The Time breastfeeding cover - with Los Angeles mom Jamie Lynne Grumet nursing her nearly 4-year-old son while he stands on a chair — is the controversy of the week.
I'm on Team Grumet: I breastfed my oldest daughter for two years and my youngest for three and a half.
After all, "breast is best." Unlike man-made formula, mom-made milk is always free and always warm. It reduces babies' risk of diarrhea and ear infections and may even decrease the likelihood of being fat later. (A new Irish study found an association between being breastfed for 13 to 25 weeks and seeing a 38 percent reduction in the risk of obesity at age 9.) Breastfeeding also lowers moms' risk of breast and ovarian cancer and helps them lose weight.
Several close friends also nursed their kids well past infancy. One tells a funny story of her daughter politely saying, "Other side, please."
But none of us breastfed toddlers in public, while they stood on chairs or park benches to reach a milk source - or, as the actress Alicia Silverstone recently did, while we held them on a walk down the street. And none of us did it round the clock.
After all, after babies hit six months, they're eating solid food, too. So nursing typically becomes more of a bedtime ritual. Sure, a few women with 3-year-olds breastfeed outside, in broad daylight - but they're the exception.
Many Americans simply feel uncomfortable with public breastfeeding children of any age. Five years ago I wrote a Newsweek story called "Indecent Exposure," about the topic. At the time, the actress Maggie Gyllenhaal had visited a public park in New York — and breastfed her then-8-month-old daughter, Ramona.
Gyllenhaal's reward for following the American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation to breastfeed for at least 12 months: Gawker.com posted a picture of a partially exposed breast and called it a "momtroversy." The photo then appeared on a "nude" website. And a grocery-store manager told a mom to cover up while she was nursing her 2-month-old.
Unlike Time cover mom Grumet, she did not breastfeed with her child standing on a chair. Who breastfeeds in that position? No one (including Grumet, I'm guessing).
My biggest quibble with the magazine is the staged photo. But it's certainly drawing attention to the fact that fewer than a quarter of moms are still nursing when their kids are 12 months old. That's an improvement over recent decades. But it's a far cry from meeting the AAP guidelines.
The Time breastfeeding cover did get people talking about nursing. It remains to be seen whether it will move the needle on the number of women who nurse for at least a year.
Amazingly, the controversy seems close to overshadowing President Obama's statement that he supports gay marriage. A former co-worker posted a salon.com story about the controversy on Facebook - and got 101 comments and counting. (One commenter called it "disgusting.") No one has gotten close to that many for same-sex links.
My bottom line: Put breastfeeding in perspective. I bonded with my babies in many ways, which included holding them during walks, reading Pat the Bunny - and nursing. Would I feel as close to my kids as I do if I breastfed them - but otherwise never snuggled with them or giggled with them over Dr. De Soto, Clifford the Big Red Dog, and Bill and Pete? No.
At all ages, many activities - not just one - make parents and kids feel close to each other. I think sharing picture books makes for good "attachment parenting" at least as much as nursing does.
Now I just need to convince the Time editors to run a cover photo of a mother reading her child The Cat in the Hat. (If it would help, I'm OK with the shot being taken while the kid is standing on a chair.)
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