Breastfeeding Preschoolers: Not Sensational at All

'My studio shot' photo (c) 2010, Tricia - license: caption on the Time Magazine cover under a mom breastfeeding a large-for-his-age nearly four year old asked, “Are You Mom Enough?” I’m guessing you’ve already seen it, so I won’t link.

People who think breastfeeding is weird or should only be done privately were disgusted. Even many who support breastfeeding lambasted Time for choosing a staged and provocative photo.

Some have criticized the mother, Jamie Lynne Grumet, for agreeing to the shoot. They ask whether she was taking advantage of an unwilling child, and what right did she have to embarrass her son’s future teenage self? Both questions relate to whether one sees breastfeeding as a normal part of parenting. Breastfeeding 4-year-olds is completely unremarkable in most parts of the world. If more preschoolers breastfed in our culture, and their mothers could talk about it, the child wouldn’t be any more embarrassed than he would be by a picture of him sucking on a pacifier. And you can’t force a child to nurse.

Some have pointed out that Time’s choice of cover image shows how much breastfeeding has become accepted. It took a huge child nursing in an awkward position to “shock” the public. Compare the 1997 controversy surrounding Keely Shaye Smith, Pierce Brosnan’s girlfriend, who nursed her tiny baby on the cover of the 1997 issue of Redbook. A non-breastfeeding version went to mail subscribers.

But I have been thinking most about this comment on my Facebook page from J. :

“I nursed till around 30 months and would always sit down and have a cuddle at the same time . . .”

While I admire mothers who ensure that breastfeeding is always an intimate and special time with a child, I prefer not to idealize it. Undivided attention is not a requirement for breastfeeding, which happens as a part of daily life, many times a day, in all kinds of positions and situations, often for only a few seconds.

The truth for many mothers who breastfeed preschoolers can be found somewhere in between the unnatural pose on Time’s cover, and gazing lovingly into a child’s eyes throughout the nursing session.

The discussion reminded me of an article by Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept. Liedloff’s book inspired a generation of “attached” parents. She explains why toddlers in some cultures, like that of the Yequana Indicans of South America, don’t have the separation issues and tantrums considered normal in our culture:

. . . the Yequana are not child-centered. They may occasionally nuzzle their babies affectionately, play peek-a-boo, or sing to them, yet the great majority of the caretaker’s time is spent paying attention to something else…not the baby! Children taking care of babies also regard baby care as a non-activity and, although they carry them everywhere, rarely give them direct attention. Thus, Yequana babies find themselves in the midst of activities they will later join as they proceed through the stages of creeping, crawling, walking, and talking. The panoramic view of their future life’s experiences, behavior, pace, and language provides a rich basis for their developing participation.

This idea—that children don’t need to be the center of attention—applies to children breastfeeding at all ages. Many years ago a mother called me after her second child was born. Her 5-year-old went wild every time she fed the newborn. I suggested that she read or talk to her older son while nursing the baby. But she wondered how she could do that: “I go into my bedroom with the baby, close the door, and turn on classical music.”  She seemed surprised to learn that not everyone does it that way.

Sometimes breastfeeding involves special attention, but it is often a way for a child to make a quick connection or get a snack. No need to worry about the reasons. A 3-year-old’s desire to cuddle can wait some of the time, as can the desire to nurse. But they aren’t both always necessary at the same time.

I would not have nursed as long as I did had I felt obligated to drop whatever I was doing to go cuddle on the sofa.

And breastfeeding for any length of time doesn’t make you more or less “Mom.” Breastfeeding preschoolers is not special or sensational, and requires no more dedication than other parenting tasks. It’s actually a lazy way to parent—active weaning requires effort.

The greatest difficulty when breastfeeding an older child is dealing with real or perceived criticism from family, friends and strangers. I didn’t have relatives around to care, and anyone bothered could tell that this wasn’t up for discussion. I guess I can sympathize with the defiant look of the mom in the photo.

The only way that breastfeeding a preschooler makes you more “MOM” is that you develop a thick enough skin to continue doing what you think is right for your family, even when others thinks you are weird or extreme.

You may also enjoy:

Public Breastfeeding: The Cringe Factor

Review of Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

Whose Babies Are They Anyway? Breastfeeding Twins in Israeli Hospital


  1. Fantastic post Hannah. I agree with every word. I find the picture empowering. I also totally agree that our culture is child centered and children do not benefit from that. Not just breastfeeding, but every part of our society.

  2. This reminds me of myself many years ago, standing in the bathroom nursing a baby and the same time wiping a toddlers bottom after he did his business.

  3. Amen! Amen! Amen! I love this piece. I wish TIME would print it as a follow up.

    Shock value has led us to tolerate such extreme portrayals today.

