TIME IS ON OUR SIDE


 

I hate the Time magazine cover. I love the Time magazine cover.

I hate the cover because it is sensational and exploitive. The stylized photo of a defiant looking mom nursing a 4-year-old boy dressed in camouflage and standing on a chair portrays attachment parenting as extreme and even militant. The cover is sensational because it depicts something highly unusual: nursing while a child is standing on a chair.

RARE TO NURSE A TODDLER

Nursing for longer than four years is extremely rare in the US. When we surveyed the Mothering readership in 2006, we found that 10% breastfed until a year; 41% breastfed for one to two years; 32% for two to three years; and 6% for more than four years. This is among a population in which 96% breastfeed..

In US society at large 22.4% are still nursing at a year. The CDC does not keep statistics on breastfeeding beyond one year, but it’s safe to assume that breastfeeding for more than four years occurs less than 1% of the time in the US at large.  It’s uncommon, even among attachment parents.

Time’s cover is exploitive of the child photographed. The image is far from tender and has an erotic edge to it. Nursing is not something that a child would customarily pose for or do at the mother’s request; the image belies the fact that older children nurse infrequently and are generally not exhibitionists.

WATERSHED FOR BREASTFEEDING

I love the Time cover because it is a landmark moment for breastfeeding. Attachment parenting has gone mainstream. Everyone has heard of it now. The cover was featured in two of this week’s Saturday Night LIve skits, but it wasn’t attachment parenting that was lampooned: it was the cover image. The cover has had a unifying effect because it has been so universally ridiculed as overreaching.

It’s no coincidence that this cover comes on the heels of a month of intense and effective breastfeeding advocacy. In early April, Public Citizen started a petition to outlaw the distribution of formula samples in hospitals in support of the WHO Code of the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes. This is the first time that a group outside of the breastfeeeding community has initiated such an effort.

On April 19th, Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Health Department announced that they are putting their support behind the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative for 24 NYC hospitals. Formula samples cannot be given away in baby-friendly hospitals. This is the first time a US mayor made a commitment of this nature to breastfeeding.

INTENTIONALLY UNDERMINING BREASTFEEDING

Not coincidentally, The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women by Elisabeth Badinter, was released on April 24th. Badinter is an old-school feminist who believes that breastfeeding is inherently oppressive despite it being the feminist issue of our time. She is also owner of Publicis, public relations company for Nestle’, the world’s largest formula manufacturer. According to Katy Allison Granju, Badinter’s company also represents the manufacturers of Enfamil and Similac. Her job is to increase formula sales!

In the context of one of the biggest months ever for breastfeeding advocacy, we have the Time cover, which clearly deprecates breastfeeding mothers. Time is looking for newsstand sales. And, they are beholden to their advertisers, especially during these times of severely declining print ad revenue. Formula manufacturer, Pfizer, for example, is the third top advertiser in the US and spent $90.6 million in advertising in the first quarter of 2011 alone. On April 27th, Pfizer announced that it is selling its nutritional business to Nestle’; the baby formula division is expected to generate $2.4 billion in sales in 2012.

BREASTFEEDING MAKING IT

In some ways it is a tribute to our efforts that breastfeeding has become the bell weather for attachment parenting. And, it’s a tribute to us as women that we less easily take the media bait to attack other mothers. This time, we are all united in our shock over the Time cover. They say that a new idea is first ignored, then ridiculed and finally attacked before it is assimilated. We must be winning because breastfeeding is definitely being attacked.

I hope that we can resist the temptation to go unnecessarily down bunny holes defending ourselves when we could instead unite to help pass essential breastfeeding and family leave legislation. That’s what we really need to do.

Let’s bring it home, sisters. “The heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep on loving. Keep on fighting.”

(Thanks to Jennifer Tite for the use of her photo.)

Peggy O’Mara  (101 Posts)

Peggy O’Mara founded Mothering.com in 1995 and is currently its editor-in chief. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has lectured and conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League International, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four.

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