I never heard it from my parents. Regardless, when I was pregnant, I planned to breastfeed- I myself was breastfed (though I self-weaned before a year), and it only seemed natural to me. My initial goal was to make it at least 6 months, but I knew I’d be happier if I could make it to a year.

When I had my son, our breastfeeding relationship got off to a great start, not by any merit of my own. Any struggles I had with nursing were minimal. I loved nursing him, but I still thought extended breastfeeding was a little weird, though less so than before-mostly due to my care providers’ influence.

Months went by. I was reading several books for my doula certification (such as The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, The Baby Book, The Complete Book of Breastfeeding) and they discussed weaning in terms such as “normal,” “timely,” and “child-led.” Then they proceeded to talk about nursing babies not just in terms of weeks or months… but in years! Either all of these books were written by quacks, or there was something to this long-term nursing thing.

Since then, I’ve looked into “extended” breastfeeding more. And here’s just a taste of the supporting information I’ve found for it:

  • The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months, and then continued breastfeeding along with “nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods”  for up to two years or beyond.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age, and continuation of breastfeeding  for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.” (Check out the whole article entitled Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk in the publication Pediatrics. This is a superb read if you are looking for more evidence-based information about breastfeeding as the “normative standard” for infant feeding and nutrition.)
  • UNICEF states that, “It is well recognized that the period from birth to two years of age is the “critical window” for the promotion of good growth, health, and behavioral and cognitive development. Therefore, optimal infant and young child feeding is crucial during this period.” What do they define as optimal feeding? You guessed it- “Optimal infant and young child feeding means that mothers are empowered to initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth, breastfeed exclusively for the first six months and continue to breastfeed for two years or more, together with nutritionally adequate, safe, age appropriate, responsive complementary feeding starting at six months.”
  • The American Academy of Family Physicians states that it is estimated that a normal weaning age for humans is between two and seven years, despite the fact that this is not the cultural norm in the US. The academy also states that, “The longer women breastfeed, the greater the decrease in their risk of breast cancer.” What a bonus!
  • One informative post by Stephanie Hanes quoted these amazing breastfeeding statistics: “In the southern African country of Malawi – one of Save The Children’s top ranked developing countries for moms – 77 percent of children are still breastfed at age two. That number is even higher in Bangladesh, where 90 percent of children still nurse, and in Nepal, where the number is 93 percent. Moms in India nurse 77 percent of their two-year-olds, and mothers in Rwanda are still breastfeeding 84 percent of theirs.” Wow!
  • Save The Children states that “Optimal feeding from birth to age two [which includes breastfeeding] can prevent an estimated 19 percent of all under-five deaths, more than any other intervention.” The Center for Sustainable Development echoes similar statistics.
  • Did you know that the US currently ranks last among 36 industrialized nations for breastfeeding support?  Perhaps this is part of why we have such a hard time wrapping our minds around nursing a baby for a year, much less beyond that.
  • Breast milk is not just about food. It’s true that toddlers may not need it to survive in our developed nation, but its immunity properties continue for as long as it is consumed. Contrary to popular misconception, it does not lose its value at any point. In fact, the immune protection in the milk actually increases as suckling frequency decreases.
  • Many point out that breastfeeding’s comfort qualities are also not to be brushed off easily. Jaime Lynne Grumet, herself nursed until she was six, remembered breastfeeding this way: “It’s really warm. It’s like embracing your mother, like a hug. You feel comforted, nurtured and really, really loved.” La Leche League often stresses that breastfeeding is one of our simplest, most accessible, and most effective parenting tools. Why be so swift to do away with it?

(All emphases mine.)

Wow. Suddenly all my sentiments of grossness are fading. It seems that major health organizations, as well as organizations promoting and providing for optimal well-being of children around the world are all in agreement: breastfeeding should continue for 12 months at the very least, and most recommend at least 2 years. The health benefits are absolutely phenomenal, not to mention various other benefits (just click on a few of the above links to find out more!).

This is not to guilt formula feeding mothers, or to pressure women who don’t feel that they can continue that long, or to scold mothers whose children weaned before a year. Rather, it is to inform those who find “extended” breastfeeding strange- or worse, “wrong” or “abusive.” Believe me, I used to be in the same boat as you! I’m not saying that you have to do it yourself. But please, consider international context and broader health recommendations when forming opinions about breastfeeding longer than our country’s average.

