Why do we care how long kids are breastfed?

Yesterday, Time Magazine published a cover featuring a mother breastfeeding her three-year-old son as he stands on a stool suckling from her breast. The issue marks the 20-year anniversary of attachment parenting, as coined by Dr. Sears.

Breastfeeding is like its own character—mommy wars are launched between breastfeeding and formula-feeding teams, discussion arises as to whether breastfeeding in public without a cover is appropriate or not, and of course, we debate just how long we should breastfeed.

There seems to be no clear cut winner. The mom who attempts breastfeeding but turns to formula after a few days is deemed as a failure. Yet the mom who breastfeeds for three years is seen as extreme. Sometimes breastfeeding feels like a competition: the mom who breastfed for one year seems like the “winner” over the one who continued for nine months. Would breastfeeding to a happy average of one and a half years old make everyone comfortable then?

The answer: do what works for you. We easily raise our eyebrows when we see older kids breastfeeding yet take little time to assume that doing so works best for that family. Or perhaps we tsk tsk at the mom who stopped short of her six-month goal of breastfeeding without realizing that doing so made her a much happier mom to her baby.

Unless parents are downright abusing, neglecting or placing their kids in difficult situations, I ask myself, “What is it to me?” I don’t give my toddler candy, but what is it to me if another parent gives her son some Whoppers? Similarly, I would hate for another parent to make assumptions about me because I use disposable diapers while she doesn’t.

I’m not immune from judging; many a times have I done a double-take when I see something I’m not used to. But as mothers, we would all benefit from allowing other moms to parent the way they see fit. Whether we never breastfed our kids or continue to do so, we’re loving, well-intentioned mothers, however different our parenting methods may be. After all, most of us are doing the best we can, in the ways that work best for us.

What are your thoughts on Time Magazine’s cover photo? How do you handle different parenting styles from yours?

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26 thoughts on “Why do we care how long kids are breastfed?

  1. For me, it wasn’t about the cover PHOTO, it was about the TITLE beneath it. I fall into the same camp as you do when it comes to judging others’ parenting decisions. Not my family; not my decision. But the title irked me to no end. “Are You Mom Enough?”.

    First of all, it set up all kinds of me-versus-you arguments. It also set mothers up to judge each other and themselves in order to answer that question. It also implies that one way to parent is “enough” and the rest are, inherently, “NOT enough”. Rage-inducing.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t cracked open the magazine to actually read the article. In fact, I don’t want to give them the satisfaction of selling another magazine by exploiting the infamous and overplayed Mommy Wars. So perhaps the article redeems itself. But from what I gather on the cover, it’s going to try to tell me that Attachment Parenting is where it’s at, and anyone who falls short of that is “not Mom enough”. Thanks but no thanks.

  2. “Do what works for you” is right. I don’t expect people to do the things I do and I don’t judge them for not doing them but I expect them to the same with me ! Thanks for writing about this article that I’ve been seeing here and there for a couple days !

  3. I don’t understand what the whole issue with breast feeding is. When we were born our mothers used to breast feed us and no one would bat an eye. It was just what was done. I can remember being in public places (GASP!) and my aunt would throw a blanket over herself and breast feed my cousin. Women have been doing that since the beginning of time. I just don’t get why all of a sudden it’s such a huge deal and seen as indecent.

    As for the timing, I agree with you. It’s up to each mother to decide how long (if at all) they want to breast feed for. Is it indecent because we have the supposed technology to mimic breast milk in formula therefore we should use it? If a woman chooses to give her child formula, do the pro-breast feeding moms get on their case? No. So why should it be such a big deal with a mom decides to breast feed her kid. I heard that breast feeding helps keep off/burn weight and other than the health benefits for the child, it’s the cheapest form of food you could ever find 🙂

  4. I haven’t seen the cover but Hooray! At least it’s out there on a huge magazine. Maybe it’ll raise some awareness on the subject. I think we should, within reason and the law, back off and let parents do it their way. Everyone thinks that their way is the right way but until you’re in the exact situation you never know what a parent is going through. I try my hardest not to judge because I know what it feel like.