    I almost always nursed “multitasking”, including the time I tied my toddlers shoes at the same time. Nursing was almost never denied, but it also was never a “big deal”, although I am sad to report that this was not enough to eliminate tantrums from our house. : )

    Thank you for writing this.

  4. Great post, Hannah! Thanks for reacting with such a “down-to-earth”-post to the controversy created by TIME 🙂

  5. The issue is not that child was unwilling- it’s that the child couldn’t give informed consent. There’s a big difference. It’s clear in the photograph that the child is willing. It’s also clear, given the child’s age, that there’s no way he understands the long term implications of his pose and what they will mean for his online identity, which, if it’s important enough to affect job applications now, I shudder to think what it will mean 20 years down the road. These implications were obviously not important to Jamie, which is disturbing.

    In addition to the fact that the larger context of the photo shoot and publication was also not important to her- Time is not in the business of promoting extended breastfeeding. It’s in the business of shocking people to get their attention so they will buy more magazines and increase their own ad revenues. In short, I see more than a few ways this photo harms the child today and in the future, and few ways it benefits him.

    Also, your claim that the unnatural position just reflects how EBF is a part of normal life- I might buy it if she was actually don’t something else while he was nursing- balancing a checkbook, helping a sibling, making a salad. But she’s not doing anything except looking defiantly at a camera. How does that show EBF in the context of normal life?

    As for the claim that because if people practice EBF, they must have the secret to raising non-spoiled children, I really don’t see the relevance of this reasoning to modern Western life. There are plenty of ways to make sure children understand they aren’t the center of the world without engaging in EBF. My children have always been outgoing, self confident and independent and the latest I bf’d was 16 months.

    OTOH, it’s pretty clear that breastfeeding preschoolers is not the norm in Western culture and isn’t about to become one anytime soon. If individuals would like to EBF, that’s certainly their prerogative and they should seek out support from likeminded mothers. But to make the claim that if only EBF would become the norm, our children would have less tantrums is unconvincing.

    What really needs to change is believing that any damage to a child’s self-esteem will cause irreparable harm- and that can happen with or without EBF.

    • Abbi:
      Thank you for taking the time to write a detailed response. You wrote: “The issue is not that child was unwilling- it’s that the child couldn’t give informed consent.” That applies to any magazine photo. I’m sorry, I just can’t believe this will prevent the kid from getting a job down the road. Who in the world would remember. ” Time is not in the business of promoting extended breastfeeding. It’s in the business of shocking people to get their attention so they will buy more magazines and increase their own ad revenues.” Totally agree.
      “Also, your claim that the unnatural position just reflects how EBF is a part of normal life.” No, what I meant is that the truth is somewhere in between this unnatural pose and cuddling on the sofa, looking lovingly into the child’s eyes. (I just added this to the post so there won’t be any doubt.)

      “As for the claim that because if people practice EBF they must have the secret to raising non-spoiled children.” I never claimed this nor do I believe it. Liedloff wasn’t even talking about EBF in her article. My point is that attachment parenting doesn’t mean focusing on the child all of the time. This isn’t the definition of attachment parenting but only one aspect, according to one who is often quoted by AP followers.

      “What really needs to change is believing that any damage to a child’s self-esteem will cause irreparable harm”
      Again, you’re distorting my position. I don’t believe that. Nor do I believe that a child’s self-esteem is directly related to how many years, or even days, that a child breastfeeds.

      • In general I do not like using children in magazine covers or articles. They can never give informed consent. However, there is no difference btw this photo and any other use of children in the news media.

      • The internet is permanent. Thanks to Google, his name will always be attached to this photo, even 20 years from now. It’s an issue to consider. And this isn’t like like any other photo, because EBF in this position is really not accepted by the general public.

        Sorry I misunderstood about the Yequena reference. Somehow I thought she was discussing EBF as well.

        While I agree in large part with her point, I’m a little wary of the common argument “If indigenous people do it, it must be good and natural”. Watch the fantastic movie Babies, which follows 3 or 4 babies around the world for their first year and see how the Namibian baby crawls around a smoke filled hut near the cooking fire. At 2-3 months, the Mongolian baby lies for hours swaddled on a bed while the mom is out working in the fields (talk about not being the center of attention!). I don’t think those are practices that we’d be adopting anytime soon.

        • I absolutely agree with you, Abbi, about indigenous people. However, enough cultures do it, it was done in the times of the Torah, it’s mentioned in the Shulhan Aruch until age 4 or 5, and we know that the child’s immune system is still immature until age 5 or 6. And most primates nurse their young until the young get their first permanent teeth.

          • I’m not saying everyone has to do it, by any means. But it is not as extreme as people make it out to be. And a lot more common than people think–the ones who do it often become “closet nursers.”

      • I am sure this won’t affect his job prospects too – that isn’t really relevant. Imagine if there was someone out there taking photos of you and posting them on the internet without your consent – and then reassuring you that the context of the photo won’t harm you in the future.

