TIME’s Breastfeeding Cover: Really??

When I caught wind today that TIME magazine had an article about attachment parenting and a breastfeeding mother on the cover, I thought, “Hey, cool. Good for TIME.” 

When I saw the actual cover, though, a whole swarm of thoughts, impressions, gut reactions, and “what the ___’s?” flew through me. While in theory I’m glad they chose to show a photo of a mother and child breastfeeding, there are many things I really loathe about this cover. In no particular order:

Really, TIME? Let’s perpetuate the stupid Mommy Wars idea a wee bit more, shall we? A headline like that coupled with the photo (which I shall flame shortly) has no possible outcome other than judgment, defensiveness, and a whole lotta snarkiness. I breastfed three children to age three, and I have many friends who breastfed longer or shorter than that, including plenty who didn’t breasfeed at all, and I don’t feel that I’m “more of a mom” than any of them. Ridiculous headline.

“Why attachment parenting drives some mothers to extremes . . .” Oh, for crying out loud. Really? While I have practiced many attachment parenting ideals, I’ve never felt “driven” to anything, particularly not to what I would consider extremes. Breastfeeding past the age of one may seem “extreme” in our little corner of the world, but nursing well into toddlerhood is the norm in many cultures. 

Interestingly, according to anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler, the natural weaning age for humans when compared to the weaning timeline of non-human primates should be anywhere between 2.5 and 7 years of age. I’m not advocating nursing a 7-year-old (that’s way beyond my comfort zone, personally), but if that’s the natural weaning window, then breastfeeding until 6 months or even one year would be considered on the “extreme” end of things. Age 3 would be “normal.” It’s all perspective, folks. 

OK, let’s talk about that picture. As I said, my three children all weaned between 3 and 3 1/2. I can say with absolute certainty that I never ONCE nursed them standing on a chair. Maybe some moms do, but I’ve never seen it. It just looks weird and unnatural – not because of the age of the child, but because really – WHO NURSES LIKE THAT? 

If you’re going to show a mom nursing a 3-year-old, at least make it more realistic, snuggling on a couch or something. This photo just perpetuates the idea that extended nursing means having your kid attached to your breast at all times. It looks like she should be talking on the phone with one hand and scrambling eggs with the other. 

I was a little surprised that my first reaction to this photo was discomfort. I clearly don’t have a problem with people nursing well into toddlerhood since I’ve done it myself and know plenty of others who have as well. 

But, the thing is, I can actually understand people’s discomfort with seeing an older toddler nursing. We stopped nursing in public somewhere around 18 months, partly because I liked having that boundary (I’m not a 24-hour drive-thru), and partly because I wasn’t all that comfortable nursing in public anymore. 

You know how your kids get to an age where it just doesn’t feel right to let them run around naked anymore or pull their dress up over their head in public? Not because there’s anything wrong with being naked, but because you just intuitively feel like it’s time for nakedness to be a private thing? That’s how I felt about nursing in public past a certain age. 

Maybe that’s why I felt a little uncomfortable seeing this photo. Or maybe it’s because of how odd it looks with him standing on a chair. Not sure. But if it made ME feel discomfort, I can’t even imagine what it’s doing to the masses who aren’t comfortable with breastfeeding as it is. 

A major hang-up people have with breastfeeding is because they see the breasts as sexual and can’t reconcile their primary function with their secondary function. The mother on this cover is lovely – more power to her. But the tight leggings and sexy tank top coupled with the hands-on-hips pose aren’t going to help people get past their sexual hang-ups. It’s like TIME decided to use the most borderline photo they could conjure so as to incite all kinds of inflammatory responses.

It’s almost like they did it just to sell more magazines. [Gasp!]

So while it was cool in theory, I’m not thrilled with this TIME cover. I haven’t read the article, so I can’t comment on that. But with this cover, I think all they’ve done is make child-led weaning appear just as weird as most people think it is and incite more ugly debate than intelligent conversation. 

What do you think?

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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

Comments 20

  1. Thank you for this fantastic, fantastic post. For me, breastfeeding–heck, just about every parenting issue out there–depends so much on the individual parent and the individual child that it’s just insane to start laying down blanket rules or judging anyone else’s choices. My firstborn hated nursing from the moment she was born. Hated it. I kid you not–even my midwives were completely shocked and kind of had no idea what to tell me. It took 4 hands–me and my husband both combined–just to hold her onto the breast. I tried, I really did, but wound up giving up on nursing and instead pumping and giving her the milk in a bottle. For 22 months. Yep, really. I think partly because there IS all this stupid ‘mommy wars’ garbage going around and somehow it felt like I WASN’T ‘mommy enough’ if I couldn’t breastfeed her. Then along came my second daughter, who latched on like a pro seconds after birth, loved nursing like nothing else, and at nearly 3 now is still going strong. But at this point I don’t nurse her because I feel like it makes me somehow ‘more of a mom’, and I won’t wean her just because society thinks it’s ‘time’. I don’t extended-nurse because I subscribe wholeheartedly to all the ideals of attachment parenting, either–some work for me and my kids, others just do not. I nurse her because it’s right for her at the stage she’s at right now, and it still feels right for me to give her that comfort for as long as it’s important to her. If we have a third child, I have no idea how long I’ll nurse for, it will just depend on the child. Kids are individuals right from birth, and I think the way we can best mother them is by taking our own egos out of the picture, getting to know them AS individuals with their own unique needs, and then figuring out as mothers how best to allow them to reach their maximum potential.

