*Editors note: Jennifer Westhoven is the money anchor for HLN’s Morning Express with Robin Meade. She’s always been known for her “looking out for you” stories – as a journalist. Now that she’s also known as “Jamie’s Mom” in the neighborhood -- she’s also looking out for moms and parenting issues. Her son Jamie just turned 1 a few weeks ago and as a new mom, she’s also working through all the issues any first-time mom faces – nursing, holding down a full time job, and giving her child the best while trying to remain sane.
"Oh my." "Wow." "Irresponsible." "Isn't that Illegal?" "Good for her!"
That's just a smattering of what people said and tweeted me about the latest Time Magazine. Striking, challenging and playful, the cover shows a confident young mom nursing her standing, four-year-old son. the headline asks "are you MOM enough?" -- a clever play off of, "are you man enough?" Time had people talking here at work and at the playground.
The story itself is all about attachment parenting, backed by Dr William Sears. It has many ardent supporters and ferocious critics (I've heard a doctor refer to Sears as "Satan brought to Earth"). That kind of division shows you how passionate people are about their children and parenting. I'm just focused here on the photo.
By using an older child, Time deftly skipped over the usual "Ewww - breastfeeding" and went further -- "how old is too old for a child to breastfeed?" "who should decide?" "why is this taboo anyway?"
Here are just a few of the issues:
"What in the world would be the benefit of this?" Most pediatricians agree that a full year of breastfeeding for baby is beneficial for the child's health. After that, it can still be beneficial for mother-and-child bonding, if they are both enjoying it. The California mom in the pictures says she's surprised by all the controversy. Her son is three years old. She herself was breastfed until she was six.
"Breastfeeding a preschooler – irresponsible." Judgmental much? Many people (to me) sounded very cut-and-dried that they felt this was "wrong". Is it ever ok to force your own opinion onto someone else? From my view personally, I had a few times when people around me urged me to stop. But the science is almost incontrovertible - breastfeeding until 1 has a positive impact on the brain, the immune system and more, and for years into the future. My own baby just turned one, and he still likes to nurse around night time and naptime. He already has so many things to cry about -- I'm not ready to separate him from his main source of comfort – me (and what an honor and a privilege).
“Isnt that very close to incest?” This question may upset you, but the person who asked it was genuinely curious. And I can understand where he's coming from -- in our society, most of the time we see breasts, it is in a sexual situation. So men may see them as their playthings -- because those are the circumstances that surround us. But NO. That is not only what breasts are for. From a biology standpoint - they are for nursing. And, at least for me personally, there is nothing, nothing at all sexual about nursing. But there is caring, deep connection, and love. Sometimes I felt like my child was drinking in pure love, straight from my heart. There are very few occasions in life where we human beings are so physically connected without sex. This is one of them. So no, it's not close to incest.
“It's biology." I heard a lot of frustration from Moms being treated disrespectfully, and even like they are something revolting, because they are nursing. These moms are doing their best for baby -- and being treated rudely. And here I land with the Moms. Do you honestly think we want to nurse out in the open?? No - we just dont want a screaming kid either. People do seem to react with what seems (to me) like a disproportionate level of disgust. And I say no to that. I will be respectful of you and your comfort level, and I expect you to treat me (and moms) with dignity and respect. What on earth is an emotion like shame doing at play in this issue at all? It would be a better world if we just banned shame from the mix!
We want milk in so many products -- from your morning latte to ice cream to fine cheese. Why is it ok from a cow or a goat, but if it's from a human, it's treated like it's filthy -- and banned from many company refrigerators (even if its zipped up in a hidden container)? That's just weird and I hope it changes.
I find the whole public discussion entertaining and really a chance to learn about other people. Even I personally wouldn't nurse until my son is three - but why should that mom care about what I think? There is a SEA of opinions out there, and she's going to do what she thinks is best for her and her child. And I hope that you will do that too, in your life. Listen to the opinions. Read the facts. Then follow your heart.