        Every person has a right to assert control over what shows up when you google him/her.

        Yes, the world should accept extended breastfeeding. One day maybe it will. Until then, let’s let people decide for themselves if they want images of themselves with a boob in their mouth immortalized on Facebook!!

      • Hey Hannah! Great post.

        I find it so funny people think they have the right to judge other mothers for making choices for their families. Talking about the media and exploiting my child? Maybe it would be for their family. The wonderful thing about raising a family is doing what you believe is 100% for them. The commenter above is perpetuating the media driven “mommy wars” by making bizarre assumptions directed at another mother she does not know (and it just so happens to be me!)

        People make these criticisms using the filters of their own lives and their own Western perspectives. No wonder America has such a bullying problem. My children are very blessed that we are able to spend a good amount of the year in countries where our style of parenting is the norm (and socially acceptable)…However, even if we lived full-time in the states I would not hesitate to pose for a photo like this with my child and stand up for what we believe in. My mother did the same with me (although, never on the cover of time) and I am so glad she did.

        A job? Really? Content on the internet from 4 years ago is buried, and even if it wasn’t- who cares? Will my child look the same when he is grown? Are we using his legal name? Will this topic even be an issue years down the line? Will my child even want to work in the US? These are questions people don’t know and making assumptions based on it. Bottom line- it is foolish to judge others. Worry about your own family and let parents make choices for their own families.

        And as far as your post- Bravo. I loved it. Another mother sent it to me and I was delighted. The cover photo essentially was an outtake that did not represent the direction the shoot was going, but we knew that was the risk we took with a large media outlet. Dr. Sears also was willing to take that risk. We wanted to make a statement and TIME wanted to make money. None of this was breaking news. That is why there was a risk involved. Sometimes (like in the covers that followed TIME) the media does represent breastfeeding well. Our mission was accomplished when people started to discuss the issue from TIME. It is silly for others to think we weren’t expecting negativity (even if a perfect cover shot was chosen…and tagline!) – And like you said- the photo is not offensive. We definitely have breastfed standing up before. I was comfortable taking standing photos to show that infant and toddler breastfeeding are very different. They ended up choosing the most awkward shot of all the standing photos, though! Breastfeeding can be intimate…it can also be a few seconds on a stool while mommy is making a cup of coffee (like we did today)… Thank you so much for writing this!

        • Jamie – Thanks for writing. I hadn’t thought about you being a nursing advocate trying to make a statement. I guess I just figured you were a willing model. What direction was the shoot going in? If your son has to worry about his job prospects, I’m sure there are many people who have been on the cover of a national magazine who only wish they could stay famous that long!

          You are right that nursing a toddler is very different, but I wouldn’t think of it as a choice you make for your family. Weening is a choice, continuing to nurse as long as your kid wants is just… being a mom.

          • I agree! weaning is a choice! Great point.

            I meant more about my child’s likeness being on a cover of a magazine being a choice for our family. The holier than thou comments about their own personal comfort levels for the media with their own children and just silly. As parents that is part of our job, we are making decisions for our children, and most will have long-term effects. We medicate our children, allow them to have surgery (to some considered medically unnecessary), chose their schooling, where we live, how to discipline, the foods we eat, and even our own careers….all of this will impact their lives greatly as adults and none of it is with their consent. Most parents consciously choose what is best for their child and family. Someone suggesting the polling analogy (and choose what is in the majority accepted and parent based on that) is ridiculous. Does that mean that if we move to an area where we have the minority religion we should be in the closet, or convert so our child doesn’t have to deal with bullying of having a different faith? Not to mention not so long ago interracial families were considered vile. Should those parents not have had children because they knew the potential social backlash that would come? I remember when my husband and I were discussing whether or not we should allow our family to participate in the photos (at this point we thought that a small photo would accompany Dr. Sears’ article- crazy it ended up the cover)- We spoke about Carolyn Twietmeyer and her family deciding on publicly disclosing their kids’ HIV status to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. Again, she and her husband received the same comments we are receiving now about consent. People don’t realize that the vast majority of us that allow our families into media attention like this for a cause (very well knowing it will be negative) do talk about it prior, and in-depth. To see what Carolyn and her family have accomplished by disclosing this information publicly- it is amazing. Another great example is the little girl on the Nickelodeon special with Magic Johnson. Do you remember her? Her adoptive parents allowed her reveal her name and be put on film to speak about her HIV status (during a time when it was not anywhere close to socially accepted- people were treated like lepers). Again, parents got the same flack (horrible backlash at first), but they knew it was important. Do you know what she does now? She is a very outspoken advocate for HIV/AIDS. What she said as a child and now has positively impacted our view of HIV. The treatments that came from the funding after such specials allow people now to have low viral loads and live a normal life expectancy! However, she isn’t done. She is working to dispense the latest ARV meds to all people around the world. Her family taught her to be brave and it is saving lives. That doesn’t mean another family has every right to not disclose their child’s HIV status…..or keep their child out of photos… And that is really what I am saying. Every child is different and every family is different. People are judging based off of their own perception of what our life is. We would be so much better off if we stopped judging each other and started living a more compassionate life. What a burden to carry around so much negativity.

