Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Discussion of Time Magazine's Controversial Cover (guest post)

In which I expose my. . . views.

This post was originally published by Becca Lee, on Remarkable. If you've somehow missed the recent Time controversy, the following video should help with that.

Girls and boys, we need to have a talk. In fact, we need to have the talk.

No, I don't mean the talk about what happens when Batman gets too old to fight crime (he trains a replacement, duh), or about the stuff they put into jell-O to make it sproingy (it's not dried unicorn babies, despite what you may have heard). 

No, we need to talk about bosoms. Boobs, bajengos. . . or that word I despise so very much. . . breasts (I swear it's like saying "panties" and "moist" and "hair" all in one). There's been a lot of hubbub about the bubs lately, and it's all because of TIME magazine's oh-so-provocative cover. 

First, I have to say I think TIME magazine is kind of brilliant. A bit manipulative, and definitely exploitive, but brilliant. Normally when people splash a bit of sideboob on a magazine cover, they do it for sexual reasons. But this? This photo is self-condemning. . . anyone who'd look at this and call it sexual would feel perverted. So bravo on the expectation-flip, TIME. Well-played. 

Of course, TIME makes its point at the expense of some exposed lady flesh, which I guess some people are squeamish about. I wasn't, but maybe that's because I see it every day. Exposed lady flesh, that is. I had a good chuckle and thought, "Finally. Someone admits these things are functional."

But then, then, there was a big hoopla about it. I read tons of people saying how "extended breastfeeding" (I guess that's what it's called?) is wrong, creepy, and it will mess up your kids so bad their great-grandkids will need therapy.

Now, having my own bajengos, as well as my own breastfeeding baby, I've done a bit of research into this topic. I wanted to set the record straight. So, for those of you who haven't yet read up on your breasts, give these facts a squeeze and see what you think. 

Let's start at the beginning. 

In the 1950s and 60s, all these scientists (most of them men) thought that breastfeeding was crude. Breast milk, said they, can't possibly live up to our labratory-created formulas. These scientists even thought (wrongly) that breastfeeding led to cancer. And as a result of their scientific guesswork, a generation of moms turned to the bottle. So to speak.

But soon the scientists (or I should call them "scientists," because real scientists base their arguments off of actual data) realized they were wrong.

They learned that breastfed babies have fewer illnesses and recover faster when they get sick (Gulick 1986, AAAFP 2001). Breastfed babies also have fewer allergies and higher IQs. Moms who breastfeed have their own natural birth control, lose pregnancy weight easier, and are better protected against osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis later in life. And as far as cancer goes, they pretty much hit all the reproductive bases with this one: moms who breastfeed reduce their chances of getting breast, ovarian, uterine, and endometrial cancer. 

Of course, most people (or, at least, most people with breasts) now know that breast is best for both mother and child. But what about "extended" breastfeeding?

I've been around the mommy-blog block a few times. Most moms agree that breastfeeding up to six months is great, many even believe it's downright essential. Fewer hold out to the one-year-mark (which, by the way, the American Academy of Pediatrics says is essential), and fewer moms breastfeed until two and beyond, though the World Health Organization recommends at least two years of breastfeeding (and supplementing with solids starting as early as 6 months). 

But why?

Because I breastfeed my toddler, I've read (and been told) mostly negative opinions on breastfeeding beyond infancy. The worst ones are outright falsehoods, but there are also plenty that go something like, "in my opinion, I mean, no offense, but you and your kid are psychologically depraved (don't get mad! I said no offense!)" 

But worst of all, the arguments I hear time and time again are completely baseless--backed by no evidence whatsoever. And since there's so much misinformation floating around, I thought I'd address some.

[These specific comments are taken from and the comments section of the San Francisco Chronicle]. 

Comment Type 1: The Rule-Maker

"Breastfeeding: if your child can reach up and grab it, they're too old to have it."

This kind of comment isn’t the only “rule” I’ve come across. I've also read that babies who can walk up to you and ask for milk shouldn't be "allowed" to have it. 

First of all, babies can grab as early as three months, so we all know that rule’s bogus. 

Second of all, isn't it better to have a child who can behave like a normal human being and ask for things rather than one who just screams for what he wants? And if theearliest recommended cutoff date for breastfeeding is one year, and your baby hasn'ttried to walk or talk by then, then maybe you should breastfeed more (see "breastfed babies have higher IQs”. . .)

Comment Type 2: The Sexualizer

"Wait until he is 13 years old. He can feed his hunger and lust at the same time" or "If you’re a teenage guy who is just discovering his sexual attraction to breasts, and you remember suckling your mother’s – might that be confusing and uncomfortable?" 

First of all, ew. Second of all, ew. I don't care who you are, once you start having sexual feelings, you do not associate those with your mother. All moms have breasts. If you're at the age when you're thinking about breasts sexually, you're not going to think about your mother's, whether you've seen them or not. Teenage boys aren't idiots. . . they're not thinking about their moms.