As for me personally? I weaned my son from daytime nursing when he was 13-15 months. He is currently 19.5 months and nursing once or twice in the early morning. This works well for our family, and I know he’s still getting the health benefits of my milk. Plus, it’s nice to still share that close snugly time with him once a day.

A bit of anecdotal evidence for the health benefits of extended nursing: whenever my son’s playmates are sick, he either never catches the bug, or if he does he has a very mild and short case of it compared to his non-nursing friends. My son has only been markedly sick a total of four times in his life, only one of which was anything to write home about. Obviously, I cannot guarantee that every nursing toddler would have the same results.

None of this is meant to boost myself as “more of a mom” than anyone who weaned earlier- remember, I employed “mommy lead” daytime weaning at 13 months because I was just feeling ready to be done with it at that point (though I felt comfortable continuing with one or two night/morning feedings). If that’s where you are- tired of handing your breasts over all day- there is no judgment here.

While I would not try to talk anyone into nursing longer than they were comfortable doing so, I do want to share my experience in hopes to encourage those who are considering nursing longer, despite cultural pressures to the contrary. I also hope that some of the links and information above will help you find what is best for your child and your family in your own nursing  journey.

How long will I continue nursing my son? I’ll be honest- I think I would be (mostly) okay with it if he weaned now. But, knowing what advantages breastfeeding has, I’m happy to continue nursing him til age two. I think at that point I’d probably work on actively (and lovingly) weaning him. But, then again, that’s what I said about the 18 month mark too. And here I am, still nursing. And, as my midwife’s assistant once said, motherhood is full of surprises and changed minds, and sometimes you find yourself doing something you originally never thought you’d do.

What do you think, ladies? How long did you nurse your kids, and why? Please share!

Photo Credit

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My Personal View on Attachment Parenting

Welcome to Part 3 of my Time Magazine blog series. In this post, I will address my personal response to Attachment Parenting (AP), the parenting style coined by Dr. Bill Sears. First off, lets look at Dr. Sears’ own description of AP.

In the first chapter of Dr. Sears’ The Baby Book, he introduces the AP concept. He makes sure to clarify before he even begins: “Our suggestions are just starter tips. From these basics you will grow and develop your own style, one that best fits your baby’s temperament and your personality.” Sears also urges readers not to close their minds to different parenting techniques: “Stay open to new ideas, and then select what best fits your family.”

Sears says there are three main goals that underscore his AP philosophy:

1) To know your child,

2) To help your child feel right,

3) To enjoy parenting.

Then, Sears describes the seven “Baby B’s” that make up attachment parenting:

1) Birth bonding. Connect with your baby early. The first hours, days, weeks, and months, can set the tone for allowing natural attachment and nurturing to unfold.

2) Belief in Baby’s Cries. Read and respond to your baby’s cues. Sears argues that since crying is a baby’s only way to communicate, the tears should not be ignored. He encourages working to figure out what your baby needs as best as you can. The more you try to help your baby, the better you become at reading his cues. Likewise, the baby will learn that he will be attended to in a timely manner, and his cues will become more predictable. This sets a foundation for good communication between mother and baby.

3) Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is optimal feeding, and offers the best health for both babies and mothers. (Even Dr. Sears suggests, however, that a mother who bottle feeds still has just the same nurturing opportunity with her child as a breastfeeding mother.)

4) Babywearing. Carry your baby a lot (not necessarily all day long!), either in a sling, wrap, or some other type of carrier. Dr Sears says that this practice is “good for the baby, and it makes life easier for the mother.” He says that carried babies cry less and they learn more about their world because they are more involved, seeing what their parents are up to all day long.

5) Bedding Close to Baby. Sears says that “wherever you and your baby sleep best is the right arrangement for you, and it’s a very personal decision,” but also proposes that parents to be open to sharing sleep with their baby. It’s one more way to make life easier for tired parents, and can give great benefits to the baby who needs nighttime closeness.

6) Balance and Boundaries. Dr. Sears is careful to add that parents need to know when to say yes and when to say no to baby. Parents have needs too, and they must have wisdom to attend to them as needed. Sears recently said on The View that this section was added because some mothers were “overdoing it” by taking attachment parenting principles to the extreme.

