There's little doubt Time magazine made a killing at the newsstands this week with its latest cover showing a mom breastfeeding her three-year-old boy.
Under the headline, Are You Mom Enough?, the photograph and article have generated a lot of attention for Time, including comments on TV, radio and even on Saturday Night Live.
While the cover was meant to generate controversy, which in turn would drive sales, the issue of breastfeeding toddlers should really have been met with a collective yawn. Despite being rolled into the trend of "attachment parenting," breastfeeding kids as old as three is nothing new. Even the Bible describes breastfeeding kids as old as four.
The negative reaction over the story isn't necessarily because moms are choosing to breastfeed their kids beyond babyhood, but because it isn't normal in our culture. Yet, in most cultures, it is normal and even expected that breastfeeding continues for at least two years.
Indeed, the World Health Organization recommends that moms breastfeed their children from birth until two years and then as long as mutually desired. The reason? Breastfeeding has been shown to improve overall health while decreasing the risk of diseases like cancer.
The American Academy of Family Physicians says children weaned before two years of age are at increased risk of illness, and that breastfed toddlers between 16 and 30 months old get sick less and for shorter periods compared to non-breastfed kids. Much of the benefits in the milk, which includes antibodies, have an increased concentration in the second year of nursing and during weaning.
With the Time cover, jokes have abounded about the psychological damage the boy will receive. While there's no doubt the magazine sensationalized the issue and the photo is regrettable, the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that there is "no psychological or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer."
Is breastfeeding natural? Yes. Is breastfeeding natural beyond babyhood? Yes, but not in our culture. What gets lost in the reaction to the Time cover is the reason why the mom in the picture chose to make the breastfeeding decisions she has. "People have to realize this is biologically normal. The more people see it, the more it'll become normal in our culture."
It didn't happen this time, but eventually a yawn will greet the next breastfeeding article attempting to be controversial.
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