It would seem the latest media controversy to sweep through North America (temporarily stealing some spotlight from the same-sex marriage debate), has been brought to us courtesy of Time magazine. For those of you who haven’t heard the buzz yet the May 21st issue features a cover photo of Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her three-year-old son Aram. As soon as I heard of the story I knew I wanted to write about it, so I picked up a copy the day it hit my local news stand and began reading.
On a broader scale this centres around attachment parenting or AP, a concept currently being advocated by Dr. Bill Sears. (For his seven B’s of attachment parenting read here ; some of them I agree with, some I don't). What bothers me about all the hype is that this presents a perfect opportunity for open discussion on how best to raise children in Western society, yet all the focus seems to be directed on a provocative front-page photo. Neither Mrs. Grumet nor Dr. Sears are happy with Time’s decision to use this particular shot for the cover; a picture of her cuddling her son close would have better represented the story, but Time knows as well as anyone that an attractive young woman with her breasts half exposed in a defiant pose such as this will draw attention. In this sense the cover has done what it’s supposed to, and that’s to sell magazines. I have not so much a problem with the photo itself as the way in which it's being used to deliberately spark controversy.
The cover headline also provokes a strong reaction by asking, “Are you mom enough?” It’s sensationalistic and insensitive, as if suggesting that women who are unable to breastfeed as often as they’d like (or at all) somehow fall short as mothers. Attachment parenting to this degree is almost a non-issue anyway; how many women are in a position to stay at home and nurse their children for this length of time even if they want to? The vast majority of mothers don’t take AP to such extremes but this message is overshadowed.
If I were to break down Sears’ seven points of attachment parenting and give my views on each, I’d have to spread it out over several posts. So, since public attention is being focused on the issue of extended breastfeeding that’s what I’ll talk about here.
I just don’t understand what all the fuss is about. I admit that I was a bit unsettled by the photo at first, mainly because it’s not something we’re used to seeing. Only 15-25% of North American mothers continue nursing their children past six months, where from every article I’ve read the international average is much higher. Why do so many feel breastfeeding into the toddler years until a child self-weans is wrong? And how many more mothers, given the chance to stay at home for years and raise their children, would choose to do the same?
Response to Jamie Lynne Grumet’s cover photo has ranged from overwhelming support to threats of Child Protective Services being called under allegations of child molestation. This infuriates me. It’s a fire fuelled by ignorance, those who feel this way would do well to speak with a survivor of child sexual abuse. On her Facebook page Jamie has linked to an excellent article written by Mollie, a blogger who is both a survivor of abuse and a nursing mother of two children, one of them a three year old. It’s very well-written and I feel worth a look.
Much is being made of how traumatized Jamie's son will be when he's older, that someday his fellow twelve year old friends will taunt him with images of this cover photo. I highly doubt this is something kids or anyone else will be dwelling on years from now, and it's unlikely most children who know him at the peak of all this publicity are aware he's on the cover or have any capacity to understand the controversy surrounding it. I've also heard almost no mention of his older brother Samuel, whom the Grumets adopted from an Ethiopian family. What life would this child have had if he had stayed there? Surely not the same as he has now.
It’s been pointed out that Aram looks more like a four or five year old in the cover photo. He’ll be four in June, and this to me speaks to his state of health. The benefits of breastfeeding are widely documented. Beyond twelve months breast milk changes to suit the development of a child, I came across this article which explains further and argues in favour of extended feeding.
Breastfeeding is beautiful and natural and I fully support any woman who wishes to (which includes publicly). I also realize many women don’t do it, either by choice or because they can’t. I’m not saying that giving a baby formula isn’t acceptable, I just don’t understand why anyone would encourage a nursing mother to remove her child by a certain age when the benefits of breast milk have been proven.
Let’s wean a child before he or she is ready and put them on formula or cow's milk. Let’s trade the safety and warmth of a mother’s body for the security that an inanimate object such as a blanket provides. Let’s break this emotional attachment not because mother or child are ready but simply because society says it’s time.
Show me the logic in that.
(UPDATE: Since writing this I'm very pleased to say that Jamie has asked me to provide a link to this post on her Facebook page, which can be found here . She added: "The only thing I disagree with on you is about my son (Samuel, who is actually older than Aram) and he is better off in America than Ethiopia. Ethiopians raise wonderful human beings, and we could learn so much from them! (just wanted to clear that up! I hope I didn't come across mad or attacking you...not meant that way at all)." No offence taken Jamie, my statement was probably misleading. Thanks for giving me the chance to share this post with your readers!
For more pictures from Time’s photoshoot see here
Jamie Lynne Grumet’s Facebook page
Jamie Lynne Grumet’s blog
What AP is: 7 Baby B's by Dr. Bill Sears
Out of the Mouth of Babes by Eric Michael Johnson, Evolutionary Anthropologist
The WEIRD Evolution of Human Psychology by Eric Michael Johnson, Evolutionary Anthropologist
A Natural Age of Weaning by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD
Breastfeeding Past Infancy: Fact Sheet by Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC
How Breastfeeding Benefits You and Your Baby reviewed by the BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board