7) Beware of Baby Trainers. Sears calls the “cry-it-out crowd” those who give “detachment advice.” He says that baby training interferes with getting to know and read your baby better and is based on the assumption that babies cry to manipulate, not to communicate. He says that baby training may make your baby more “convenient,” but it undermines the mother’s inherent intuition, sensitivity, and her drive to respond to the cues of her baby.

Lastly, Sears sums up his view by saying, “The important point is to get connected to your baby. Take advantage of all the valuable things that attachment parenting does for parents and babies. Once connected, stick with what is working and modify what is not. You will ultimately arrive at your own style. This is how you and your baby bring out the best in one another.” (Sears, The Baby Book, pp.3-10.)

Now that we’ve learned some of what Dr. Sears actually says AP is about (rather than relying on all the misquoted versions flying around right now after the recent Time Magazine controversy), I will talk some about my personal view on AP.

My Take on The Three AP Goals

Remember the three main goals that fuel the AP philosophy? Just so you don’t have to scroll back up, I’ll write them again for you. They are to get to know your baby, to help your baby feel right, and to enjoy parenting. I think that there is a lot of good to be said about these, though I do have one concern.

For example, getting to know your baby and how your family communicates is very important. When you become a mother, everybody around you suddenly feels the need to tell you what worked for them (myself included). While these comments may be well intended, you need to remember that nobody knows your baby as well as you do. The more you allow yourself to get to know your child and meet his needs without worrying about whether or not you’re meeting everyone else’s standards, the more you will be at peace with what works for you and your family. I wholeheartedly agree with this point.

Also, I really appreciate the idea of learning to enjoy parenting. The Bible says, “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from Him” (Psalm 127:3). How often do we really think like this? So many times we find ourselves grumbling and complaining about our kids, or fighting a lack of joy in caring for them. Sometimes it’s because of a willful attitude problem, and sometimes it’s out of a deep struggle with darkness. Either way, moms often need encouragement and refreshment in their mothering walk. I love that Dr. Sears strives to make parenting easier and more joyful through his principles.

Now, the middle point- this one is trickier to address. Dr. Sears wants to help your baby feel right. He says many times in his writings that when a baby feels right, he acts right. I think there is a certain truth to this. For instance, if a baby is hungry, he will be fussy. If he is tired, he might scream because he doesn’t know how to put himself back to sleep and he’s frustrated. You helping him with these things will result in his needs being met, and also with a happier baby.

My concern here is that parents might interpret this principle to mean to cater to their child’s every whim. I’ve known parents who work to bring “happiness” to their children by purchasing them every candy, toy, or thing that they want, or by giving up their authority as parents and dismissing all boundaries. Other parents try to help their children “feel right” by avoiding conflict resolution or appropriate discipline for fear of hurting their child’s feelings. I don’t think that this is Dr. Sears’ intent, but I can see how it could easily happen to a mom who is afraid she might damage her child if he doesn’t “feel right.”

There are different approaches to helping your child “feel right.” It’s one thing to meet a child’s needs. It’s another to indulge every fleeting desire. I think that the solution here is to remember that loving your child means doing the best thing for him/her, 1) even if it’s not always convenient for you, and 2) even if it’s not always what the child wants.  For example, when a newborn baby cries to be fed, she should be fed as soon as possible. That is meeting a need. If a newborn baby wants to cuddle, I still consider that a need of sorts- at that age, babies don’t know anything else but Mama and Dada, and closeness should be facilitated as much as is reasonably possible. However, when a 3 year old throws a tantrum in the store because he isn’t getting the toy he wants, that is him expressing a desire without self control. This is not a need, and it’s okay to stand your ground and walk out without giving it to him.

It’s not that all “wants” are bad, but we as moms need to develop discernment as to when to gratify our child’s wants and when to turn them down or ask them to wait. There is no 100% right answer in all situations. (Note that age makes a difference too- as a child grows, he should be taught patience, self-control, temperance, manners, mutual respect, etc. -hopefully in appropriate, kind, and sometimes firm ways.) I think Dr. Sears’ advice to help your child “feel right” needs to be tempered with wisdom and love.

