TIME’s take on toddler nursing: A madonna, her child…and a chair?

Just in time for Mother’s Day in America, the following issue of TIME was placed on newsstands across the country.



The photo on TIME magazine’s cover of an unnaturally posed mother with her nursing child sparked a media firestorm that quickly spread. Soon, journalists, daytime TV divas and radio talk show hosts were on fire with commentary. And, the article’s combative title, “Are You Mom Enough” was certainly no less buzz worthy. Mothers of every sort saw this as a call to arms and launched campaigns for or against attachment parenting on every social media outlet they could find. Defenses of extreme choices, of conventional choices and of on the fence choices sprang up everywhere. And, sadly, most of these defenses were rooted in criticisms of the opposing “side” in this new mommy war.


There are loads of  articles describing how toddler nursing was misrepresented by TIME, that outline the World Heath Organization’s breastfeeding recommendations, that explore the outcomes of breastfeeding in detail and that estimate the natural age of weaning for a human being. There are stories from the trenches that tell how attachment parenting is not just for stay at home moms, how it isn’t an all or nothing ”extreme sport” of American parenting and how it can simplify rather than complicate the life of a working parent. More importantly, there are articles on how AP isn’t new or American. You can read these if you like. But, there’s something I’d like to share with you today that I think is of equal importance and may not get as much coverage. And that is this. Every mother, whether she’s an AP mom, a Tiger mom, a soccer mom or something in between, is being taken for a ride by this magazine cover. And, not only that, mothers are missing a very important question TIME asks – and it isn’t the one plastered on the magazine cover.


Let’s start with how we are all being taken for a ride. To do that, we must expose this magazine cover for what it really is: an exaggerated image designed to shock you. And this isn’t the first time this magazine (or any magazine for that matter!) has run an cover image that has been altered to boost the response by viewers. Take a look at this one.



This cover was widely criticized for darkening OJ’s skin.


And this one was lambasted for giving Billy Graham devil’s horns.



And, while we are taking a trip down memory lane, have a look at the title of this TIME cover. It caused a mighty uproar.



And this title, featuring Hitler as, “Man of the Year”, alongside a horrific cartoon of Nazi cruelty was also met with outrage.



But, if those old TIME covers don’t convince you that there’s more to the media than sharing information, let’s jump back to the present day. Let’s have a look at the other photographs TIME magazine’s photographer, Martin Shoeller, captured for this article about attachment parenting.



In these photos we see mothers. We see nursing children. And we see chairs. But it all looks a bit less shocking, doesn’t it? A bit less sensational. The question is, why were these photographs – even the one on the lower right of the same mother and son pair – deemed not “Mom enough” for the cover?


And here’s a little more food for thought. Take a look at the cover of my issue of TIME in England:



Maybe you are thinking that Europeans get different articles in their issues of TIME magazine. Maybe you are thinking that Europeans don’t care about American parenting trends. Well, this is just not so. The same feature article about attachment parenting and Dr. Sears was found inside my European copy of this week’s issue. But it was titled “The Man Who Remade American Motherhood” and it didn’t have a single photograph of a mother nursing a child in it’s pages.


So, why was that photo, out of all the others, chosen as the cover for the American issue of TIME? And why didn’t it (or any of the other photos of mothers with their nurslings) appear in the rest of the world’s issue of TIME?


These are the questions I think we should be asking. The ones I think we are missing by trying to answer, “Are you Mom Enough?”  You could read the Guardian’s take on the TIME cover as an answer. Or you could take a look at a few last photos that may also provide an answer.


Here’s the cover of an American parenting magazine.




Like the image on TIME magazine’s current cover, this photograph was labeled “gross” and “inappropriate” by the over 700 mothers that wrote a letter to the BabyTalk editor. Which, for the record, was more feedback than the magazine had received on any other article or issue in its history. One mother said in her letter that she, “shredded the cover so that my 13 year old son wouldn’t see it.”


Interestingly, it’s very likely that many Americans, including that 13 year old boy, saw this advertisement on TV.



Or passed images like this displayed larger than life in the storefront of their local shopping mall.




Personally, photos of bedazzled breasts or breasts nursing babies don’t bother me. What does bother me is that breasts aren’t given equal rights in America. Maybe some breasts want to be sparkly, maybe some breasts want to nurse. Maybe neither. Maybe both. I think women should be free to use their boobs as they see fit. I think it should be as normal to nurse in public (even though I was too afraid of critics to do so) as it is to flash breasts in bras covered in rhinestones. I don’t think nursing a toddler should be newsworthy. And, frankly, when I picked up my copy of TIME in England, I took comfort in the fact that the rest of the world didn’t think so either.



The nursling on a chair and the mean spirited title on TIME’s cover are certainly contrived, but they do carry an important message. They remind us that somewhere along the way, we have elevated a natural act (whether you chose to do it or not) to an act of perversion in America. We have decided that it’s ok to be naked but not to nurse. How have we done this? And, is it time for us Moms to say that enough is enough?



