Time magazine is known for covering a variety of controversial subjects, but it may have taken things to a new level with a recent cover of a woman breastfeeding her nearly 4-year-old son.
The thin, pretty blonde mom is Jamie Grumet, a 27-year-old L.A. resident, lactation consultant and outspoken breastfeeding advocate. The magazine has received enormous backlash over the photo, but it also sparked a firestorm of questions about attachment parenting and breastfeeding older children. As a former breastfeeding mom who’s been on all ends of the spectrum, I found myself fascinated by the story.
“This is a normal option for your child and it should not be stigmatized,” Grumet was quoted saying about breastfeeding her son. “I’m never going to say this is for everybody, but it should be something that is accepted.” Grumet herself was breastfed until age 6.
Although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding a child until they are 1 year old, a mere 35 percent of American women actually breastfeed past 3 months. America lags far behind other countries in this matter: In Rwanda, 84 percent of mothers breastfeed their children up to two years, India is at 77 percent and, in Nepal, the figure is 93 percent.
As Grumet points out, “Breastfeeding [older children] is biologically normal, but not socially normal [in the United States].”
Grumet’s statement sheds light on a simple psychological theme: When something is not practiced as the norm, it becomes odd or socially unacceptable. I must admit I might be a bit taken aback to see a toddler bounding up to his mother in the mall for a feed, but perhaps that’s because it's so rare.
Grumet has had many critics chastise her for breastfeeding her son in public; some naysayers have even threatened to call child protective services. Yet she is perfectly comfortable doing what she feels is best for her son and isn’t afraid to speak up about it. For that, I have to hand it to her.
As a mother of four, I find myself empathetic toward all mothers when it comes to this subject. I have been a single mom, a working mom, a stay-at-home mom, a breastfeeding mom and a bottle-feeding mom. I remember the agony I felt when I made the choice to stop breastfeeding my last child at 5 months. He had colic, I had postpartum depression and we were both miserable. The week I chose to introduce the bottle to my little cherub was the week I felt I got my life back. Sure, I felt a twinge of regret that I’d breastfed all my other kids till they were nearly 1, but at the end of the day, I made the right decision for myself.
And isn’t that what it really comes down to in the end? Each mom must make the right choice for herself and her baby. Sure, we all know there are health benefits to breastfeeding, but must we feel guilt if it isn’t for us? Certainly not.
With so many women returning to the workplace after giving birth, whether out of choice or necessity, breastfeeding becomes complicated. Many choose to keep it up by pumping (I tried that … in a bathroom stall at the school where I taught, while high school boys thundered down the hall ... it wasn’t pretty) but give up when it becomes too much work. Many never nurse at all, yet are some of the most devoted mothers I’ve ever met. And I’ve yet to encounter a college graduate who feels damaged because he or she wasn’t breastfed long enough. I think the point is, we all turn out OK no matter what choice we make. We can’t let guilt or society sway our decision.
Moms, we want your 2 cents on this controversial matter. Did you breastfeed? If not, what were your deciding factors? What do you think about women like Grumet, who breastfeed their preschool-aged children? Is it inappropriate, or does it seem natural? We want to hear from you!