            Sorry I went off on a tangent that didn’t really relate to your comment. (This is the first time I read any comments from a post, so I am a little flabbergasted by some of the rumors people actually believed…)

            The shoot was so beautiful and so comfortable. That is why I personally was disappointed when I saw the cover photo (I saw it the same time as everyone else). We were going for playful, nurturing, confident, and always content. I feel I look confident in the photo, but that wasn’t the shot even they were looking for with me. The photo from lightbox (of all the mothers) better represents what happened in the studio (Milk Studios was the name! It was a lovely experience)

            Sent by my iPhone. Sorry for the typos.

  6. I love this article. Sometimes I value nursing as quiet intimate time, but I feel like society now pressures moms to be utterly focused on their babies ALL the time that babies aren’t sleeping. No wonder so many moms complain about finding parenting tedious and exhausting! I find that more often I’m just kind of bringing Nitsah along (and interacting with her, but not always solely focused on her) as I go about my life. This article made me feel a lot better about the way I parent! (I’ve heard the phrase “benign neglect” used for this style of parenting and I hate it– I don’t want to be neglectful, benign or not– so thanks for giving different words to the idea.)

    • Thanks so much, Maya. It’s nice to hear that you are enjoying motherhood.

    • sylvia_rachel says

      That was kind of my experience, too. I actually found that my friends with the feeding and napping schedules spent a lot more time utterly focused on their babies than I did, even though mine was generally speaking only millimetres away, in arms or in the baby sling. I mean, not that she didn’t get any attention, but a lot of the time she was quite content to do her own little baby thing (people watching, or chewing random things, or whatever) with no particular attention from me, as long as I was there. Like RIGHT THERE ;). As a pre-crawling infant, she would happily sit through an hour and a half of boring adult conversation if she could be in my lap with “meh-mehs” available, but ask her to sit in a stroller for half a minute …

  7. great post, and my favorite line (and speaks to me, going through this thought process): It’s actually a lazy way to parent—active weaning requires effort.

  8. Very well said. I think that this is one of the huge misconceptions of attachment parenting, both by those who practice it and don’t alike. That attachment means constantly being physically close to your child and involved in their activites, including playing and arts and crafts and sports and whatever it is that they do. If anything, the whole idea of attachment parenting is that all of this baby wearing, nursing, cosleeping and responding to needs creates a feeling of security that the parent is present and will be helpful should a need a rise. This then allows a child to go off on their own, to play independently, to be in a different room or different environment, without being scared of being without the parents. Being there for your kids, or with them, does not mean doing the exact same thing all the time. It means doing your own stuff in parallel. This models more to our children then sitting on the floor and playing with (for) them.

    As for the Time article, Abbi, it is my understanding that the women who participated in the article did not know exactly what spin Time would take, and were hoping to promote attachment parenting as a nice and normal thing, rather than an extremist and sensationalist trend as it was portrayed.

    • Rachel, I have visions of everyone who reads this deciding to completely neglect their children from now on! I hadn’t seen that the interviewees were surprised by the way it was portrayed. I haven’t read the article, either, but it could be very different from the cover.

  9. Well said. My first breastfeeding experience was with twins, so I have never been much of a “special together time” nurser. Sometimes people who are put off by breastfeeding cite the supposed special and intimate nature of the act. We should be emphasizing that it’s just feeding a baby, not some kind of transcendent experience (although it can certainly be profound).

    • Chaya: I like that about the transcendent experience, and the profundity. Good point about twins. Some of the breastfeeding mothers I know who had twins found it really difficult to give them physical contact that they had given to their older children.

  10. Interesting theory as to why children in Native American cultures don’t have tantrums and such. I was always taught(and especially by Native Americans) that it had more to do with their immediate post birth rituals, in which the children have their nose pinched off and mouth covered every time they cry in order to teach them that crying means death. Though somehow I doubt you will find that advocated.

  11. I have not read the Time article and I never breastfed but your statement “children don’t need to be the center of attention” really struck a chord. The younger mothers I work with seem to raise their kids this way or say how they hate going to the supermarket with their kids, etc. and I often find myself saying that when I was a kid and my mother had errands to run or things to do, she shlepped me along with her. That’s the way it was. I particularly remember trips to the bank for some reason, in those days when you actually needed the teller window to deposit a paycheck, cash or deposit checks, and get cash. I don’t think I was any less spoiled but it’s just a difference I notice in childrearing these days.
    Thanks for an interesting post.
    And I liked the link to the breastfeeding controversies.