No matter how different our parenting styles may seem on the surface, there are more ties that bind us together as mothers than divide us. Few of us follow a strict dogma. Most of us blend a variety of mothering styles, be they extreme or conventional, to suit the individual needs of our family. And, I’d be willing to bet that all of us are on a slightly (or completely!) different path than we were on when we began mothering. So, let’s focus on that. Let’s come together and celebrate the journey of motherhood. Let’s support each other and end this media fueled mommy war.


We ARE Mom enough to do that.

About Sarah Scott

Sarah Scott is a former Occupational Therapist turned stay at home mom, living in the English countryside for a year with her family. While she was pregnant, Sarah envisioned working part time. Of collecting her smiling child from it’s crib each morning after 8+ hours of sleep. Of watching her husband, Jake, jog off with their baby in the stroller so she could have some “me” time. But, baby Maren overheard that plan and decided she didn’t like it. Nope, not one bit. And so, with a potent combination of ear-splitting cries, breastfeeding hormones and the sweetest face this side of the Mississipi, she introduced her parents to attachment parenting in a way no book ever could – through pure gut instinct and trial by fire. Soon they were hooked – er, attached? – and dove head first into the world of co-sleeping, breastfeeding, baby wearing, cloth diapering and more. These days, you can find Sarah chasing Maren around, taking photos, bantering with her hubby or writing her blog about the adventures of stay at home motherhood & her family’s experience as expats in England. Look for new posts here every Monday and go to http://scottgossip.blogspot.com for travel, photography and mommy posts Monday through Friday.


26 thoughts on “TIME’s take on toddler nursing: A madonna, her child…and a chair?”

  1. I really appreciate that this shows the differences in cultures and continent as well as the shock strategies of the magazine’s staff. They know very well what works (read: sells copies) and have no need for integrity in their decision making.

  2. Wonderful!! And very well written. I wish people would/could understand the sensationalism that greets us EVERY SINGLE DAY and realize what corporations like TIME are doing. And that is making money – a lot of it – on sheeple.

  3. I love your response, you said it perfectly ! we are mom enough stop ridiculous , media and corporation fueled war on motherhood.

  4. I just wanted to tell you that I love this article. As a Canadian who is currently living in Wales for the year I can’t help wondering if the cover was different in the European version due to the fact that breastfeeding isn;t as widely encouraged over here as in North America (doctors suggest to 6 months and rarely touch on extended) but I love your perspective on the whole issue. No breastfeeding shouldn’t be newsworthy, it is a natural practice to takepart with your child for as long as they need it, both physically and emotionally. I look forward to reading more of your posts, as I found this article incredibly well written.

  5. I love your take on this whole thing, and I especially love your little biography detailing how you came to be an “attachment parent”

    Thank you for sharing!

  6. Wow. This is by far the BEST and most note-worthy response to that article I’ve seen! Sad that it seems to have, on some front, ignited an ‘us vs them’ war between AP and extended breastfeeders and those who choose not to.

    Choice, people. Mine, yours, theirs. Own what you choose for yourself. Be brave enough to let others do the same.

  7. I really think it’s difficult to paint the NHS with such a wide brush as you do here. Breastfeeding is at least paid lip service in my experience and after having 4 kids I have never been advised by a doctor to stop breastfeeding at 6 months of age. I have, however, been on the receiving end of surprise and shock when doctors find out my toddler is still nursing. But that’s not a European thing. :)

  8. Great post. I do, however, want to make one clarification. I can assure everyone that Europeans would be equally shocked at the photo on the US cover of Time Magazine. Time likely chose not to publish this cover in Europe for two reasons. First, apart from the United Kingdom, attachment parenting has not caught on in Europe, or if it has, it is much much much less of a trend than in the United States. AP has been very much a North American phenomenon in the Western world. Dr. Sears book has not even been published in French or German, as far as I know. Secondly, Europe in currently dealing with an economic crisis (more so than the US), and the victory of the Socialist candidate in the French presidential elections was seen as a hot topic in the economic climate.

    So no, Europeans are not all hippies who are completely accepting of breastfeeding beyond infancy. They are, in fact, very mainstream, and would be shocked to have seen that cover. Yes, even the Scandinavians.

