Photo Credit: TIME
Just in time for Mother's Day, TIME magazine has poked a stick at the delicate state of motherhood in America. The current magazine cover features a slender blond mom breastfeeding her 3-year-old child. Next to the cover image is the question: "Are You Mom Enough?"
When I saw the cover, I audibly sighed. And it wasn't because I had a big reaction one way or the other to the image of a toddler nursing. It was because the TIME editors seemed to be inciting a controversy on purpose: riling moms up and piting parents against each other. And well, everyone reacted just as expected.
I'd venture to guess that the vast majority of people who've commented on the cover have not actually read the accompanying piece on attachment parenting and its biggest advocate, Dr. Bill Sears, author of The Baby Book and over thirty other parenting books. (It's a pretty good piece about Sears and the parenting philosophy he's popularized.) Instead, many have attacked the perceived vulgarity of the image, the act of breastfeeing as a whole, the mom on the cover -- and, of course, each other. I'm all for public debate, but I'm not in favor of perpetrating the ick factor that some people have about breastfeeding.
On iVillage's Facebook page alone, there were 103 Likes for the cover and 334 comments at last check. While we're assuming that the Likes are in support the image, most of the comments are extremely negative: "It's GROSS!”; "This is bordering on porn!"; "Breastfeeding past 6 months is gross!"; "When they can REMEMBER IT, it's child abuse."; "Breastfeeding a 3-year-old? Really? Can a Mother be so disgusting and uneducated?"
There were also supporters: "Who are we to knock other mothers for wanting to give their children natural nutrition?"; "The kid is 3, get over your prudish selves. Breast milk absolutely provides nutrition toddlers and young children."; "The only reason people have a problem with it is because we've sexualized breasts so much in the US that we can't look at a pic like this without thinking something pedophilic."
The fact is, to much of the world, breastfeeding a 3-year-old is totally normal. The World Health Organization recommends up to two years or more of breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for the first year of life and then continuing "for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby." One stat even puts the worldwide the average age for weaning a child at 4.2 years old, according to The National Association for Child Development -- though there is some controversy about the accuracy of that statistic.
Back in 2008, the American Academy of Family Physicians acknowledged that extended breastfeeding "is not the cultural norm in the United States," but that the practice does indeed require support and encouragement. They went on to say that docs "should be knowledgeable regarding the ongoing benefits...of extended breastfeeding, including continued immune protection, better social adjustment and having a sustainable food source in times of emergency." They also stated that there's no evidence that extended breastfeeding is harmful to mother or child, according to an older piece in TIME.
I breastfed both of my children. I nursed my eldest until he was 13-months-old. For me, breastfeeding a toddler wasn't in the cards. I worked. I pumped. My children were healthy and strong and good independent sleepers -- so I decided to stop. I have friends who nursed their children for less time and I have friends who nursed for longer. (And, honestly, you get judged no matter where you fall on the spectrum.) I remember one friend in particular who was offering her breast to her walking, talking, potty-trained toddler. Yes, I felt a little weird being in the room when this was going on, but who cares what I felt or thought? Today, that breastfeeding toddler is a happy, healthy hockey-playing first grader.
One commenter on our Facebook page put it simply--and I think the best: "How about we let the mother and her child make the decision of how old is too old?"