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Breastfeeding Frenzy

| May 13, 2012

The cover, so to speak.

“Once the child has been permitted to live for a few days,” Will Durant writes of tribal mores in the first volume of his Story of Civilization, “it was safe against infanticide; soon parental love was evoked by its helpless simplicity, and in most cases it was treated more affectionately by its primitive parents than by the average  child of the higher races.” (Let’s let that higher races bit pass: reading Durant requires a bit of indulgence for the way, let’s not forget, even the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln used to speak.) “For lack of milk or soft food the mother nursed the child from two to four years, sometimes for twelve. One traveler described a boy who had learned to smoke before he was weaned. And often a youngster running about with other children would interrupt his play—or his work—to go and be nursed by his mother.”

So Time magazine’s latest buzz-swelling flirtations with the boob—that cover you see above, showing Jamie Lynne Grumet, a 26-year-old mother, giving the breast to her 3-year-old son—is a new or shocking concept only to those who think yesterday’s prejudices and assumptions are as far as perspective needs to go. Breastfeeding always gets a few people excited for the wrong reasons. To this day there are people, a few too many people, who think a mother should not breastfeed in public. The same people would have no problem being seen in public stuffing themselves to the gills with double whoppers and artery-terrorizing Big Macs. Talk about needed discretion. The supposed difference in this case of course is that the boy is 3, almost 4. And that it is a boy: the editors at Time know their Sophocles, and therefore know very well that the shock value would have been diminished had it been a girl because it would have lessened the not-so-subliminal sexual element of little Oedipus there suckling on mama. She herself, incidentally, was breastfed until she was 6. And she has an adopted black son.

Critics have been looking for creative ways to bash the cover, often with the sort of crassness that plays continuo to small minds: “Even a cow knows when to wean their child (sic.),” one Arkansas mother of six twittered loud enough for the Associated Press to notice. The mother betrays what really bothers her. It’s the boob. Not the distance from a cow’s scheduling secretary: “Why would this even be out there? It’s ludicrous. It’s almost on the verge of voyeurism.” Depending, of course, on what floats your voyeuristic boats. The comment belies one of those idiotic assumptions pseudo-prudes lord over breast-feeders: that breastfeeding should be a private act. It may be a private act of course, but it shouldn’t have to be: a woman should be able to breastfeed her baby anywhere, any time the baby requires it—whether it’s in church, at work, at school (yes, in front of other children), in the subway, in a public meeting. It is no different than eating an apple in any of these places, except perhaps in church, where one might refrain from eating, but a breastfeeding baby should not.


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Voyeurism? The same woman would likely find it offensive for a Muslim to spread his prayer rug in a nook in an Interstate rest stop and pray there for all to see, particularly in Arkansas’ more Baptist wards, or for two boys to French-kiss. What would the children say?

There is of course the matter of the breastfeeder’s age, which is what gives this particular cover its extra nutritional value. Here’s how the parenting blog babble.com (of “Sh*t! My Kid Is Cursing” fame) put it: “Is it extreme to breast feed a 3-year-old? That depends on how you feel about extended breast feeding, of course. But one thing is for sure: it’s totally, totally hot. Or gross and weird. Or both.” But it’s not as if breastfeeding is a popularity contest that depends on how anyone feels about it, no matter how late a mother chooses to breastfeed. It’s a personal choice that medically speaking comes down to a relatively simple the longer the better calculation, at least through the first 18 months, with—again, medically and psychologically speaking—certainly no harm done if breastfeeding extends beyond that. To call it “extreme” breastfeeding is itself silly. The Time article, at any rate, is actually a profile of Bill Sears, the Dr. Spock of the moment. (He wrote the very popular The Baby Book 20 years ago, and has written 40 books on the subject.)  Grumet, the breastfeeding mother, makes barely a cameo in the 4,000-word article, and only to say of Sears: “He has a very gentle spirit, and I find what he’s saying to be nonjudgmental and relevant.” She has a larger say in a Q&A.

Seth Myers on Saturday Night Live got off a few good slingshots (“Really—this photo doesn’t say ‘I’m a loving mother feeding my son.’ It says ‘I’m the crazy queen from Game of Thrones.’”). But his segment still felt forced, SNL having to address the buzz of the week without really condemning it, in a segment called, naturally, Really.

CBS News on its website, doing what a few news organizations have done, found a different way of being offensive to readers, by essentially insulting their intelligence and demeaning of the mother, and the point of the story: CBS digitally blurred the spot where the boy’s mouth meets the breast, even though the original image, as you can see above, shows quite a bit less of the breast than your average, and usually graceless, annual Sports Illustrated Tittie Issue, that homage to church-approved porn. What CBS News and other puritanically minded news organizations are doing in essence is to continue to sexualize the breast precisely where it is as desexualized as can be. But the American mind is not yet developed enough to know the difference between the breast as an object of desire and a breast as a source of life. For that, we’re better suited to go back to Will Durant’s primitive societies for more intelligent approaches on the subject. Happy Mother’s Day.

–Pierre Tristam

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27 Responses for “Breastfeeding Frenzy”

  1. gatorfan1 says:

    lucky kid.

  2. Eileen G. Miller says:

    I think at 3 years old the Mom shouldn’t be still breast feeding her child…!!!

  3. Angela Smith says:

    I’m all for breastfeeding, but once they’re walking, you WEAN them!

    • Not even! says:

      I agree Angela. I have 2 kids, as soon as they had too many teeth and could toddle themselves around…that was it for me!