  9. Thank you for your opinions, Globetrotter Parent, but I must respectfully disagree with you. First, I do not consider Europeans to be “hippies who are completely accepting of breastfeeding beyond infancy” as you stated, but I do consider the rest of the world to be far less disgusted by the idea of nursing, be it an infant or a toddler. From my own experience, here in England (and in other countries we have traveled to), I have seen mothers nursing children of all ages in public (buses, restaurants, playgroups, etc) and have never seen them insulted by people for doing so or asked to leave the room to feed their child. And, of note, I’ve never seen a mother covering up with a nursing cover. To me, this seems less about a “hippy lifestyle” or staunch breastfeeding support and more about culture. In Europe, you are more likely to be in close quarters (on pubic transportation for instance) with people from various backgrounds and lifestyles on a daily basis. If one was to be offended to the point of insult by every “different” lifestyle choice they encountered, this would make daily life quite difficult. Further, there seems to be less issue with seeing a breast and a broader view of what you should (or could) see a breast doing So, in my opinion, these things create a culture of tolerance (at the very least) for breastfeeding and are just two of the many factors that make the topic of the cover photograph less shocking – even if the image of a nursling on a chair is! But, if you’d rather hear a Europeans take on the cover, you can read the article by The Guardian in my post that discusses this or try this video link, if you’d prefer.


    Secondly, I wouldn’t say that attachment parenting hasn’t caught on in Europe. Here’s the link to Attachment Parenting International – an organization that supports AP worldwide and has been hosting local meetings, online forums, sending newsletters and providing information as well as support for AP for the past 15 years.


    And, from my experience, I am a member of a large, local AP group in the English city I live in and it doesn’t seem to be a “new” thing at all – and there are many other such groups across the UK. So, again, I don’t think it is completely accurate to say that “AP hasn’t caught on.”

    Further, Dr Sears’ book has been translated in 18 languages, so it would seem the interest in AP goes beyond those in North America. Whether or not one of those translations is French or German, I don’t know, but again, 18 languages speaks to a larger, worldwide audience.

    Finally, I think there is more going on with this cover choice than the French election. The rest of the world received a cover with a Cricket athlete on the cover and the feature article didn’t contain that inflammatory title or a single photograph of a woman nursing (because the article is about Dr. Sears not “extended” breastfeeding!), so the question remains…why did America get this cover?

    Finally, you mentioned Scandinavians. I think their culture has emphasized support for mothers both socially and financially possibly more than any other – so even if the cover image of a nursling on a chair shocked them (as it did me!) I doubt it would be the nursing aspect (or age of the child) that caused the shock. A couple of references to illustrate Scandinavian support for breastfeeding and childcare:



    And two quick “tales from the trenches” about living in Sweden. They show how breastfeeding in public is normal and encouraged and how “seeing a boob is just not a big deal.”



    Thanks again for your opinions. i have enjoyed thinking about them and learning in answering! Cheers!

  10. Thanks for your response. Truly, I think this is the saddest aspect of all – the needless criticisms of each other’s parenting styles. I heartily agree that we need to own what we do, let others do the same and support each other as mothers when given the chance to do so. This is our chance! Cheers!

  11. Raisin4Cookies: thanks for sharing your “tales from the trenches” in reply to Christina. It always helps to hear someone’s actual experience rather than reading statistics. Thank so much. :)

  12. Thanks for sharing your experience in Wales, Christina. In contrast, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the MUCH wider support for breastfeeding here in the UK as compared to the USA. Not only is it more normal to see a breastfeeding woman but there are loads of breastfeeding support groups and even hilarious signs like “Keep calm and Breastfeed On” at the many of the local (government run and funded) playgroups. I know you mentioned breastfeeding to be “widely encouraged in North America” but I didn’t find this to be so. Can you share your experience as a breastfeeding mom in Canada? I’d love to hear it! Thanks! :)

  13. Marcy: Sheeple? Probably the most hilarious word I’ve seen this week. Thank you for that. And yes, I agree that sensationalism sells – and this leads to a lot of misinformation and criticisms. So sad.

  14. Thank you. Photographs are powerful things, aren’t they? In reflecting on people’s reaction to this image, I was sad to think that it would be the source of most of the discussion generated. That most will never read the article (which isn’t even about extended breastfeeding!) and will get caught up in the stir caused by the title or photograph. That moms will feel the need to defend themselves at the expense of supporting each other. That many wouldn’t realize that the rest of the world got no such title or photograph – and the underlying issue that implies. To me, this intentional pitting of Mom against Mom was sadder than any misrepresentation of AP or breastfeeding and I wanted to contribute to a “cease fire” and bring us mamas back together if at all possible.

  15. Sarah: This is such a well-written piece, thank you for putting the thought and research into it and sharing. I like how you take us through the different TIME covers to show how sensationalism sells and to what lengths some are willing to go to make that happen. I think one positive aspect that came from the most recent cover is conversation about parenting and extended breastfeeding and my hope is that some parents who may not have otherwise learned about the benefits were able to garner some insight.

    Like you rightfully point out though, igniting the age-old Mommy wars and trying to pit us against each other was the downside and it’s shameful. The cover Mom Jamie has also done a wonderful job addressing concerns that stemmed from the cover image and I am grateful to women like you and her who speak (and write) eloquently, providing us with actual facts so that we may make the best decisions for our families. I love that you have tired to bring us all together through this post — thank you!

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