If you don't believe me, just ask the nearest thirteen-year-old boy you meet. Don't blame me if your house gets egged later. 

A second problem with this argument is this: should we sacrifice a nutritive activity to a sexualized one? Is it worth it to jeopardize the health of babies and moms so that a teenage boy can freely think sexual thoughts about boobs? 

And lastly, if you told a motherless teenage boy that he could've saved his mom from breast cancer by being breastfed past two, don't you think he'd be okay with that? Regardless of whether or not he was able to view breasts sexually? 

Comment Type 3: The Doubter/ Know-it-all

"I doubt if there is any compelling health advantages for breast feeding a child longer than 10 or 12 months. I hope that I don't ever have to witness a four year old being breast fed" or "That’s just infantilizing your child and keeping them from developing properly. After 1 year it’s just comfort feeding not nutritive and I wouldn’t want to teach my child to be comforted by food – it’s the same as handing them a cookie. No bottles or breasts after 1 year is my thought."

The truth is, there's no truth to any of this. There are definite health benefits past 12 months, 24 months, 36 months and beyond. The benefits I talked about before (smarter, healthier babies and cancer-free moms) all increase the longer a mother-child pair breastfeed. Now, don't get freaked out that fully-grown persons are going to head on over to Mom's to "latch on" after a rough day at work. Naturally, without any sort of intervention, children tend to wean somewhere between 2-5, some going as long as 7 years (this is not typical, but it does happen).

Some people might think that, after one year, the nutrition gained by breastfeeding is pretty much all done. The interesting thing is, breast milk changes after the one-year mark. It maintains a different balance of fats, proteins, and vitamins, and it adapts to the growing child's nutritive needs better than any food you'll find at the supermarket (Dewey 2001, Mandel 2005). As for breast milk becoming nothing more than comfort food, this isn't substantiated by any scientific evidence and sounds more like old wives' yammering, or maybe some more of that good old scientific guesswork we grew to love in the 50s and 60s.

Now, if you're worried about how your kid is going to adjust to social situations, studies have shown that longer periods of breastfeeding, as well as child-led weaning (as opposed to forced weaning) make for more socially adaptable kids. These are kids who have confidence in their maternal bonds, who feel safe and confident that their mothers love them even at a distance. This confidence leads to fewer instances of disorderly conduct at school and in social settings (Baldwin, Kneidel). 

Anecdotally, I’ve found this to be true myself. Even though my kid is going on two, people always comment on how independent he is, how he seems to be far less clingy than other kids. Of course, maybe that’s his personality, but it’s something I’ve noticed.

There are other comments, too, but these were the ones that struck me the most because they seemed to be the most perpetuated.

I’d like to put a stop to that.

By now some of you (both of you) might be thinking, how did we get this way? Why, if it's so great to breastfeed, do we force our kids to suck it up (or, not suck it up)? 

Some of this has to do with moms going to work. The workplace makes whipping out the boob a bit trickier (though many moms do pump at work, including myself, it's just harder). 

But really, moms just don't have the support. And it's not just about buying a new bra, either. 

Even despite the public disapproval, some moms have stuck it out. These are not emotionally insecure psychopaths. These are caring mothers who want more support for their healthy maternal choices. It's hard to breastfeed, harder to be told when and how to do it "right." If we could look beyond the boob and feel safe and comfortable with breastfeeding, then we'd do the whole world a lot of good. The WHO says we could prevent 10% of child deaths under the age of 5 with longer periods of breastfeeding, so I say a bit of boob is worth it.

Now, lest you think I entirely condone TIME’s cover, I'll offer this parting word to the contrary. If you look over all the photos, there's something not quite right with these moms. They tend to pose away from their breastfeeding children. These photos make breastfeeding look like a power play, and the title "Are you Mom Enough?" suggests that there’s a competition about it (there shouldn’t be). But while I'd much rather see moms curled up with their breastfeeding children, these politicized poses are all we've got. They’ll have to do.

We need to become better educated about breastfeeding, and that's the truth. If some hot mom's sideboob on the cover of TIME is the only thing that's going to make that happen, then I think we are just as much to blame. We sexualize breasts to our detriment, to the detriment of our children's health. The science is there, as well as the natural biology. We're the ones that are holding back. With every backwards view, every non-corrected misconception, we hurt our world health, even our mortality rate. Tell that to the next person who gets “creeped out” by a little bit of flesh.

All moms love their kids. It's not a competition, not a sexual perversion, and not a power play. If people could let us (encourage us, even) to do what's best for our kids, we'd finally make progress on this, well, very titillating issue.

(See for all my citations, as well as an extensive list of other sources)

Becca Ogden is a stay-at-home mom and writer living in Utah. She graduated from BYU with a bachelor's in English, a Master's in British Literature, and later a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. She occasionally flashes strangers in public, most of the time accidentally.

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