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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Tags: Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative, breastfeeding, Elisabeth Badinter, Enfamil, Katy Allison Granju, Mayor Bloomberg, Mothering, Nestle, New York City Health Department, Pfizer. Jennifer Tite, Public Citizen, Publicis, Saturday Night Live, Similac, The Conflict, Time, toddler nursing, WHO Code

Comments (63)

"the image belies the fact that older children nurse infrequently and are generally not exhibitionists." EXACTLY. My 6 y.o. nurses once every few weeks. Usually when he is about come down with an illness or something. It is not because he has some sort of Oedipal complex with me or has an unhealthy attachment to me. In fact, he pretty much is the only child in his classroom that has not had a breakdown of some sort. He is the one who says that when he misses me in school and feeling sad about it, he thinks about all the other fun things that the day has to offer and just thinks about the time when I pick him up. He is the one that comforts his classmates who are in distress or who miss their parents. All of this despite the fact that prior to YESTERDAY he had never been babysat by anyone. And while I may have my own issues as a woman, breastfeeding my child is hardly my outlet to deal with my own issues.
Thank you Peggy O’Mara!
It is times like this (and TIMEs like this) that make me wish Mothering was still around as a print magazine. I miss you Mothering, although I feel your current existence is good, it's not enough for those of use who are loving and fighting. The TIME cover has been a real wake-up call for me in that I have received semi-threatening emails on my website and even the reception of my 3 year old son and I at a grocery store (with him riding on my back in the Ergo) has changed and we are stared at. I don't like following my natural inclinations and then having a major publication change other's opinions of me. Thank you Mothering for providing education, information, and support for mothers like me.
If you are interested in hearing the voices of some real, caring, intelligent mothers speak about their experiences breastfeeding past the first year, you can hear "Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy" at http://www.knitwisemedia.org . “Breastfeeding Beyond Infancy” is an independently produced hour-long radio documentary.  It features the voices of fourteen women who have breastfed their children between one and four years.  Some of the major topics covered include:  dealing with judgment and criticism, public nursing, benefits and challenges, weaning, nursing while working, and support. Also featured is commentary from Dr. Nigel Rollins, of the World Health Organization, Dr. Jay Gordon, a Fellow of the American Association of Pediatrics, and Dr. Katherine Dettwyler, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Delaware. The goal of this radio documentary is to give voice to breastfeeding mothers, and to stimulate dialogue about breastfeeding past one year in the United States.  
Great response. I'm sure you didn't mean to imply that breastfeeding is a "new idea." Although the Time article certainly acted as though breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping were new ideas.
I think we should all mail our copies with the breastfeeding cover back to Time Magazine.
EXACTLY!!!! I nursed each of my kids for 2 to 2 1/2 years. I NEVER nursed them while they were standing on a chair. EVER. It was quite easy to wean them, partly because they were simply ready to wean, and partly because I did NOT wean them from the comfort and snuggling they needed. I would say, "sorry, they're empty, but here, come sit on my lap in the rocker and have this nice sippy cup of water," and that would be enough for them. There is something grotesque and deeply disturbing about a young woman breastfeeding a 4-year-old boy who is purposely dressed and posed to look like a man, and I question the ethics of whoever decided to pose them that way.
I think it is silly that this was even put to print. If taken out of context, this is no less than what a man would be arrested for viewing on his computer as minor involved porn. They didn't pick a 40 something, heavy set mother of 4 with breasts down to her knees did they? Of course it was a perky, pretty 20 something with her entire breast exposed as if I've ever seen a woman feed in public in such an exobitionistic style. I feel they have set women back again, by decades, of all the hard work put in to make breastfeeind a normal rite of motherhood. Is Time magazine so desperate for sales that they have reduced themselves to fetish-stylized tabloid like covers to save their jobs?
The article clearly points out the boy is 3. I don't think he's dressed like a man, I think he's dressed appropriately for a 3 year old. I never really thought of the pants as being militant but rather pretty normal for 3 year old clothing. It didn't even seem to me that they styled him. My 2 year doesn't nurse, but looks pretty much like that. The photo is just an artistic representation of something, no different than many other photojournalistic photos or cartoons. This whole article is about the COVER, but there was a lot of interesting stuff the article pointed out, such as "Post Traumatic Sears Disorder," which I think is a real problem the AP community must deal with. So many women find that AP concepts just aren't working for them for one reason or another (they thought they could stay home and exclusively breast feed but then have to go back to work, their baby hates being worn, they're not comfortable or sleeping in the the family bed, etc.) and they feel so much guilt about it. The last thing moms need is to feel guilty for needing to switch from breastfeeding to pumping. As a community, I don't know if we've dealt with what happens when things don't work out and I think it can have dangerous consequences. Mothers who feel guilty or feel like they've failed in some way are way more susceptible to PPD, something we should all be working to prevent. The article also pointed out something that really is to AP's credit. The initial story told in the article is of a women who slowly brought more and more AP concepts into her life, because they intuitively seemed like the right thing to do and they worked for her. These are the kind of AP mamas that should be indicative of the movement. Women who are not doing AP because of pressure or guilt or because they are into some kind of dogma, but because it's working for them and came naturally to them. Everyone can relate to parenting in the way that works for them, regardless of what side of the fence you're on.