  5. For me it isn’t so much the content that is bothersome, but rather the portrayal. I am have done both BF and FF. Never ever have I BF my kids in the manner depicted on the cover. I don’t begrudge extended BFers…I really just don’t care what other parents do. But the photograph on the cover of TIME was meant to do nothing other than shock to sell magazines. It just isn’t realistic and I can guarantee that is not how that mom typically nurses her 3 year old.

  6. It’s the title that bothered me the most. I am more than enough mom to raise my child the way I plan to, thank you very much.
    As far as BF goes, yes, us mothers get SO defensive and emotional about it. I BF for the main purpose of nutrtiin and health for my daughter, but was happy to be done. But if I am going to be honest, as much as I would like to say each mom for herself, I think it is just weird and to be frank (and probably offensive) gross. I don’t want to see it. Before anyone gets emotional about that, I just want to know the benefits of BF past 2 yrs old ( i say 2 because i can only fathom up to that age). Are there nutrition benefits or is it merely attachment. I’d love to understand. I guess I’ll have to read the article.

  7. I am all for breastfeeding. I breastfed my son until he was one, and though I loved it, I was SO ready to wean him then. I think you do what is best for you and your family. If you choose formula, or if you don’t have a choice and HAVE to use formula, that’s cool, too. My mom had no milk = I drank formula. Though it is questionable whether or not I really turned out fine, I happen to believe that whether or not I had formula as a baby didn’t have much of an effect on my outcome as a decent, happy human being.

    It is not the article that urks me. The title is a little bothersome. What gets me the most is the photo. I don’t care that the kid is only 3. He looks 5 or 6. It just looks freaky. I’m all about whipping the boob out in public, but I also believe in a bit of decency for those around me. Just ’cause I’m not modest doesn’t mean that the lady next to me isn’t as well.

    That all being said, the whole point of the photo & the title was to stir up controversy, to elicit a response from people and to bring attention to the subject matter. Well, Time, you have once again succeeded. Nicely done.

  8. I have taken upon myself the right to judge other mothers, because I am a troll. Not an internet troll — a real troll. I live with my family under a bridge, and I feed my baby pre-masticated goat meat. I get EXTREMELY offended when I see mothers who chose to raise their children differently from me, because I am right and also because I have an inferiority complex (you humans think you’re SOOOOOOOOO superior!) That is why I attack people who cross my bridge. Now back off, everybody, and let me do my thing by refusing to allow you to do yours.

  9. Whenever I’m with new parents, there are two things I am sure to tell them:

    1) “There is a really wide range of normal, and all the weird stuff your baby is going to do fits right in the middle of that range.”

    2) “There are a lot of ways to do this right. Find the ones that work for you. I can tell you what did or didn’t work for us, but I can’t tell you what will or won’t work for you.”

  10. I think the photo cover was a little extreme…having the mom and kid glare at you while they are doing their business. This is honestly not an accurate representation as to how moms nurse in public or private but rather an image to get people talking; which it clearly is working. Great marketing tool, Time!

    I agree with you when it comes down to doing what is right for your family. We all want to raise our children the way we want to raise them. I am always open to advice or conversation of change in parenting. I like to read about parenting philosophies from Americans and Europeans.

    Some ideas I agree with and some I don’t. I clearly follow the ones I agree with and I don’t judge with the ones I don’t agree with. Sometimes, however, if someone’s parenting style effects my son I do have issues with it. Like: offering him soda (please don’t offer my one year old soda) or having snack time right after lunch (why are we eating again?).

  11. I didn’t like the cover because I felt it cheapened the beautiful, natural act of breastfeeding for shock value. And I hate the title: Are You Mom Enough? Yes, I was a breastfeeder, but I have cousins and friends who formula-fed. I never looked down on them. And I felt like their children loved them as much as my son loved me. As long as a child’s physical and emotional needs are met, there is no reason to castigate each other or deem someone not “mom enough.” As always, I enjoy your voice of reason.

