TIME breastfeeding cover sparks frenzy over whether magazine went too far; Healthy Child Healthy World CEO Rachel Sarnoff on why a conversation on this controversial topic is beneficial, and relationship expert Rachel Sussman on the pressures facing moms today
A TIME magazine breastfeeding cover with L.A. mom Jamie Lynne Grumet nursing her almost 4-year-old son while he stands on a chair next to her has caused a media frenzy leading up to Mother’s Day.
TIME editors say they ran the cover photo and a story on attachment parenting, entitled, “The Man Who Remade Motherhood,” to mark the 20th anniversary of the Dr. Bill Sears’ book on the subject, which helped power the movement for moms to establish deeper, and more prolonged, physical bonds with their children.
Related: Is Breastfeeding Revolutionary?
“He’s sold millions of books about attachment parenting, and converted hundreds of thousands of followers,” says the intro to the cover story. “His philosophy has made parenthood more physically and emotionally demanding than ever before. But are mothers taking his advice too far?”
While some are wondering whether TIME went too far with the picture, others say it’s a good opportunity to talk about the benefits – and challenges – of breastfeeding and pressure on moms today in this area.
“At Healthy Child, we believe breast is best, especially for the first year, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The TIME photos have inspired spirited conversations about how long women should breastfeed, but there hasn’t been a lot of talk about the challenges women face – many of them cultural – in choosing to nurse in the first place,” said Rachel Sarnoff, executive director of Healthy Child Healthy World.
Sarnoff noted that her organization chose to honor Kiddada Green, its “May Mom on a Mission” as a finalist because of Green’s powerful work promoting breastfeeding within the African American community, where breastfeeding rates are lowest, yet children are hit hardest by health problems that breastfeeding protects against.
The attachment parenting philosophy focuses on the close attachment after birth and beyond and encourages the natural, biological attachment-promoting behaviors of the infant and the intuitive, biological, caregiving qualities of the mother to come together. Practices that encourage attachment parenting include co-sleeping (or sleeping in close proximity to baby), baby wearing, and breastfeeding (many who ascribe to attachment parenting breastfeed their child until at least the age of 1).
But some parenting experts say that parents today are so bombarded with “expert” advice and expectations for how to raise baby, that they are often distressed at what they perceive as their failings, including not breastfeeding their children. The pressure to be the “perfect parent” – breastfeed, buy organic, co-sleep, etc… – can often be too much.
“There are so many talking heads these days and if somebody comes on TV and makes a statement and they don’t know where it’s coming from, that causes a lot of anxiety in some people,” said Rachel Sussman, a relationship expert and marriage and family therapy therapist in New York City.
“If you are a woman who somehow couldn’t breastfeed,” whether it be because of a demanding job or lactation issues, etc…, Sussman added, “I think for a family like that, when they see the importance for breastfeeding and that sort of thing, it can make women feel like they’re terrible mothers. I’ve seen women shame other women over that kind of stuff and it’s terrible.”
“You’ve got to be careful not to get pulled into the trends or the whole judgement thing,” she added.
Sussman, who is also the author of The Breakup Bible, stressed that the bottom line for all mothers is: If mom’s happy, baby’s happy. That means mom has to take care of herself and do what’s right for her.
“A happy mom is a happy baby and you have to do what’s right to you,” she said. “The mom’s got to be OK.”
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