AP Practices in My Life

We have made use of AP practices with our son many times, but we have also used tools from the other side of the fence. Here are some examples of our own choices:

  • Our son spent many hours in a wrap carrier (and occasionally still does), but also enjoyed his bouncy seat and swing when he was an infant.
  • He breastfed exclusively til the introduction of solids. We did “mommy-led” daytime weaning, and he is still nursing once early every morning at 19 months old. I haven’t felt the need to wean him from this yet, but I don’t foresee myself nursing him indefinitely. (More to come on this in my next post.)
  • He never had to “cry-it-out” when he was very young, though we used controlled crying occasionally for “sleep training” when he was older (which didn’t work well for him, but that’s beside the point!).
  • I responded to my son’s needs as quickly as possible when he was a newborn. Now that he’s a toddler, he’s learned over time that sometimes he has to wait a little while before he gets what he asks for.
  • Our son slept in his own crib in a room connected to ours for a long time, though he needed me frequently at night. Finally, at 10 months, we gave co-sleeping a try and found that it made life a lot easier for all of us. Our son, to this day, goes to sleep in his crib but ends up in our bed by morning.
  • I think Sears’ “gentle discipline” tools can be helpful in some circumstances, but there are also times that my son needs a direct consequence for his action. We aim to discipline consistently,  lovingly, and calmly. Oftentimes, for our family, this requires more of a consequence than using only distraction techniques.
  • I am both a stay-at-home mom and a part-time working mother through a unique arrangement we have devised. While AP doesn’t rule out employed moms, many who work outside of the home have taken offense to AP during its recent time in the limelight. Just thought I’d add this point for your consideration.

In the end, we have fallen into “what works for us” rather than subscribing to any particular parenting style. (For a brief post on this topic, check out Middle of The Line Mommy.) I think it’s great that AP is adaptable, but we do part ways on several issues. My personal motto is, “Follow biblical principals, love your child, and do what works for your family.” There is nothing wrong with being flexible in your parenting approach!

In summary, I think that Sears has good things to offer with his AP philosophy, but this, like any parenting style, needs to be examined with careful thought and a touch of caution. If you like the idea of getting to know your baby well and enjoying parenting (and who wouldn’t?), keep in mind that there are many ways to do this. AP practices can be helpful for many families, and they are adaptable to a variety of situations, so I think they’re worth considering. However, they are not necessarily the only way to achieve “parenting bliss,” and you can love your kids well whether or not you implement all (or any) AP suggestions.

In short- if something works for you and your family- do it. If it’s causing stress for any one of you, then reevaluate. As my mom-in-law always says, “If there was a right way to raise babies, they’d give you a guidebook when they’re born.” I haven’t seen this guidebook yet… so go ahead. Love your kids, do the best you can, and don’t worry.

Photo Credits:

Babywearing in a Mayawrap

Breastfeeding young baby in cradle hold

Review of “The Man Who Remade Motherhood”

See Part 1 of my Time Magazine Series here. Coming soon… my own response to attachment parenting, and my personal view on extended breastfeeding. I apologize in advance if there are any formatting issues on your browser. WordPress, once again, is not cooperating for me between my editing page and when I click “publish.” I promise I really do know how to start a new paragraph.

Welcome to Part 2! (Finally!) I know I’m slightly behind the TIMES (haha, get it?) by writing my review of Time Magazine’s attachment parenting article a little late- but what can I say? I’m mothering a toddler. However, I feel that its important for me to respond. If you missed getting a print copy, you can read Time’s article called, “The Man Who Remade Motherhood,” written by Kate Pickert, here on Time’s Website (you’ll need a subscription to do so).

Summary

The article opens with Joanne Beauregard’s personal story of motherhood. She had quit her job to focus on becoming pregnant, had a natural home birth, nursed “from sun-up to sun-down” (wait, I thought all babies ate like that!), and co-slept. She went on to tandem nurse when she had a second child, and never left her children with a babysitter except “when she was in labor with her second child.” This mom is described as someone who strictly adheres to attachment parenting.

Pickert says that the foundation for attachment parenting is the principle that mothers and babies are meant to be close to one another. She goes on to say that “the practicalities of attachment parenting ask a great deal of mothers,” describing breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby wearing, and avoiding “crying-it-out” as rather high standards for parents to follow. Pickert notes that attachment parenting is debated to be at odds with feminism and with women in the workforce. She also expresses concerns that attachment principles could be enough to push any mother into guilt, fearing that “any time away from their baby will have lifelong negative consequences.”

