Time for Breastfeeding?

    “My mother breast-fed me until I was six years old until I self-weaned. Her encouragement to breast-feed is why we were so successful.”

    “It’s really warm. It’s like embracing your mother, like a hug. You feel comforted, nurtured and really, really loved. I had so much self-confidence as a child, and I know it’s from that. I never felt like she would ever leave me. I felt that security.”

    These are the quotes of Jamie Lynne Grumet, the woman sporting her nearly 4 year old son suckling her breast on the cover of Time Magazine.  Why would Time decide to have it on the cover?  It’s all about the mighty dollar and which magazine is going to catch your eye at the checkout stand.  Their claim was that it was to mark the anniversary of a twenty year old book written by a Dr. Bill Sears which encouraged women to breastfeed into the toddler years to promote physical and psychological bonding between parents and their children.  He also promoted things like sleeping with your child in the bed until they are ready to go to their own room (when they are ready, not when the parents are ready).

    I think we all get hung up on the photo for various reasons.  Breastfeeding can be a very touchy subject for our society because it’s not something that is generally accepted due to our uniquely autonomous societal beliefs.  Regardless of opinions, the fact is, there is a picture of a very attractive woman posing with her breast pulled over the top of her spaghetti strapped shirt with her toddler son latched firmly onto her left breast while he is staring into the camera looking somewhat confused.  The expression is rather funny; he appears confused to be in such a pose, which is pretty congruent to how most people felt when seeing the cover in the first place.  Confused.

    I will address breastfeeding in another post, as I want to focus on this from the perspective of why this story was so significant as to make Time Magazine take on such a newsworthy event.  According to The New York Times (February 8, 2010), Time Magazine took a pretty significant hit financially.  “Time’s newsstand sales were down 34.9 percent in the last half of 2009, compared to the previous year” (Clifford, 2010).  Clifford also speculated that Time Magazine and many other publications were also suffering the same struggles.  She elaborated that Time, Good Housekeeping, Redbook and others all took a hit at the newsstands, which is their indication of their vitality.  Put simply, they were losing money.  Even Reader’s Digest filed bankruptcy (Clifford, 2010).

    I am not an economist, but I think we all understand the concept of marketing pretty well.  Of all the things impacting our society today, they must have been plastered on magazines and have tickered across the bottom of every news station to the point that we almost don’t notice it anymore.  Things that are tremendously significant have become common place and new-order cliches.

    Things that we have heard a million times a year (and three million times a year should it be an election year) include the following:

    Economy, Unemployment rate, Cancer, Heart Disease, Health Care Reform, Tax Rates, Bail-outs, Fraud/Embezzlement, War, Terrorist attacks, Pollution, Cost of oil per barrel, Soaring gas prices, Crime, Hate crimes, School shootings, Welfare reform, Missing persons/children, Mexican drug mafia…

    So much of it has become buzz words, but most common people you meet on the street cannot talk about most of those topics with any clear understanding of issues at hand.  They are simply words that have been play so frequently around us we have become immune and insensitive to them.  But mention Trevyon Martin, and everyone is knowledgable and has an opinion.

    Time Magazine needed a new gimmic to throw on the newsstand to turn a nickle.  Something with that, “shock-factor” we have come to expect as an American society.  It seems that if it doesn’t make us distrubed, distressed, grossed out, repulsed, angry, and sad, we just aren’t that interested.  So, Time went for the double wow factor.  They gave us a pretty woman with a breast exposed.  Nothing gets publicity like an exposed breast (recall the “wardrobe malfunction” of Jackson during her superbowl performance which led to the  infamous breast shot seen round the world).  Second, they threw in not just a baby breast feeding, but a 3 year old (almost 4 year old) boy in the progress of having a mid-day sip of Mommy milk straight off the breast.  Ah, that’ll get folks talking for lots of reasons.

    So, you already knew this – I am sure of that.  But why breastfeeding?  Perhaps they have ran gay marriage into the ground or because Obama has taken that topic and ran with it.  So what is it about breastfeeding that is so taboo?

