In Which TIME Magazine Channels Its Inner National Enquirer

Inquiring minds want to know . . . does that woman on the cover of Time Magazine REALLY nurse her kid in that position?  And did she REALLY think she was furthering the cause of extended breastfeeding by posing for that controversial cover shot?  And did it ever occur to her that she was exploiting her kid and her relationship with him for personal gain?
I hate to give this any more attention than it has garnered already. (Good job, Time; your tactic worked!)  I haven’t even read the article and don’t intend to.  But if anyone ever doubted that the sources we once counted on to inform us of the news are now in the business of CREATING the news, look no further than this stunt.  Time doesn’t care to inform us about the truth of extended breastfeeding and the benefits of attachment; they wish to inflame us and create a controversy where there doesn’t need to be one.
The reason I’m responding instead of ignoring is because I’m an expert on extended breastfeeding.  And in the interest of my passion for the truth, I want to share my experiences so that the cover of Time won’t be all that rises to your brain when the subject comes up.
Just like anyone my age, I grew up seeing babies fed mostly with bottles.  For a variety of reasons having to do with the culture of the times and poor advice, four months was the longest my mother nursed a baby.  My impression of breastfeeding, even when I was first pregnant, was that it was something you did for a few months and then you switched to bottles.  I saved the formula coupons I received in the mail while I was pregnant.
But, as you know, I love to read.  It was inevitable that I would do a lot of reading while I was pregnant and a few books I read at that time changed my life.  Emily never had a bottle of formula and I nursed her for 26 months.  I nursed Jake for 38 months (and yes, that means I nursed him throughout my pregnancy with Teddy, and nursed the two of them together until they weaned when Teddy was 26 months old).  William nursed at least until Lorelei was born (which is 42 months) and I don’t remember exactly but I know Lorelei was past four when she stopped.  (Yes, I nursed babies for 13 years.  Give me a medal.)
When Emily was born, the above would have sounded just as weird to me as it may sound to you.  But it’s different when it’s your own kid, your own baby.  Sure, you look at a four-year-old next to a newborn and the contrast seems extreme,  But when you are in the middle of mothering, there’s little difference between nursing your four-month-old or your six-month-old, your one-year-old or your eighteen-month-old, and so on.  It’s a seamless transition.  Do you think anything about letting your ten-year-old sit in your lap?  Would you think it was odd if he wanted to climb into bed with you if he had a nightmare?  Is it strange that my eighteen-year-old son likes to hug me and say, “I love my Mommy?”  I don’t know, maybe you will think it’s strange, but whatever.  You probably have your own sort of strangeness in your house.
I didn’t stand around in the kitchen with my kid on a step stool.  I didn’t pose for any cameras.  I lay down with my preschoolers and bedtime and naptime.  We cuddled on the couch.  They wanted to nurse for comfort when they were hurt or upset.
There are many benefits to extended breastfeeding.  The nutritional and health benefits don’t go away as the child ages.  I have the healthiest children I know, bar none.  Emily has not visited a doctor for illness since she was TWO YEARS OLD.   We’ve had one earache per kid.  No strep throat.  One or two antibiotic prescriptions apiece throughout childhood.  My two younger kids slept with me from birth.  There were no sleep issues or problems.  I never had any difficulty getting anyone down for a nap or to sleep at night or back to sleep if they woke up (once I stopped stressing about solving sleep problems, which I may post about another time).  If someone was hurt or sad, I could comfort them easily.  And my kids are not clingy at all.  Having their needs fully met as infants, toddlers, and preschoolers helps them feel good about themselves, helps them feel secure and safe.  We live in a society that pushes independence on little kids and denies it to big kids.  We stick babies in their own rooms and expect them to sleep through the night and then we monitor our teenagers’ homework and grades and go with them to college orientation and tell them what classes to take.  That’s BACKWARDS, people.
And you know what?  Extended breastfeeding is NORMAL.  It’s  NATURAL.  Around the world, 50% of babies are still being nursed at the age of 20-23 months.  In many countries the figure is much higher.  The WHO recommends children be nursed until the age of two or beyond.  If you don’t want to, that’s fine.  But biologically it is not strange, not weird, not abnormal.  It’s what women’s breasts are FOR, and even though Time meant to be provocative, it’s pretty damn pathetic that people can be whipped into a fury over a woman using her breast for its intended purpose on one magazine cover while not saying a WORD about all the synthetic almost-bare breasts adorning the covers of all the other magazines.

