'I’m mum enough to think this cover sucks'

I breastfed my daughter until she was 21 months old.

It wasn't a conscious choice, just the method my daughter preferred to use to meet her nutritional and comforting needs.

Breastfeeding until two, three, four years or beyond is common in many parts of the world - partly because unsafe drinking water makes breastmilk the safest option for infants, but also because cultural norms ascribe breasts their biological purpose.

Essential Baby editor Amber Robinson ... Divisive media coverage "only serves to make mothers who breastfeed, or ...
Essential Baby editor Amber Robinson ... Divisive media coverage "only serves to make mothers who breastfeed, or attachment parent, feel marginalised and exploited." 

For the many Western women fighting to breastfeed their children in public, or pumping tirelessly to ensure their breastfeeding relationship is retained once back at work, divisive media coverage, like this cover doozy on Time, only serve to make mothers who breastfeed, or attachment parent, feel marginalised and exploited.

The mother pictured feeding her three-year-old son, Jamie Lynne Grumet, had good intentions when posing for the instantly-infamous photo, saying that she wants "everyone to be encouraging", no matter what their parenting style.

I know many women who did feed their babies beyond two years old, and I've never seen them feeding a child standing on a chair

But newsworthy magazine covers aren’t built on good intentions. Even the magazine's managing editor, Rick Stengel, acknowledged that the image is provocative.

I know many women who did feed their babies beyond two years old, but I've never seen them feeding a child standing on a chair.

What we in the West call "extended breastfeeding" (anything past a year) isn't an act of defiance, nor is it what one Jezebel commenter coined "emotional incest".

Why are we so frightened of loving our babies? The very hormone which triggers the letdown of milk – oxytocin, the ‘love’ hormone – acts in a positive feedback loop when a woman breastfeeds her child.

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Research by scientists at Warwick University found that when a  baby suckles, the mother's neurons respond by churning out oxytocin. This extra release of oxytocin creates much stronger links between nerve cells, creating a 'positive-feedback' loop, where the greater the concentration of the chemical, the faster it's produced.

This allows massive, intense bursts of the love hormone to sweep through the brain at intervals of around five minutes during a breastfeeding session. That’s kind of awesome, right?

While the mother is experiencing feelings of love, trust and protection while feeding her child, the baby is receiving endorphins through her milk which dull pain and reduce stress.

Indeed, some research suggests breastfed babies appear to handle stress better a decade later than their bottle-fed peers.

So extended breastfeeding is far from unusual, or creepy. In a lot of ways it makes sense.

No, it’s not for everyone, and some women struggle to breastfeed at all, let alone past 12 months.

But making it in to some sort of extreme mothering competition, as the headline with the photo suggested, also marginalises those who can’t (or don’t, or won’t) breastfeed. It once again promotes the idea of a 'Mummy War' with hippies on one side and Gina Ford-book-toting career women on the other.

I’m not an attachment parent, but there are things I have in common with people who are.

I wore my daughter in a sling because it made dropping my son at preschool easier. I tried ‘baby led weaning’ because as a working mum I had little time to make specialist organic baby food. I lay with my daughter until she falls asleep because it means I can relax and reach another level on Angry Birds while calling it parenting.

Most parents make choices born out of convenience and personal preference, rather than militant philosophy. And most of the time we don’t judge what the parent next to us is doing. But I guess that doesn’t make a good cover story.

Have your say on the cover in the Essential Baby forum.