    Long ago, to my grandmother’s generation and older, breastfeeding was normal.  As a matter of fact, my grandmother related a story to me about being unable to breastfeed my father and  how she had to raise a goat to give him goat’s milk.  She was so humiliated to have to bottle feed him.  She and my grandfather were very poor and they struggled financially for most of their lives.  She was “well-endowed,” but for some reason unknown to her, she simply could not produce the quantity needed to provide my infant father with adequate nutrition.  Cow milk was beyond their budget, so they raised a few goats and used their milk.  Through the whole story, she never expressed being embarrassed by not being able to afford cow milk, or having to raise goats – she was humiliated because she could not breastfeed.  I found that in stark contrast to our society today.  On a side note, my grandmother later battle breast cancer in both breast and survived after a double radical mastectomy and radiation.  I am really proud of that, and I miss her a lot.  She passed away several years ago.

    My mother shared her take on breastfeeding.  She was part of a generation in which breastfeeding became equated with hippies – you know, those crazed young people that just loved baking cookies all the time and exposing their bodies in provacative ways?  Yeah, my mother and her buddies did not condone such inappropriate behavior, so they much preferred to distance themselves from those types.  What better way than to keep your breast in your shirt?  But how could they do that if they had a baby?  Ah!  Bottles!  Hence, breastfeeding became associated with hippies, tree huggers, and touchy feely types that had no respect for civilized folks.

    Then there’s my generation.  When I was pregnant with my first son, my doctor, every nurse, every parenting class and every birthing class really stressed the importance of breastfeeding.  Admittedly, I was young (19), and the idea of taking my boob out everytime my child needed to be fed seemed pretty intimidating.  I didn’t want the world seeing my boob.  I especially didn’t want them seeing my baby sucking on my boob.  The idea did not sit well with me at all.  Initially.  But I became educated on the benefits, the draw backs, and the adjustments that could be made to make me and my son successful at it.  I’ll try anything once.  With that, I set out to breastfeed my son.  It was a challenge, but I managed to do well with it.  I think he breastfed until about 4 months of age.  The second son was completely bottlefed due to lifestyle issues (mostly, being a single mom doesn’t leave the time I needed to breastfeed).  My first daughter breastfed for about 10 months, the second daughter couldn’t breastfeed (she was too small due to being a preemie), but I pumped and bottlefed her breastmilk for a few months.  My last son was breastfed for about 10 months as well.  Most of my friends breastfed their children, and there’s always a feeling of safety in numbers.  I think the trend is moving back to breastfeeding.

    I know as a nurse, we encourage breastfeeding and are taught how to teach new mothers various positions, ways to maintain privacy, and all the nutritional benefits and bonding benefits that come with breastfeeding (including saving a small fortune by not having to buy formula).  After my L&D rotation, I can say that the vast majority of new moms were breastfeeding and had a strong desire to breastfeed.  I think being honest in teaching everything from what it feels like, ways to discretely do it in public, preventing injury and discomfort, and having a positive attitude has come a long way for these new moms.  It was an area of L&D nursing I excelled at, but if you are going to teach it, you should come in the door with patience, an ability to say things like “areola,” “breast,” “sucking,” and “nipple” without feeling like an immature school child saying a bad word.  That and you should come with a sense of humility and humor, too.

    But why did Time choose to run an article that put breastfeeding in a negative light?  It truly sets the breastfeeding movement back 10 years.  It doesn’t take much to blur the line of healthy and normal to perverse and taboo.  Time really took a gamble on the cover, but the bet obviously paid off for them.  They pimped out breastfeeding, and they showed poor regard for that little boy.  Good luck in high school, kid.

    True, breastfeeding promotes bonding.  There’s been psychology studies as well as medical studies that prove it.  That’s not really news, so reporting that would get them no where.  But at what age is the right age to ween a baby from the breast?

    That’s not an easy answer.  It’s usually dictated by mom and baby’s desires, societal expectations, and the needs of the family.  In most poor parts of the world, kids will breastfeed for years because sources of good nutrition are scarce and limited.  That’s obviously not a problem in America.  I know we are taught to encourage breastfeeding for as long as it’s feasible for the family, but in an ideal world, 12 months is awesome.  Lots of studies show the benefits of breastfeeding the first year.  Not many studies go beyond 12 months, and there are no long-term studies to date that evidence breastfeeding until age 4 years is more beneficial than just the first year.  But, it’s certainly not harmful…or is it?

    This boy cannot ever undo the photo of he and his mother sharing a somewhat compromising position on the cover of a hugely popular magazine.  His expression is disturbing to me because his face kind of says, “Uhm…could you close the door please?”  He just doesn’t look comfortable to me.  When a baby is breastfeeding, they are utterly content.  As a baby becomes satisfied (full), they often fall asleep at the breast, appear limp, and have what I call a baby smile.  That kid looked tense.