extended breastfeeding
Courtesy of Mama Fresh (www.pusteblumenbaby.de)

0 thoughts on “In Which TIME Magazine Channels Its Inner National Enquirer

  1. I am so glad you wrote this Leslie. My favorite part: “If you don’t want to, that’s fine. But biologically it is not strange, not weird, not abnormal”
    That’s what irritated me about this cover shot is that it’s clear they chose it to make extended nursing look awkward and wrong.
    Excellent, excellent post. I am tweeting it. xo

    1. Thank you so much, Caroline! I felt I had to respond to that picture because it is essentially a visual lie–that’s not what extended nursing looks like, not here in America or around the world.

  2. I’m not a mom myself, so it was interesting to read your take on extended breastfeeding. I truly don’t know, what I’d decide (and I don’t think you can make that decision, unless you’re in the situation), but if I end up becoming a mom, I will report back 🙂

    1. So much of parenting is on the job learning!! AND decision making. So much depends not just on having good information but on how you feel and what works at the time. 🙂 Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  3. Chrissy

    Wow! That’s a lot of breastfeeding! I get looks when I tell people that both of my boys nursed until they were just over 2 years old. Mine are 22 and 17 now and I was a young mom and began breastfeeding out of financial necessity. I could barely afford diapers, let alone formula! Breast milk was free and boy did I have an abundance of it! I had no idea how much I’d fall in love with it. IMy kids, like yours are the healthiest smartest kids I know. I can’t remember the last time either has been to the doctor for an illness. Not even so much as a sniffle out of either of them until after they were two years old, never an ear infection, no strep throat ever, and no allergies. Both tested as gifted in second grade. One is in college now as a music education major, and my younger graduates from high school in a couple of weeks and is going to college to major in chemical engineering. I give credit to extended breastfeeding for a lot of it. I get so frustrated when people call it disgusting, or wrong. With all of the stories of abuse and neglect of children, I can’t fathom how people can judge mothers like us for providing such an amazing start for our babies because of their insecurities with the human body and thinking that nursing a baby that’s not an infant is somehow bad. But we know better! Good for you and good for your babies!

    1. Thank you, Chrissy! You know, one thing I didn’t even mention was the benefits for mothers. I LOVED breastfeeding. It has been one of my very favorite parts of having children. And you are right, there are so many reasons to get upset at other parents for truly bad choices in child rearing. This should be a non-issue.

      1. Chrissy

        You know the hardest part of my decision to not have more kids was knowing I’d never experience breastfeeding again. I can get the baby fix as I have younger sisters that are just starting their families. My youngest sister has a now two year old and I watch her for her from time to time. But taking care of a newborn baby that you can’t breastfeed is so different! She breastfed, but supplemented with formula very early. (I grumbled more than a little bit when she told me it was just too hard to do all the time) I had to get her to teach me how to make formula one time when she didn’t have any breast milk pumped for me. I’d never done it! Ever!! And then my sister laughed at me when I held my niece as close to the breastfeeding position as I could get her while I was giving her her bottle. And don’t get me started on how much I loved that little rooting they do when they’re trying to latch on with their little mouths open like a little baby bird. Most precious thing ever! 🙂

  4. Helga

    I totally missed out on breastfeeding. My son, I was told, was allergic to my milk because he constantly vomitted and they advised me to stop nursing shortly after he was born. He was raised on soy formula and he grew up to be a son any mother would be proud to call her own. When I was pregnant with my daughter I developed inflamation of the deep veins in my leg and was put on blood thinners as soon as she was born. Again, I was advised to not even attempt nursing her because the medicine would go directly into the breast milk and harm the baby. When you are young and inexperienced, you rely on the advice of doctors. Whatelse could I do? My own mom had passed away when I was only 18, so I could not consult her. You do the best you know how with the little experience you have at the time and hope for the best. I agree with you, this poor child is being exploited by his mother. She must have a big need for media attention. He will be so embarrassed some day.