    • Thank you Chasida for that thoughtful comment. Well, it is hard to take children to the store. I think the difference now is that parents feel they have options.

  12. Oh the last paragraph… I still remember a great Aunt’ s comparison of discreet nursing an infant to a “cow”, that was 38 years ago. Nursing a baby is a perfect time to listen to an older child read, and of course watch the news on TV, to do less than 3 things at once was a waste of time.

  13. Great post, Hannah. Thank you for the very pragmatic view on BF. With my second, I remember walking around with him while I prepared a snack for my older child, and thinking “Wow, I had no idea that I could multitask quite like this.” Of course, I do love the snuggling, when I can get it, but it’s good to remember that it’s not a prerequisite.

    Also, the info about the Yequana Indians was fascinating, and validating. Yay!

  14. Almost totally agree with your article, Hannah. I will respectfully disagree with the idea about the photo’s ultimate harmlessness, however. While breast feeding at four is acceptable in most cultures, it really isn’t in the U.S. obviously , so even if big, bold photos will start to normalize it for the naysayers, the mother is using her child to promote her viewpoint. The operative word here is “using.”
    I was a newspaper reporter for 16 years , and I will guarantee, with today’s technology, that photo will continue to haunt the boy the rest of his life. I do not think that it will be detrimental in a job search, but it will come up if the child makes any sort of newsworthy action. It will be referred to, linked to, etc. Is that right? No – but it is reality.

    • Kathy, I hear your point about her using her son. But I simply can’t see how or why people would hold it against him in future years–at worst they might think his mother was a little nutty. No one can blame him. Hopefully, thanks to the son’s breastfeeding for so long, his self-esteem will be able to handle any backlash in later years. (That was tongue-in-cheek, people.)
      Time wanted to shock, but it did get people talking and perhaps some will change their minds.

      • Not in job huntng, but for a teenage boy… just imagine 13, 14, 15 years old…

        • Someone told me ones that for every warm and supporting year of mothering through breastfeeding, that child will have a warm and supporting adolescent year. Our job as parents is to be there for our children and help them through difficulties, if this mother is there for her 4 year old, you betcha she will help him get through the teenage years.

  15. In general, there is nothing wrong or ‘un-natural’ in breastfeeding a four-year old. However, in our Western culture here in the States, it is frowned upon. I myself nursed all my children until at least 2 years old, and my 5th child until 4 yrs old (later on she became a combat engineering commander in her unit in the IDF).
    The Time magazine cover, on the other hand, was shot in order to be provocative and revealing. It is an “in-your-face” challenge intended to shock, and sell more magazines. The good that it might do, despite the reasons I stated in my previous sentence, is that it might bring the subject of breastfeeding to the forefront again and its great benefits to mother and child would be reconsidered.

  16. Has anything good come from all this? The idea was to get people’s attention, but was there any positive attention? I haven’t heard any women say the cover looked so beautiful and natural it inspired them to breastfeed, or nurse longer, or be supportive of someone else. I did have one single friend mention it and surprise me with her open-mindedness, but for the most part, my friends or relatives who have asked if I saw the cover thought nursing a toddler was really weird. I’ve personally never made it past 13 or 14 months nursing, but I think if I was nursing a 3-4 year old, I wouldn’t want all this attention. I don’t really want to know which of my friends think it’s weird. Even before this came out, a couple mothers were telling me they thought it was really weird that a mother would accept breast milk from another mother in this glorious age of formula. I really changed my feelings toward these people. If I nurse my current baby past two years am I going to loose friends and have people talking behind my back?

    Hannah- I like what you said about it being lazy. Not weaning and sleeping with a baby is beautifully, naturally, lazy!

  17. Observer says

    I agree with most of your article.

    But I vehemently disagree with you about the photo. While I doubt that it will hurt his chances for a hob, I have absolutely no doubt that there is a good chance that it will come back t haunt him in his adolescent and teen years. The posing makes far worse. It was NOT about showing nursing as “part of normal life” (as others have pointed out, they could have done that very differently.) It was overtly sexual on the one hand, and a totally in your face “I’m a better mother than you” pose on the other.

    It’s all good and fine for the mother to claim that she didn’t realize what kind of spin the magazine was going to take, but I have a hard time swallowing it. It’s not just the naivete of thinking that a magazine like that would do it any differently; people can be surprisingly naive. But, the posing should have given her a clue. No matter how you see it, at minimum, it is a confrontational. What did she think they needed that for?

    • Observer, I don’t see her as saying “I’m a better mother than you” with her pose. Only the caption says that. She could just as easily be saying, “Don’t start up with me.” Or something else.