However, Pickert made sure to clarify: “It turns out that many of Sears’ views are less extreme than his critics (and even many of his followers) realize.”

Pickert goes on to describe some of Sears’ and his wife Martha’s childhoods. This section serves to put a personality behind the face of the famous pediatrician. It also lends understanding of how the couple’s past experiences helped to influence some of their own parenting decisions.

Some of the Sears’ background includes having eight children of their own (one adopted, one with special needs), four hospital births and three home births, Bill’s training as a pediatrician, and Martha’s experience as a nurse. They had seen easy babies and difficult babies. They had personally witnessed unhealthy consequences of extreme crying-it-out, and observed that keeping babies close and calm helped them to remain more content.

Another of Sears’ major influences on his parenting style was a book entitled The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedhoff. This book described the author’s experience in the Venezuelan jungles. She said that the children there were carried most of the day, and they cried far less than their Western counterparts and were generally better behaved.

Pickert makes sure to clarify that controlled bouts of crying associated with sleep training haven’t been shown to affect brain development negatively, and also points out that its not whether you breastfeed or formula feed your infant that determines whether they’ll be well adjusted- it’s whether they feel loved and cared for.

Pickert says that attachment parenting is now spread widely throughout our culture, whether or not we are pro-Dr. Sears. She declares, “Parental common sense has a way of evolving, usually in a reactionary way.” She hints that attachment parenting was primarily born out the Searses’ reactions to their own childhoods.

Pickert says, “Although Sears’ guidelines for round-the-clock maternal devotion have drawn ire, it’s hard to argue with his overall message that babies who are cuddled feel secure. He surely deserves credit for promoting breast-feeding and the idea that the bond between mother and baby is critical. At the same time, though, his homespun language and sometimes vague or contradictory statements can muddy things, leaving mothers to overlook the nuances and take an all-or-nothing approach.”

Pickert expresses concerns over women who may try to meet the attachment parenting “ideal,” but feel as though they are inadequate for one reason or another. She says that these mothers “suffer from what two New York City parenting consultants call ‘posttraumatic Sears disorder.'” Pickert says that Sears has made it a point to stress balancing mother’s and babies’ needs in his most recent books to correct this misunderstanding of his stance.