  5. Clisby

    I haven’t read the Time article, so I’m not sure what the purpose was. My first thought was, “Isn’t this old news?” Also, I see the photo as provocative, but in more of a good way. (As my 10-year-old might say: “In yo’ face!”)
    My personal experience is varied. I breastfed my first for about 3 weeks – it was, bar none, the most nightmarishly painful thing I have ever done. Childbirth was NOTHING compared to it. I pumped milk for her for a couple more months, and then went to formula.
    With child #2, I was determined to get through breastfeeding. Yes, I knew it was (generally speaking) better for him, but since child #1 was spectacularly healthy, that wasn’t the biggest reason. I was really disappointed in my inability to bear the pain. I cannot tell you how many times I repeated my breastfeeding mantra: “If I were dying of cancer, I’d be in a lot more pain than this, and I’d HAVE to stand it. So I can stand this.” Sure enough, I could stand it, and by the time he was 4 months old, it wasn’t even uncomfortable most of the time. I breastfed him until he was 2.5 years old.
    For me, no question – breastfeeding was not easier or more of a bonding experience than formula-feeding. I’ve heard sanctimonious people claim, “I breastfeed because I’m lazy. It’s so much easier.” I say: Lady, you’re crazy.
    I’m not a fan of anecdotal evidence. If I were to go by the comparative health and physical strength of my children, I’d have to say, breastmilk: thumbs down, Similac: you’re the winner. My first child was healthier and more physically advanced in every way than my 2nd child. But who knows? Maybe my 2nd would have been more prone to illness if I hadn’t breastfed him. And now I have a lot more confidence in my ability to stand pain. So that’s a winner.
    Also, I don’t correlate breastfeeding with co-sleeping, babywearing, etc. I’ve known a whole lot of people who breastfed their children, never coslept, and “Ferberized” them by the time they were 8 or 9 months old. We coslept with our first child a LOT during her first year, because she slept better that way. Our 2nd child magically didn’t mind a crib, so that’s where he slept (in our room – no way I’d put a newborn in a separate room. Neither did my mother. Or my grandmothers. Nothing new about that.) My 2nd child slept with us off and on a lot between about 2 and 4. Now they both sleep like logs, unless there’s a bad thunderstorm, in which case the 10-year-old is in bed with us. The 15-year-old probably didn’t even wake up.

    1. Of course you are right that “the plural of anecdote is not data,” although I believe data exist to support the effects of formula feeding on chidren’s health. AS we both know, that doesn’t mean any individual child might not be plenty healthy or unhealthy regardless of feeding method. And you’re also right that you can breastfeed without the other AP trappings. I “Ferberized” my first three kids, although I’d never choose to do it that way again. I know lots of people who breastfed and never co-slept, although to me it seems harder–and that’s part of what I’m thinking of when I say breastfeeding is a lazy way to parent. Because I’d heard all the horror stories about being up all night with a newborn and having no sleep, but I was plenty rested from the start because of co-sleeping (which, by the way, I didn’t learn from an AP bible, but sort of accidentally discovered and couldn’t believe no one else had ever thought of it!).

  6. Kate Wicker

    From one extended breastfeeding mama to another, you rock. Excellent post. Thank you for sharing the link over at my space. I, not surprisingly, agree with every word you’ve written.
    Oh, and Clisby, I’m so sorry you had a rough experience with breastfeeding. I know I’m very blessed because I only have had to deal with an over supply problem and one bout of mastitis. For me, and I’m really not trying to be sanctimonious, it really has been more about lazy parenting. I nurse for longer and delay solids because I don’t want to have to deal with high chair crud removal and what feels like more work to me. 🙂

    1. Thanks for vsiting, Kate, and for your kind words. I was going to say something similar to Clisby–I’m sure there are ways that formula feeding is easier, especially in infancy. But I cannot imagine how I would have parented without the aid of breastfeeding. It makes it so easy with toddlers. I remember my first exposure to extended breastfeeding, when I was interviewing a couple for a story I was writing for our Catholic Diocesan newspaper on Natural Family Planning. The mom nursed her two year old to sleep as we talked, and I remember how impressed I was with how easy it was to put her to bed (I was pregnant with my first at that time).

  7. Michelle

    I am a mother of two and and breast fed both. I could not disagree with you more. Also, the comparisons you made do not fit with breast feeding. You wrote if our 10 year old asked to sit in our lap our answer would be yes. And yes, I would say yes. However, if your 10 year old asked to see your boob and you allow him or her to touch it with his mouth….well you should spend time talking to a professional about why you are doing this rather than making ridiculous comparisons. If you believe your child needs breast milk then pump it. Get over your self and realize if he is old enough to discuss with his friends then it is called incest.

    1. Michelle, I am a little confused. I am not breastfeeding a ten-year-old or any other children for that matter. So I don’t need professional help. You, on the other hand, might, if your idea of fun is attacking someone you don’t know on the internet. 🙂

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