    I know enough psychology to be dangerous.  I did my mental health nursing rotation and took a few extra psych courses because I enjoy learning about it (and considered psychology as opposed to nursing).  But I certainly have never conducted long term studies and never published anything.  That’s my disclosure, and now here comes the opinion.

    I think medical and psychological studies and advancements that took place 20 years ago are often not applicable to today’s knowledge.  It’s a beautiful thing that we learn, apply, study, and repeat.  It keeps us moving foward and helps make better health for everyone.  Therefore, a doctor who wrote a book 20 years ago encouraging breastfeeding and co-sleeping until a child is well into childhood might not be so dependable anymore in today’s time.

    Secondly, our society values independence.  It’s just a simple fact.  Our society prefers free markets (or at least we used to), independence, and successful individuals.  Example, in America, when an elderly person becomes ill, their spouse is first to assist.  If there is no spouse, it falls on the children.  But, most of their children have families of their own and have the need for two incomes, thus no one is at home to take care of Grandma.  Grandma goes to a nursing home or receives less than awesome care at home.  That’s not to say all Grandmas live this path, but just as a whole, we don’t seem to notice the countless “retirement homes” in our communities. You wouldn’t find that many retirement facilities in eastern countries as you would find in the Houston area alone.  It’s not a matter of who has the most love for Grandmas, or even who has the best means to care for Grandmas.  Instead, it’s about social norms.  It’s nearly unheard of for a Chinese family to NOT bring their parents into the home to care for them.  Here, when we take in our aging, ill parents, we are destined for martyrdom.  Yes, yes, it’s definitely a generalization.  My father retired early to care for my grandma, and he gave her excellent care.  My dad is not the standard guy though, he’s awesome, as was his mother.

    The point is, our society has norms and expectations.  And yes, for those to change, it takes people like this woman to bring their mission to the forefront.  But, if we make this our norm, then where do we draw the line on other social norms such as child pornography, public nudity, and how long does a “long-term study” have to become to support these actions?  If we accept  our children sleeping in the marital bed, then do we have to change our norms for sexual relations in a marriage?  Which brings up yet another issue.  Maybe we should plaster pictures of families that have lost infants to SIDS or babies that have passed away of SIDS on the cover of magazines to teach people that the marital bed (or even single-mom/dad bed) is the most dangerous location to place a sleeping baby!  Babies have a poor ability to detect carbon dioxide build up in their bodies, and therefore do not have the reflex to turn their head away from covers, pillows, parents, or even a breast so that they can breathe.  Further, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, the top 3 reasons for SIDS include placing the baby on their stomach (it should always be on their back, “back to sleep”), cigarette smoke, and CO-SLEEPING (sleeping in the bed with parents).  I didn’t read that anywhere in the Time article.

    The cover is certainly eye-catching, but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.  Anyone that actually READS the article could be swayed toward misinformation that could cost the life of their child.  Co-sleeping has been proven to be unsafe.  Breastfeeding has tremendous benefits in early life, but nothing says the longer the better.  So they included 20 year old medical advice from a non-medically trained woman who was following Dr. Sears’ beliefs.  Dr. Sears based his book on very dated information.  And Time turned breastfeeding into a public display of perversion for many.

    Thank you, Time magazine, for setting breastfeeding back a few years and for undermining everything we have learned from countless studies that have benefited families dramatically.  Example, SIDS rates dropped dramatically in the early 1990s due to the “back to sleep” campaign which taught to put babies to sleep on their backs, on a firm mattress, with no blankets or pillows.

    There’s nothing wrong with new ways of thinking, and not all of it is nonsense.  Thinking outside the box is critical to our survival and inspires new research and keeps the machine moving forward.  Ultimately, it increases our vitality, our lifespan, and makes life a little better.  Breastfeeding does promote bonding.  Cuddling and loving a baby and skin to skin contact with mom or dad also increases bonding and infant/parenting bonding.  But I equate the breastfeeding/co-sleeping and being overly abundant with good intentions to vitamins.  Vitamins are good for us when taken in appropriate amounts.  They can kill us if we overload on them.  Sometimes more is not better, sometimes it’s just more.

    1 Comment

    1. Camo | |

      In the words for the ladies on “The View” If you can spell MILK.. your are to freaking old to be nursing..

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