  18. I love this post for so many reasons. As for the child being haunted later…I totally disagree with others who have stated this idea. Two of my boys remember breastfeeding, as they nursed into their 4’s. One of these boys is now a teen, and every once-in-a while I ask if he still remembers, and he happily replies – Yeah! He feels no embarrassment whatsoever. It is normal for him. As far as he knows, lots of families do the same, for you see, this is not a common topic among children or teens. I’m sure teens don’t compare how they were fed or for how long. They don’t care, and they probably figure they share many experiences among other teens.
    Further, once I was nursing one of my toddlers when my grandfather was still living, and he said, “Awww. I remember nursing in the pew at church. I’d nurse, then lay by my mom and take a nap.” Wow! An old MAN who REMEMBERS nursing! And it gave him warm fuzzies. Unless someone knows of teen that has been embarrassed by the memory of nursing or that other people know, it’s not a valid point in my opinion.

    • Thanks Amy! My kids who remember nursing aren’t embarrassed by it. I mentioned to one of my kids about a 3yo nursing on a magazine cover. He replied, “So?”

    • A fond personal memory has nothing to do with an awkward public photo. No one is debating whether he enjoys nursing at this age or not. The issue is the photo itself. It’s hard for me to picture this child as a teen looking back at this photo with fondness.

  19. Enjoying all the comments and am thinking about the embarrassment factor. I do see Kathy’s point that perhaps there is an ethical issue with the mother posing in that way. However, (and this is a separate point), I am not sure that the mother has to consider the child’s future embarrassment. Times may change by then. And teens tease each other all the time. If Grumet’s son knows how to handle teasing, he will handle this with no problem. If he is already getting picked on, this will make it worse, but it’s hard to imagine that it will make or break his social life. If teens want to pick on someone they will find ways to do it, with or without embarrassing pictures from his past.

    • Why shouldn’t the child have the same rights as everyone else to DECIDE what photos of him are publicized? We can sit here all day debating the likelihood of whether he’ll be embarrassed or if it will affect him and at the end of the day we don’t know how he will feel.
      The point is that he cannot consent to this publication – and that, to me is a form of exploitation.
      I was breasted and I’m not embarrassed about it. I breast fed my kids and I’m not embarrassed about it. But I do NOT want pictures of my (or my moms) boobs on the cover of time and that is a matter of modesty, which is my right.
      Do all the women posting here have pictures of themselves breast feeding posted on the Internet? I am going to guess that most chose not to publicize those pictures. This child should have that same choice.

      • Lauren, if so then it applies to all children no matter what they are doing. There will be no more pictures of children on magazines or the internet. No more child actors. Etc.

        • Well, that is one approach, but it doesn’t even have to be that extreme.

          We all make our own rules for the level of modesty that we are comfortable with.
          There are things that 99% of us can agree are not offensive. Like a fully-clothed child playing on a swing.
          There are things 99% of us can agree are unacceptable – a post-pubescent child naked.

          Then there are things that fall in the gray area – like the time magazine photo where we each must use our judgement. But I would say that we as parents are obligated to ALWAYS err on the side of favoring the child’s right to his own privacy.

          If you were to survey 100 school-aged boys with the question “would you want a photo of you breastfeeding publicized on Facebook?” and it is reasonable to expect that a significant minority or more would say no, then that is a good indication that you are potentially doing something your child may later consider a betrayal of his privacy.

          • I see what you are saying — but my fifteen year old son doesn’t want *any* pictures of him at any age doing anything on the internet. I’ve had a website with pics of my kids since he was a baby and he wants it all down so that his friends won’t see it. His 13 yr old sister thinks it’s cool to show her friends her baby pictures. And 5 years from now, their feelings may reverse. But as their mother, it’s still my choice to make while they are still minors. Not that I shouldn’t respect their feelings on the subject. I switched to using picasa albums so that I can control who I share the pictures with.

            But my point is that a fifteen year old is likely to be embarrassed by any picture of him as a child, breastfeeding or not. he’ll get over it.

  20. i don’t remember the last time i completely disagreed with your post.
    this is not a story about breast feading advocacy in general, or public breast feeding or pre-schooler breast feeding in specific. it is about a mother who is a complete idiot, to say the least. this is completely about an insensitive and narcisistic woman who places her own needs first and completely disregards the needs of her child. you think a normal mother props up her kid on a stool and sticks her breast in his mouth for the express and singular purpose of staging a provcative mass circulated photograph? seriously?
    i’m tempted even to say that time magazine should be prosecuted for child endangerment or distribution of child porn. again, it is completely inacurate to say the cover shot depicts her breastfeeding the kid. all it shows is her posing him with her breast in his mouth.
    but hey, it gave an unknown model facing aging and even further obsucrity free national promotion, and it gave time magazine with its suffering circultion a boost of exposure. i guess for these reasons it was worth it.