Towards the end of the article, Sears gets a bad rap for “shades of sexism or naiveté” in his chapters on working moms. Pickert oversimplifies Sears’ message when she states, “Alongside advice about balance, the Searses also suggest mothers quit their jobs and borrow money to make up the difference.”
Pickert makes sure to include some standard journalistic juice with information regarding Sears’ messy desk and home. She even delves into the Searses’ range of income sources through the discussion of his various endorsements, sales of “attachment-parenting paraphernalia”, and the for-profit “Ask Dr. Sears” website. I brush this section off as the “dirt” or the “inside scoop” that all those magazines feel they have to include.
Pickert concludes the article with a description of Sears’ friendly office interaction with a several different patients, and finally his return home to his family. She gives the impression that family is most central for Sears, ending with the image of three generations sharing a meal together around the table.
Response
Overall, I was somewhat disappointed in the article. While “The Man Who Remade Motherhood” gives a general survey of Sears’s life and some aspects of attachment parenting, I felt it misses some major points and misrepresents others. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
First, Pickert fails to address the many longstanding parenting traditions that are similar to Sears’ principles, albeit a parenting style label. As I said previously, baby-wearing, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping are practiced in many places all over the world. These are not strange ideas- it’s just that we in the US are unfamiliar with them. It’s a shame that Pickert hardly mentions the global and historical back-up for Sears’ practices.
Pickert generally represents attachment parenting as an extreme style throughout her article, when in reality Sears stresses to do only what works to create a strong bond for your family. One point that I really appreciated when I read The Baby Book was Sears’ emphasis on balance and his trust in parents’ intuition. He seems to believe in the individuality of families, and never prescribes his methods as The Complete Way to Parent, Without Which Your Children Will Become Hazards to Society. He says many times that his methods are meant to be “tools, not rules” to help parents and babies get to know one another better and create a strong early bond.
Interestingly enough, there are many moms (like myself) who find themselves somewhere in the middle. That’s not to say that some of Sears’ ideas can’t be useful! There’s no reason to assume that you either buy or reject attachment parenting as a whole package deal. While some mothers can certainly take an all-or-nothing approach, this can be said of any parenting style. It is the mother’s choice whether she will rely wholly on one outsider’s opinion or if she will take into account a variety of influences and find what works for her in her own family. Unfortunately, Pickert does not endorse the possibility of moderation.
I don’t appreciate the many criticisms of Sears’ view on working mothers. Sears actually provides a wide range of tools for weighing out what the right working situation is for your family, how to pick substitute caregivers, how to make the most of the mother/baby attachment even when the mother is working full-time, and various ways to save money to make it possible to spend more time at home. Yes, you can tell Sears leans toward encouraging moms to stay home. However, I don’t find him to be judgmental on the many moms who do have full-time jobs. Unfortunately, Pickert dismisses the wide range of options that Sears encourages parents to explore when it comes to working and parenting.
Finally, Time Magazine staged those parents who do practice the attachment theory as condescending towards families who do not. This mommy-judging, in my own experience, is not a phenomenon exclusive to any one parenting style, and it is unfair to point the fingers at one group of moms over another. On the other hand, there are moms within many differing camps who acknowledge the need for a multitude of parenting techniques in every mom’s toolbox. Every child and every parent is unique, and no book on how to raise your children has all the answers. (And you know what? I think most parents and authors will admit that!)
The cover mom, Jamie Lynn Grumet, said it well in her Q & A session with Time Magazine: “There seems to be a war going on between conventional parenting and attachment parenting, and that’s what I want to avoid. I want everyone to be encouraging. We’re not on opposing teams. We all need to be encouraging to each other, and I don’t think we’re doing a very good job at that.”
Thank you for that reminder.
What did you think of Time’s article on attachment parenting? Was it a fair representation? What was it lacking?  Do you agree or disagree with my points above? I appreciate your feedback!

Response to Time Magazine’s Cover

This portion of the series does not address my personal response to attachment parenting, and does not represent my complete views on extended breastfeeding. Please stay tuned for future posts on these topics.

Welcome to Part 1 of my series on Time Magazine’s cover story on Attachment Parenting. Today, I will write my own personal response specifically to the cover of the magazine. I know I posted the picture in my last post, but let’s post it again here so we’re all on the same page.

Let’s start with the positive, then move on to the negative. Lastly, I’ll address some common reactions.

What’s Good About It?

One thing that could be considered good about this photo is that puts both extended breastfeeding and public nursing into mainstream media. I am all for normalizing both of these (so long as they are done appropriately and respectfully to those around you). Our culture as a whole is very unfamiliar with the idea of nursing longer than 12-18 months or so- and many United States residents are uncomfortable with actually seeing a woman nurse her baby- so this photograph could be a way to help some people make the mental transition to the idea that this is a normal occurrence in many places all over the world.

What’s Bad About It?

The Picture is Misleading.

The very nature of this photo- the pose of the mom, the boy standing on the chair, the facial expressions- all of it has sparked heated controversy among formula feeding moms and breastfeeding advocates alike. Why? Many say this pose isn’t really what regular breastfeeding is like- “extended” or not! On a chair? Hands on hips? No, this pose doesn’t display the typical nurturing, snuggling, intimate feel of breastfeeding that we are used to.

In fact, the photographer who did the shoot said in a report, “When you think of breast-feeding, you think of mothers holding their children, which was impossible with some of these older kids,” Schoeller says. “I liked the idea of having the kids standing up to underline the point that this was an uncommon situation.” However, the fact is that older kids can still be snuggled  by their mamas, nursing toddlers are less uncommon than one might think, and not all “extended nursers” are doing it provocatively on the front cover of a magazine.

I think this cover photo will probably turn many people off to extended nursing, rather displaying it as a normal part of life for many women all over the world. I believe the shocking nature of the cover will tend to mask any useful information on the subject. I liked some of the other photos from the cover shoot better because they weren’t as sensational, but none were nearly as natural as seeing a woman doing it on her own turf.

The Title is Offensive.