  4. Vanessa Cheesewright says:

    even in countries that don’t sexualize boobs, prolong breastfeeding is not encouraged. Another case of attention seeking extremism….

  5. Amy Hamal-Canna says:

    I’m all for breast feeding I did it with both of my kids. But once a child can eat solid foods I think you need to stop.

  6. Krista Hart says:

    I am disgusted at the outrage to breastfeeding. I am happily still nursing my 18 month old. He still needs mama’s milk and I will happily give it. It’s natural, it’s normal. The world heath organization suggests “Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.”

    • Yup says:

      Key words… “up to 2 years and beyond”. Your child is still a baby at 18 months, this boy is almost 4 YEARS OLD! If the boy can say boobie and automatically lift your shirt himself…it’s too old in my OPINION. And yes, it is my opinion and everyone’s differs. If she chooses that for her son, she is comfortable with it and it is her CHOICE and OPINION. Each person is different, so we can’t chastize others for their CHOICES AND OPINIONS.

  7. Sandra Reynolds says:

    It is really none of our business. What’s all the fuss? Why do people object to the scene of a mother breast feeding in public with a drape over her, but yet it is okay for couples to practically fornicate in public, wear low cut tops that expose all but the nipple, and young boys exposing their butts? In addition to topless bars and strip joints? This particular picture is not normal and would be objectionable in public to most, maybe even against our archaic laws. It is sad that some people in our culture find “breast feeding” objectionable at all. It is a natural continuation of bringing a new life into this world. When did society decide it was not proper or as some say, disgusting?

  8. Mario DiGirolamo says:

    Once the kid has teeth …

  9. Eileen G. Miller says:

    Not breast feeding at 3 years not right

  10. Krista Hart says:

    Mario, what do teeth have to do with anything?

  11. Bill Avery says:

    what are breast for this country needs to get over itwoman have breast

  12. Sandra Reynolds says:

    Thanks Bill!

  13. palmcoaster says:

    Something is wrong with this picture…Generally mothers breastfeed a baby up to four/five months old, when it starts taking solid food and a balance nutritious diet. Our pediatrician took our daughter off breastfeeding at four months old as she was getting overweight. I totally agreed, he was right and she went back to her normal weight. My daughter is over 40 years old now and never had any health issues so far, Thank God and she is perfectly fit as well, given her sports practice and still, healthy diet.
    I would like to know what will be with the child in the picture when he will be about 18 or 20 years old. Maybe the risk for a modern Oedipus..? Different individuals have different opinions and ways to live their lives, so I can only disagree…

  14. Vanessa Cheesewright says:

    American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for one year, others in the field say if the child is walking and can understand language, then have the conversation with the child and explain why it must stop. The WHO recommendation promotes longer breastfeeding in countries with high infant mortality rates due to malnutrition and disease, and has nothing to do with encouraging prolong comforting/attachment parenting.

  15. GoodFella says:

    All this could be solved if the mother just uses a breast pump and puts her milk in a bottle for the youngster. This was just a picture to stir things up because Times sales have been dropping. However, it probably is better straight from the tap!

  16. Jim N says:

    Since when do we a society, decide what a parent, will or will not teach their child?
    Does it appear from the photo that either are gaining a sexual pleasure from it? If they are I don’t see it.
    What I do see though that is concerning, is the fact that a magazine decided to put it on the cover of their publication. What purpose does that give other than to sell magazines?

    I don’t think we or rather I need to but into the relationship of the mother and her child at this point. They appear to be perfectly healthy and at this point I think it is their business. Now if MOM staged this a publicity stunt to gain attention? Well, thats another story, and is not what is claimed in the article.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Breastfeeding is natural and normal, until the child is on solid foods. But this picture is not natural and not normal. And it’s sad that a magazine needs to stoop to such sensationalism to sell copies. The picture was totally inappropriate. I hope people ban the magazine for stooping so low. Maybe we should write to advertisers of the magazine and tell them.

  18. John says:

    Im 48 will you ladies please adopt me

  19. ric says:

    John, don’t bite..

  20. Mario di Girolamo says:

    This sort of thing does not belong on the front cover of any magazine. It was only done to get copies sold and has no other value. The fact that this picture was set-up or posed, is in itself degrading. There is no mother/child relationship displayed at all. There is no normalcy to what she is doing with, or to, her child. I feel sorry for her and her son. Some day this kid will grow up and come to the realization that his mother abused their relationship for the sake of publicity.

    With regard to breast feeding: Once the child has teeth and is already eating solid foods, I think its time to stop putting your boob into your child’s mouth. After that point, I start wondering about incest.

  21. Meh says:

    Where do I sign up? And is that kid done yet? Jeeezzz

  22. Barb says:

    It’s her boob, her child and no one else’s business. Time should have stayed out of it too.

  23. Geezer says:

    Kudos to Flaglerlive for keeping us abreast of this story.

  24. Dana says:

    Instead of this one mother’s decision to extend breastfeeding, and the controversial pose, we could be talking about a more pressing health issue for new mothers and babies. Hospitals are marketing infant formula to new mothers via free formula packages and coupons. This discourages breastfeeding during the critical period of the first few months after birth. Mothers end up paying more because they tend to stick with the expensive brands they receive. They should be getting a fuller set of information about feeding options, rather than the biased message they are receiving through this commercialized hospital system.

    http://action.citizen.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=10062

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