  21. all the comments above that their kids remember breasteading and aren’t embarassed, etc. miss the point. did any you publicly circulate such images?


    “I mentioned to one of my kids about a 3yo nursing on a magazine cover. He replied, “So?””

    did you tell him tht the child really wasn’t nursing but it was a completely staged picture for the benefit of a photographer?
    and would he respond so nonchallantly if a classmate were to uncover a magazine shot of you breastfeeding him at 3yo and he knew it was about to go viral? (because that is exactly was is going to happen to this kid throughout his schooling years. it isn’t about not getting a job, as some mentioned above, it’s about getting teased and beaten up for the next 15 years or longer. unless this kid really distinguishes himself in life, the only thing anyone is ever going to think about him is that he is the kid on that cover)

    • Grumet claims she is not a model.
      It is still two separate issues. Even if she was wrong to pose this way, that is not the reason for the furor. It is that people think that breastfeeding an older child is perverted.

      • “people think that breastfeeding an older child is perverted”

        well this picture surely isn’t going to desensitize people to the practice
        (or was time trying to make it more favorable by showing that one can still be sexy and breastfeed older kids? i mean they could have used any mother for the story, but they used a sexy model. was that the tactic?)

        • Time has no interest in presenting preschoolers breastfeeding in a positive light.

        • I looked over my post again. Even the positive view of the picture recognizes that it was meant to titillate–I didn’t suggest that the picture would encourage breastfeeding of older children. And my point is that the picture would only be embarrassing to the son because, unfortunately, he lives in a culture in which nursing big kids is considered weird. (Although I suspect his mother might be planning to homeschool him.)

        • Jamie Lynn Grumet is not a model and she has stated that herself. Why that article would say otherwise, I don’t know.

      • Hey Hannah, I normally don’t read the comments on posts, but I did on this one. Do you mind removing the Fox link. That is absolute untrue garbage. As far as modeling, at 5’3″ and unphotogenic I find it ridiculous that people are dumb enough to make assumptions and believe their own assumptions to be truth. My job? I care for my children and am a founder of the Fayye Foundation. That is where my time and work lies.

        I suggest people read the kellymom post to truly understand why the four mothers (including myself) agreed to pose (none of us knew a photo would make it on the cover)

        • I am still trying to figure out why people find it okay for National Geographic to publish children’s faces breastfeeding and not my child? I find that to be totally ethnocentric. Is it because they think he will go to conventional school? Is it because they think we live primarily in the West? We would be better off not making assumptions about strangers based off of one image. It is so silly people are using “what about the child?” argument to try to attack something they do not understand. I was happily raised this way (and unlike my family we did live almost full-time in the West) – I was raised to be confident in how our family stood up for our beliefs (My mother posed publicly breastfeeding to raise awareness) and how it was something to be proud of. Fear is the opiate for the masses, people. If we are going to worry about what other people think or say how would we ever change for the better? I am raising my children not based off of a theory. I am raising my children in the way that my mother raised me, and I have positive relationships with my family and had a wonderful childhood. I am passionate about this because I know it is healthy and good. It may not be the way every parent will parent (I thought a lovely part of the West was that we are able to have options) but it certainly should be socially accepted. Seeing the tide turning from the initial shock to real education has been powerful. I am so proud we are a part of this community.

          • oh my goodness. I can’t believe someone said he wasn’t really breastfeeding! He absolutely was. He dropped his hands a couple of times because it was his nap time and he was getting tired. The shoot was very comfortable, and only lasted a few minutes. The shot they captured for the cover (an outtake) was moments later this shot:

            Oh, seeing how judgmental and naive people can be makes me really sad. Mad because I’m a model? I’m not (never have been and never will be…TIME wanted “real” moms and went to great lengths to make us all look pretty basic). Mad because my son for X,Y,Z will have problems later in life?…He won’t none of that applies to his upbringing… Mad because of whatever other false assumption…ugh enough is enough. I don’t think people are really made about any of these topics they bring up because they don’t know them to be true (and they are not)- I feel there is a bigger deep-rooted issue here…

            Change is coming. Be ready.

          • I think that other picture is really beautiful. I like all the other pictures better than the cover image. But then again, if they had used a less controversial shot, I might never have seen it. I think it’s the look in the kid’s eyes that make it controversial. He looks too awake or something.

  22. Great point about breastfeeding happening in the middle of everything else, rather than taking over everything else. I really don’t think I could breastfeed my second daughter for any length of time without giving attention to my older child. As soon as I’d sit down to breastfeed, the toddler would run to bring her little books so we could read together! I nursed for many hours each day in the first months, and could not possibly leave my first child unattended while I shut myself in a bedroom with the baby.