At first I was really offended when I saw the Time magazine cover. I breastfed both of my boys for three years. They were born at home, unvaxed, slept in the family bed, nursed on demand and were carried in an ergo or sling everywhere. I've been ridiculed by many for years including doctors, family, strangers about my decisions on how to birth, nourish and LOVE my children. And now TIME decides to jump in? But I love the cover too, Peggy. TIME has run out for these fools..breastfeeding and attachment parenting..if it can be said..has made a comeback and we have more mothers than ever choosing the safety of home-births, family bed-sharing, becoming more educated on vaccines and wellness alternatives for children. If the opposing powers felt no threat we would not have a cover - period. On top of that..the cover backfired. It has only ignited a national conversation on the subject..which has never been known to hurt a movement (again, if it can be called that!). Kudos to women everywhere doing what is best for their children and what comes NATURALLY.
Thank you Peggy, for your comments about this disturbing and yet wonderful photo. My daughter breastfed until she turned 4 and this was an aspect of my parenting and relationship with her that remains etched in my mind as the most positive and beneficial thing I could have done for her. At age 17, she is a very happy, aware and independent teen-ager. I wrote about this experience last year at the Healthy Child blog: http://healthychild.com/healthy-kids-blog/does-co-sleeping-or-breastfeeding-a-toddler-or-preschooler-create-dependency/
"The cover is sensational because it depicts something highly unusual: nursing while a child is standing on a chair." This made me laugh out loud. Thank you. You made my day.
Post Traumatic Sears Disorder..now THAT made me laugh.
Thank you Peggy. Yes. I too both love and hate the cover. I too hope that because AP and extended breast feeding is under attack, it is nearly time those ideas are assimilated. That'd be nice. :) (Ha, understatement of the year.) I am locally known as a 'Breastfeeding Zealot' and Babywearer, only because I have 6 kids and never hesitate to bring my kids along, wearing them, and/or nursing them in public, at parties, or neighborhood functions. I'm no 'expert', but more than a few moms contacted me about this Time cover and even wanted me to speak out (for 'us') on the radio - A local am newsradio was having people call in...and our local hospital had a Dr officially make a statement: Dr. Howard Belkin, a psychiatrist affiliated with Beaumont Hospital, said, in cases of older kids breastfeeding, it may be all about the mom: “If you going to do something either to or for a kid for an extended period of time, make sure it’s for the child and not for the mother. If this is solely for the benefit for the mother, then it just may not be for the benefit of the child,” Belkin told WWJ Legal Analyst and Talk Radio 1270 Morning Show Host Charlie Langton. http://detroit.cbslocal.com/2012/05/11/time-magazine-cover-of-breastfeeding-mom-sparks-intense-debate/ I didn't get the chance to speak on the radio but my response would have been something along the lines of: 'Oh please. Breastfeeding DOES benefit BOTH the child and the mother! Sheesh. And so what. So what if it is 'beneficial' to the mother. Why is that verbotten? And AP and ExBF IS beneficial to the child, nutrionally as well as emotionally. Breastmilk changes as babies age, for example B-12 levels increase in breastmilk for nursing toddlers, and children who have been Attachment Parented seem to be less needy, more independant - knowing their parent is available, they have solid ground beneath their feet. That's what I've read and that has been my experience as well. I also know how lucky I am, to have read all that I have, Mothering Mag included, and to have a husband who works hard which allows me to be able to stay at home with my little ones, to have the support of my own mother who was a La Leche mom when no one knew what that was (1968) and to live in an age where computers allow me to connect with like-minded people and good information, so even if I can't meet with Dr Jack Newman, for example, I can hang out on his website and watch his videos and pretend he is my personal lactation consultant. :) I feel the Time cover ("Are You Mom Enough?") insults those women who have not been as fortunate as I have been, and who have are victims of our overarchingly puritan and consumerist culture. We hide our nursing babies and we buy so much STUFF. We buy stuff to hide our nurslings under (called 'Hooter Hiders', for God's sake!)and we buy stuff so we can leave our nurslings for 8 hours at a stretch. We really do 'need' two-income families so we can afford to buy all this stuff. Even when told 'Breast is best', we feel the pressure to buy breast pumps, bottles, to 'let Daddy feed the baby' (meaning 'bond with', as if there is nothing left for him to do but feed Baby to bond with Baby), nursing covers, supplemental formula, jars of processed