“Are you mom enough?” screams out at us from the front cover. Ouch. Especially around Mother’s Day. Double Ouch. To me, this is ridiculous. Most attachment parents that I know aren’t going around strutting their stuff, looking down on other moms for weaning at 9 months instead of 2 years. (And if they are, it’s an attitude problem- not a parenting style problem.) This title isn’t a billboard for attachment parenting and it’s not reflective of the attitude of many women who practice it- but it certainly attracts attention from many readers. This, I suppose, must have been the intended reaction. Selling is key, and unfortunately, stirring up controversy and misrepresentations is one way to make this happen. (Gag.)

The Caption Raises Misconceptions.

“Why attachment parenting drives some mothers to extremes- and how Dr. Bill Sears became their guru.”

This seems to suggest that the practices of attachment parenting are extreme- nursing beyond the “normal” 12 months, wearing your baby most of the day, and sleeping with your baby- when in fact, many of these practices are very common around the world. A friend of mine from Uganda asked me once, “Why do you put the babies in their crib here? In Africa, we sleep with them!” Look at pictures of women all over the world, and many of them are working while carrying their babies in slings or wraps on their back- in fact, one of my husband’s employers, who was from South Africa, mentioned this very thing to me once while I was wearing my son. A woman in Australia commented once, “[Here] we have much higher rates of breastfeeding & now I completely know why. If I am out to lunch & my child wants to be fed I feed him!! I DON’T COVER UP I DON’T GO TO ANOTHER ROOM OR WORSE THE TOILET, no I feed my child where I am because he is hungry & because he has every right to be fed straight away.” One conservative Christian man I knew from Portugal didn’t have a second thought about seeing a nursing mother. When I was in Austria, I think I recall a toddler running up to his mother for a drink at a public square. The examples go on and on…

I’m not saying that mothers have to employ these parenting practices by any means, or that they are superior to others. I simply want to convey the point that they are not extreme, and that the U.S. is probably in the minority in their employment of the practices Dr. Bill Sears suggests.

Secondly, I don’t like that Time poses Sears as a “guru” for “extreme” mothers. While I’m not out to defend the now-infamous doctor, I will say that Sears never claims that you have to employ every single attachment practice at all times. In fact, Sears said in his response to Time Magazine’s article, “Attachment parenting is not an all-or-nothing, extreme, or indulgent style of parenting.  I advise moms and dads that the seven Baby B’s (birth bonding, breastfeeding, babywearing, bedding close to baby, belief in baby’s cries, beware of baby trainers, and balance) are starter tools (remember, tools not rules) to help parents and infants get to know each other better.  And families can modify these tools to fit their individual family situation.” I can see how some women might take these tools a little too far, but I don’t think that Sears’ intention was to drive anyone over the edge. More on this to come in my personal response to attachment parenting.

Common Reactions

“It’s Porn” or “That’s Gross.”

Uhhh, no. Actually, it’s a breastfeeding mother. It’s definitely not porn, nor is it “disgusting.” This is a picture of a normal way to feed and comfort your child. Provocative? Sure, I could see that- but only really because of the pose they assumed. But honestly, the cover only turned my head because I was surprised to see something like that in such a major publication. Other than that, the scene of a mother nursing her child seems totally normal to me.

One probable reason for this viewpoint is the over-sexualization of the breast in our culture, as one fun-poking post addressed (Warning: the picture for this one may be more shocking than Time Magazine’s photo). We’ve lost the ability to see it as a nurturing part of our body, and many people are left awkward at the sight of a breastfeeding mother. I see this as an unfortunate predicament, and one that I struggle with frequently- how do I normalize public breastfeeding without causing offense by making onlookers uncomfortable? (I know this very topic is  debated- but that’s another post entirely…)

Stork Stories drew a striking contrast between risque photos (that most of us don’t take a second glance at) and public breastfeeding that offends many. Enjoy Birth defended the position that breasts are not for entertainment purposes alone. My point is not to try to convince all of you to start publicly breastfeeding, but rather to show that our culture accepts MANY sexual images as normal but has a difficult time accepting breastfeeding. This, to me, is backwards, and is a real cause for some of the unease many readers are finding in Time Magazine’s cover photo.