  2. Thank you for saying what I thought too. I am an IBCLC, teach breastfeeding as part of my job and I nursed one of my dtrs until age 2 yrs 5 months….and I HATE this cover. It’s offensive to me for so many reasons. It’s so contrived! A boy, in combat clothing, a mom in sexy mom jeans and a tank in that pose….nobody BFs this way. Even the mom admitted it was for attention and not the way she normally BFs. I think it was selfish on her part and way too sensationalized in the wrong ways. She (and Time) are doing a huge disservice to AP parenting and Breastfeeding advocates. Thanks a lot. Pam

  3. Good post. As for the cover, yes. It is a little odd. I’m with you (extended nursing and all that) but yeah…no one nurses her child like that! Though it is getting conversations going. And REALLY it makes nursing a 2 year old (say on the couch like you suggest) look positively NORMAL in comparison. So maybe that’s the upside? 😉

  4. Your 87 yr Grandmom is also ranting. She had always held TIME up as a “step above” the others and now feels they have crashed to the bottom.

  5. This cover has made me love TIME a little less. Stupid cover! I pray the article is actually well written (I’ll let you know once my copy comes in the mail). My FB and twitter accounts have been alight with ignorant comments that would (and will) make successful breastfeeding moms and unsuccessful breastfeeding moms feel terrible.

  6. I am a Board Certified Lactation Consultant and I am not impressed by this cover. Yes, I talk about the average weaning age throughout the world as 3-4 years and yes, I nursed a 4 yr old and no, he never stood on a stool to nurse. Most of you probably won’t know what I (as a flower child of the 60’s) am saying here, but it is kind of like Jane Fonda becoming Hanoi Jane in Vietnam. It was for the right ideal but done the wrong way.

  7. Goodness, have you been in my brain today?!?! 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5- yes, AMEN (1), yes, yes, and OMG yes. I was tormented enough to read the comments from a yahoo article about this, and the ignorance of what people choose to write always makes me so mad, but yet I can’t seem to stop reading them. The names they were calling this mother were beyond terrible! And they’re it’s evidently the root of all that is wrong with this country. REALLY? A woman breastfeeding her child is what’s wrong with this country? See? I’m all fired up.

    1. Anna, I love you all fired up! 🙂 I try really really really hard not to read comments on online articles anymore. The number of ignorant, bigoted, and small-minded comments is incredibly disheartening. People can be horribly mean on the Internet. I don’t get riled up easily, but stuff like this drives me batty. I’m trying not to engage too much in this topic, even, but it’s so close to home for me I just can’t help it.

  8. Agree, especially with the headline, it makes me very, very sad to think of all the women who couldnt (for whatever reason) breastfeed and even for a second think “I’m NOT mom enough.” Thanks for this post.

    1. That is an awesome link, Mary! Thank you for sharing it. I love how they equate long nursing with being a good wrestler. Isn’t it funny how cultural ideas get passed down? This line was fabulous: “In Mongolia, breastmilk is not just for babies, it’s not only about nutrition, and it’s definitely not something you need to be discreet about. It’s the stuff Genghis Khan was made of.” 🙂

  9. I was taken aback by the sexy-factor of the nursing photo too, and it’s (very!) difficult to phase me with things like that. For one, that poor child is going to grow up and have this publicized picture of him as an older-child — his mom looking sexified while nursing him. Poor guy.

    You’re completely right, that this is more of how people *picture* older child nursing (awkward to watch), when it’s not an accurate vision at all.

    1. Exactly. It’s funny, because sometimes you hear people talk about women “whipping out their breast” or nursing totally exposed, and i always felt like that was such a ridiculous exaggeration. Then I met a woman who literally let’s it all hang out, sometimes both breasts exposed, not covering up at all when baby pops off, even for a good minute, no matter who is in the room, and I realized that if she were my only exposure to breastfeeding, I’d have a really different vision of breastfeeding. Since this is likely the only exposure most people are having to extended breastfeeding, they’re getting a skewed impression. Annoying.

  10. Okay, on closer look I guess the mom does have her hands around his shoulders but I still say there’s something somewhat detached about the whole scenario.

  11. So glad you wrote about this. I saw it this morning and the first thing I though was that I couldn’t wait for your response. Really, I wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to feel from it. Was it supposed to be empowering? Challenging? Who knows. It made me kind of feel bad for the kid. I don’t know exactly why. Just the way he was looking at the camera, I guess. Like something that was perfectly comfortable between him and his mama was now suddenly made into something, I don’t know, controversial I guess. It’s hard to explain because it just seemed confusing. Benjamin and I were not successful with breastfeeding besides our serious (and somewhat desperate) attempts but what I have in mind for breastfeeding is cozy, cuddly, and comforting. Not just a mom popping out a breast while her hands are free for other things. Had she at least been hugging the kid it might have been different but they just seemed so detached. It seems like detached should be the last word that one uses when describing breastfeeding!

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