baby 'food', processed cereals, battery operated swings, plastic-toy-jammed play-centers, high chairs, all kinds of STUFF, all to allow Mom to become separated from Baby. Heck, I should know, I bought my share of the above, but I also bought plenty of baby carriers and slings! (Thank you, Dr Sears, and Thank you Ergo, for ending my search for a comfortable carrier!) (yes, I am part of this consumerist society, I feel and succumb to societal pressures just like anyone else!) But happily, in this digital age, I can almost create my own 'world' of like-minded people and grow in what I hope is the best direction for my family and myself. Yes, the Time cover is exploitive, yes it's provocotive, and yes, it's about time we stand up for breastfeeding! (Hahahahaha, get it?)(groan) I don't mind the image of the nursing-while-standing child, some of my most rewarding and happiest nursing memories are of nursing toddlers who told me me - in words, not just with sleepy smiles, - that they liked 'mama milk'. I have nursed standing toddlers while I've been on the computer, I have nursed standing toddlers while also nursing the younger sibling. I think extended nursing is wonderful. (and I ADORE the "Breastfeeding in the Land of Ghenghis Khan" article that Mothering Mag published some time ago - 2009?) But to ask 'Are you Mom Enough?'(he's only 3, btw), well, I feel it just insults those moms who were not able to be 'mom-enough'. I hope all the hoopla over this cover somehow really does help bring us all to a higher understanding of ourselves, and help us all be the best mothering mammals we can be ultimately.
The cover is exploitative AND aggressive. "Are you mom enough?" Are you *kidding*? I think TIME is taking its cue from Newsweek's provocative covers, but Newsweek is pro-feminist, and this cover seems anti-feminist, designed to turn women against each other. That said, I do believe some mothers perpetuate this "mom enough" idiocy. I had three drug-free deliveries, but I don't judge moms who have difficult deliveries and need meds or surgery. I nursed each of my kids for a year or so in our family bed, but if you want to nurse your kids longer, or not at all, that's your choice. I strongly support vaccination, because I believe that the refusal to take on a small risk to benefit the community jeopardizes everyone's health and the "herd immunity" that extinguished polio and other dangerous diseases. But even on this point, I'm willing to engage in discussion and debate. I think that moms on both sides of these contentious issues tend to justify our own choices by denigrating those of other women. I do it myself sometimes, I admit (homeschoolers top my list). Kudos to Peggy O'Mara for encouraging us to be reflective about our own choices as well as our judgements of other moms.
Wow, I really never thought I'd see the day when Mothering and it's reader would be judging how, where, and for how long another mother should nurse her child. I understand that the photo was meant to be as incensing as possible for those outside the AP and full-term breastfeeding community, but to see it judged even here is sad. Why is it not ok for someone to say "You shouldn't be nursing your 2 year old. It's uncommon and therefore unnecessary," but that's an ok excuse for when another person doesn't want to see a 4 year old nurse?
Thank you for expressing my thoughts so articulately. Ditto!!
Erin Cyr has already said what I have been thinking: "It is times like this (and TIMEs like this) that make me wish Mothering was still around as a print magazine. I miss you Mothering, although I feel your current existence is good, it’s not enough for those of use who are loving and fighting. The TIME cover has been a real wake-up call for me in that I have received semi-threatening emails on my website and even the reception of my 3 year old son and I at a grocery store (with him riding on my back in the Ergo) has changed and we are stared at. I don’t like following my natural inclinations and then having a major publication change other’s opinions of me. Thank you Mothering for providing education, information, and support for mothers like me."
One aspect about nursing or "extended" nursing that I have not seen in comments relating to the Time article, here or elsewhere, is how short 1 year or 2 years or even 4 years really is in the "big picture" of childhood. I nursed my almost 4 year old daughter for 2 years. I cannot believe how long ago that seems now. What seemed like forever at the time is such a distant and sweet memory. How can anyone judge what is right for anyone's family but their own? (But of course that's exactly what sensationalistic cover stories like this do).
Attachment Parenting really is just instinctive I would think. It's what comes natural & has been practiced throughout time in most cultures. Why should women be made to feel bad about something so healthy & normal. We've got to get back to nurturance & common sense to turn this society around.
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