  12. two things that irk me about this cover:

    1) the title, as one the previous comments also stated. personally i don’t really care how long other people choose to breastfeed their kids but i care that others respect how long i choose to breastfeed. by that, i would not like this challenging, imposing question about whether i am “mom enough” to breastfeed for as long as the other. it almost sounds like breastfeeding or subscribing to attachment style parenting is the benchmark of a good mom. does it? of course not.

    2) out of so many other moms who also breastfeed their kids waay into their toddler years, they had to pick a svelte, young blonde for this story and yes, direct both mom and son to pose in this particular way that is completely unrealistic. in fact, to me, the art direction has almost intentionally sexualized it. how many moms LOOK this way, and how many moms breastfeed this way.

    i am more interested in the social ramifications for this little boy: how/what his peers think of him in years to come, and what HE thinks of this cover when he grows older, having been made to pose in such a way.

  13. I totally agree with this post, both in regards to the breastfeeding issue and the “who cares” idea in general.

    Everybody’s different. One of the themes of my blogs is the constant judgment parents get from Other Parents who think they are the experts and they know what’s best. There IS NO best. There’s just what works for you.

    Be comfortable with your own methods and the occasional judgment will cease to bother you.


  14. I tried to breastfeed my son but he was having none of it… the clasp on my nursing bra was like a magic button to make him scream no matter what I tried!
    My mum once told me that she had the same problems with my brother so no, it didn’t work for me but my best friend breastfed for 14 months and she has never judged me for not being able to

  15. I love the discussion going on over here, and I’m even more pleased with what moms (and dads—you too, Dad and Buried!) seem to be saying: enough is enough.

    The stark photo and headline succeeds in being catchy, however unrealistic its portrayal may be. It draws a response from people, from discomfort to support to confusion. But I think the photo and headline was soooo extreme that it may be unintentionally creating a new “movement”: one of moms sick of being categorized and divided, moms who would rather support one another despite different parenting methods, and moms who don’t want to be lured into petty cat fights anymore.

    Thanks for your thoughts—keep the convo going! I’m glad that parents are more and more open and supportive of one another.

  16. Bravo, well said! Everyone should do what works for them. There are so many issues that play into the decision whether to breastfeed or not that there just isn’t a one fits all answer.
    I am disappointed by the cover. It’s harmful to everyone.
    The title seems negative toward those who do not breastfeed and those who do not subscribe to extended breastfeeding.
    The photo sends a wrong message about extended breastfeeding and breastfeeding in general.
    All they were going for was obviously the shock value. It would have been nice to once see something that encourages choice instead of judgement and misunderstandings.
    I have to add that I have not read the article. But seeing the cover doesn’t really make me want to buy the magazine.

  17. May I just chime in and say that everything about feeding babies is controversial these days? I think our whole society is conditioned against seeing babies (or toddlers) breastfeed. And apart from the whole sexualization of it all, there are still significant obstacles in our society to successful breastfeeding, even though we all agree (so we’ve been told) that breast is best. For instance, the AAP came out with that scary statistic last year about 900 babies dying per year in the US who they think would have survived if they’d been breastfed. But the AAP is not even a majority of health care providers, and many health care providers in my area are really, really unsupportive of breastfeeding. So Moms who breastfeed (even when it’s hard or their baby has problems gaining weight or whatever) are selfish and are breastfeeding for suspect reasons (like sexual gratification or weight loss or frugality) but then there are those other selfish women who don’t ever whip out a bosom because they are formula feeding and obviously don’t care about their children’s health and welfare enough. It’s simply a double-bind that society puts mothers in and I wish there were more recognition of the fact that there is little societal support for either choice. Then whipping mothers up into a frenzy against one another only serves to continue to obscure the fact that we are truly damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

  18. My reaction: Hmm. Whatever! I don’t even want my mind to engage the horrible title ‘Are you mom enough’. Hell yeah I am mom enough! And so is the mother on the cover and my friend that formula feeds and the woman in my toddlers gymnastics class that nurses her son in the middle of class (while jumping on a trampoline with him? Weird but true.) As with a lot of the woman above…I’m pretty sick of this mommy wars thing. We all love our children and we all have to make our own choices for what’s best for our individual children. The cover was to sell magazines…I personally recognize that and will not engage it further 🙂

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