The Mother Should Have Protected Her Son

I can agree with this point of view, but I think this is also because of the oversexualiztion of the  breast in our culture. Regardless though, whether or not this should be the case, the fact of the matter is that it is the state of our culture. This is the reason that I don’t personally force public nursing- because I know it’s naive to think that no one will be looking at my son and me in a wrong, perverted way. Likewise, even though people shouldn’t look at this mother and her son in that way, there may be some who do. It hurts me deeply that this is the case, and yet, the truth of it restrains me from fully supporting the photo on the front of Time, well-intentioned as it may have been. It’s that catch-22 again- I want to work towards changing the culture to be more accepting of public nursing, and yet I don’t know how to do that without working through these serious obstacles. Arrg! Again, that’s another whole post…

It’s Great! More Power to Her!

I can understand this reaction too, and I am glad that this mother has kept nursing her son happily so long. I take absolutely no personal offense at the photo, but the misconceptions that have risen over the cover are disconcerting. This is not the model’s fault so much as Time Magazine’s for painting both extended and public nursing in such a controversial light.

As much as I would love to be overjoyed at the sight of public nursing going on in mainstream media, the reasons I have listed throughout this entire post keep me from being able to truly support Time’s new cover. I think I would support a cover photo of public nursing if it was more respectful, more “real life,” and perhaps a bit more subtle, because it would probably cause less offense, less uproar, and more transfer of helpful breastfeeding information. (But that probably wouldn’t sell as much, right?)

What are your thoughts on Time Magazine’s new cover? I love hearing differing viewpoints and lively (though kind) discussion. Ready, set, go!

Time Magazine Series

Alrighty, folks! Time Magazine’s new cover depicting a young mom breastfeeding her 3 year old son is already old news to most of us. However, I feel that I couldn’t let something so influential and controversial go by without blogging about it! I’m sure I won’t have anything new to say, and I’m quite certain that not everyone will agree with my take on it. Regardless, I’m going to go ahead and respond to this article over the next couple of weeks in a series of posts.

The tentative blog plan of action runs as follows:

1) Response to Time Magazine’s New Cover

2) Review of “The Man Who Remade Motherhood”

3) My Personal View on Attachment Parenting

4) My Personal View on Extended Breastfeeding (since the cover has brought this up in great controversy!)

Stay tuned! I appreciate you coming back to read more, and as always, I welcome friendly discussion from differing viewpoints. Have a beautiful Saturday.

“Birth Plan Compromise?” at Happy Mommy Blog

Quick post tonight! (My hubby and I are on a sort-of vacation, so my posts are scattered a bit…)

The Happy Mommy Blog particularly humbled me tonight. I was going to write a post on how to protect your birth plan (and I still may), but when researching around I came across this account of how this mom’s birth plan changed. I thought this post was a refreshing perspective on how this mom felt when her birth plans changed.

I began to think to myself that yes, there ARE ways to help protect a birth plan. However, there are sometimes situations that simply change- sometimes they are in our control and sometimes they’re not. And when they do change, no mom should be made to feel guilty over it. She should be allowed to feel disappointed, to wish things had gone differently, and she may need some help to reframe her experience. However, she shouldn’t feel like a failure. Every mom is a hero when she gives birth, no matter how it happens.

I particularly like this quote from Happy Mommy’s post:

“They brought my sweet little man into me and I held him in my arms.  In that instant I knew all of it, everything that had strayed away from my plan didn’t matter.  The only thing that did matter was this amazing little baby was outside of me, safe and in my arms.  I would go through all of it again a thousand times.”

I’ll let you read it for yourself. Enjoy.

More Business of Being Born

Did you enjoy The Business of Being Born? I did, and I thought it revealed a lot of issues about modern childbirth. I think it was eye opening to many people, but I don’t think it addressed all of the controversies out there. It was a great documentary, but couldn’t be considered comprehensive education on the various issues at hand.

Now Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein, the makers of the original documentary, are working a new series of four DVDs that will address some of the questions that the first documentary left unanswered. Here’s your chance to help fund a project that will put more birth issues into public light and hopefully help to chance the face of birth in America. Check out the Kickstarter page to help fund Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein’s new project for More Business of Being Born. I’m going to donate- how about you? Even just one dollar helps to promote public awareness of the state of birthing affairs in the US today!!! Leave a comment if you’re donating!