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Breastfeeding Mamas: What Was TIME Really Trying to Say?

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

Since everyone is oohing and aahing about the mother breastfeeding her four year old on the cover of TIME magazine, I’ll throw in my two cents. First, I think that the mission of this poor woman failed miserably. As a staunch advocate for breastfeeding, her purpose in posing was to encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies well beyond the infant and toddler years. Instead, however, it seems that she  made a fool of herself.

TIME put her photo on the cover for one reason: to make viewers gasp and then buy the magazine. That, they did. In fact, I have not heard of one reader who looked at the photo and remarked  how lovely the image was. Instead, I have only heard folks (men and women) make peculiar, guttural noises communicating their- well- disgust at the photo. No one wants to call it disgust of course, because it is a mother and child, but that’s what I fear most Americans felt when they saw the photo.

So did this poor woman succeed in garnering support for mothers breast feeding their children into their early elementary school years? I highly doubt it.

First, there are scant mothers out there who want to breast feed beyond their baby’s first 12 or 18 months. So, to begin with, she was appealing to a very small crowd of mothers. Second, and more importantly, this notion reinforces to mothers something which their instincts reject. That is, that we, the Moms, are to be the sole source of everything to our children. Since we alone provide breast milk, then we should be the ones who are soley privvy to bond with them (forget Dad and siblings.) When you tell exhausted mothers that they are to be their child’s lifeline to the exclusion of other very important family members, like Dad or grandparents, they want to buckle. And I don’t think that’s fair to good mothers anywhere.

So let me say something that will really raise some hackles. I think that breastfeeding is very important, but since I also believe that it is important for a child to bond with her father and siblings, giving a bottle along with breastfeeding can be wonderful for the child. The truth is, every child needs more than just her mother. Breast milk is great, but it isn’t liquid gold. Feeding practices must fall into the larger scheme of parenting and to rob other family members of the opportunity to bond to children through feeding, isn’t fair to anyone in the family.

I dare say that communicating to America on the cover of a national magazine that children fair better in life when they latch onto their mothers (to the exclusion of other important family members) for sustenance well beyond a time when they can begin to provide for themselves (four year olds can open the refrigerator and pour themselves a glass of milk) sends a loaded socio-political message: mothers are more important than fathers. This, is absolutely, a message that we all must reject because if we accept it, then every child loses.

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