  23. sylvia_rachel says

    Amen, amen, amen!

    Your story about the mother with the 5yo and the newborn reminds me of my nieces. Baby Niece was a 28-week preemie, so when she came home from the NICU age about 6 weeks, she used to nurse A LOT. (As in, my mom went to visit and all the photos she brought back show the back of Baby Niece’s head!) Since she was spending so much time nursing, my sister used to read to Little Niece (age 4-ish) at the same time. Pretty soon Little Niece caught on and whenever she wanted a story, she’d say, “Mama! I think the baby is hungry!” 😀

    • This reminds me how hard it can be for moms of a few kids when they have a baby who is having trouble nursing. Sometimes the baby needs a lot of attention in the early weeks to ensure that the baby gets enough and the mother is not used to it.

  24. Hi Hannah,
    Speaking of everything else happening around breastfeeding(Mrs Anna), when i was shopping with my 2nd child I had a trolley full and she started….. nowhere to sit, I’m not going to waste the time i just spent getting all my groceries & leave the trolley. So i just continued to shop while i fed her. Nothing to really think about! Its a part of life. You shop you feed, you discipline you feed, you watch your favourite TV program you feed. Its just another element of the day

  25. Hannah, this is the first place that got me. The only post where I read the comments. Of course, I shouldn’t have.

    here is an article I wrote that may explain a little more about my beliefs before and after the TIME cover came out:

    and again, wonderful post.

    • Jamie, I wrote above that I found the picture empowering. Not all the comments were negative. I have nursed 5 kids in different position and places and “know” the standing up pose quite well.
      All the best to you!

      • Hey Ariela! Yes thank you so much. Isn’t it funny how our minds like to dwell on the negative. Your comment is the one I should be focusing on. I love that you understand the standing pose from personal experience! More and more breastfeeding in our house has turned into a few seconds just to connect and then run off and play. It’s really quite fascinating for me to watch the weaning process of my children. It’s like what Hannah was saying. This is a part of life, not always a deep spiritual connection with our child. We are connecting and it is part of our social behavior even when it is a few seconds, but it isn’t this romanticized version we see all the time. That being said, I wish TIME would have selected a better photo and tagline for the cover (and a balanced article!) – but we have no regrets and are so proud to be a part of it. Now that the dust is settling and people have forgotten us (funny because people are so worried about 20 years down the line and 2 months later the media and general public, and their attention span, have totally forgotten about us) but they have not stopped talking about the issue. That is exactly what we wanted. Seeing the different organizations and groups that have formed from the global attention on the issue has been beautiful to watch. API wrote lovely comments in their newsletter about the positivity and education from the sensationalism of the cover. Alanis Morissette has done a wonderful job really becoming the spokeswoman for attachment parenting (in an interview the other day they tried to ask her about her music and she kept changing the subject back to attachment parenting!) – Anyway, it has all been very interesting to watch. I especially admire the community of women I’ve been getting to know through this. Normal mom, like me…and they have really gone up to bat to educate people on the truth of attachment parenting and breastfeeding. They didn’t sign up for it, but they took the cover as a personal challenge. They are the true heroes in all of this.

        • You might like this photo of me BFing from a guest post that I wrote for Hannah

          Again, more power to you. I BF #5 until he was 3 and I certainly stopped because of societal pressure. When he was two and a half I went to a dr. for a breast cancer screening exam and I told him that I was BF. He asked when the baby was born and when I replied 2.5 years ago he said, “what? Do you plan on BF him at his Bar Mitzvah?”

  26. lactmama says

    I am so happy that Jamie posted.

    My first reaction at the photo was that the child is pretty big for three, mine were a heck of a lot smaller.

    I breastfed anywhere and everywhere. The no. 5 subway in NY in rush hour, with a screaming two year old was one of my favorites.

    I do no think of discipline, more like sanity- mine and my child’s. I remember one daughter coming home from kindergarden, tired and worn out, wanting to cry and I would say ‘want to lay down with Mommy’ and she would breastfeed, calm down or go to sleep, a crisis averted. After weaning at around 3 1/2 (we could have waited, in retrospect), I would repeat the same scenario of wanting to lay down with me and she would look at me and say ‘are you kidding?’.

    Indigenous cultures – big news, every mom is different. There may be overall tribal customs but the interactions and feelings of every mother are not the same as another mother in the tribe. Breastfeeding is not the total tribal norm, even in the middle of the middle of no where you will find bottles of goats milk or something else. Many times given to the female twin or current smallest person. Family history and attitudes have a lot to do with infant care.

    America is uptight, I do not think anyone could imagine the noise that would be made over Jamie’s photo. It is out there and I truly hope that there will be nothing to discuss about it when the child is older and sees it. He will probably think it was a lot of fun. Kids are smart.

    Thanks for joining in, Jamie.