Time magazine breast-feeding cover casts judgment on moms

Maitland mom Lisa Dunham breast-fed her two oldest children until they were toddlers and plans to do the same with her 13-month-old.

Not once did she cause a stir in public. Not even a minor one. No mouths agape or scornful looks.

"I never felt uncomfortable," she said. "I'm a very discreet nurser."

So there you have it. Breast-feeding doesn't have to be a big deal.

But that's not the message we've heard in the days since the latest issue of Time magazine came out.

The cover shows a young mom standing with hand on her hip while breast-feeding her 3-year-old son, who is standing on a chair.

The child looks mature for 3. Old enough to open the fridge and pour his own glass of milk. And that played nicely into Time's intended shock value.

Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere lit up with virtual gasps.

Reaction ranged from "gross" to "beautiful" to attempts at psychoanalysis of mother and son. (She's too controlling or not controlling enough. He's too dependent on her or has broader attachment issues. Everyone's a psychologist on the Internet.)

The reaction that's harder to find is a simple shoulder shrug. Hardly anyone dismissed the images as blase. Photographs inside the magazine show another mom nursing her 3-year-old daughter and a third mom nursing a toddler and an infant at the same time.

Dunham's reaction was a lot like my own: Here we go again.

"It just perpetuates this mommy war," she said. "This whole mommy thing, 'I nurse so I'm better than you or I do this or that,' it perpetuates this horrible drama over what mom is best."

And that is the saddest thing about the reaction. It fuels the perception that moms are constantly judging one another.

In reality, many mothers are so acutely aware of their own failings that they are more than willing to accept other moms who, like them, are just doing the best they can.

I breast-fed one of my kids for nine months and the other for four months. Neither time came without its share of hiccups (no pun intended) and so both of my children also had formula at various times.

I'd like to think that Time's cover photo will help ingrain breast-feeding as just another normal part of taking care of a baby. Like diaper changes and all of those extra loads of laundry.

I could optimistically hope that if new moms see these images in the mainstream media then they'll feel more comfortable feeding their own babies — no matter how they choose to do it. And maybe they will.

But I'm afraid the shrieks and exasperated sighs provoked by Time's extreme portrayal of breast-feeding will just make women more self-conscious.

The Time article is actually about "attachment parenting," a philosophy preached by Dr. Bill Sears. He promotes baby-wearing, or keeping the baby close to you in a fabric wrap known as a sling; parents and babies sleeping together; and, of course, breast-feeding.

The headline on the cover asks, "Are you mom enough?"

Oh, gag me with a burp cloth.

As the online site Jezebel put it, "the cover is meant to incite both public ridicule and maternal anxiety — just in time forMother's Day."

Exhibit A for induced maternal anxiety: Forbes almost immediately published a story about whether grocery stores and other chains would use special racks to shield the cover from public view.

Doctors strongly encourage breast-feeding for its health benefits and the World Health Organization recommends breast-feeding until age 2, but it's so indecent that it must be kept out of sight.

That's sure to make women feel better.

You can blame Time for choosing such an extreme cover shot, which doesn't represent most women who breast-feed. Or you can blame our cultural mores, which keep us buttoned up when it comes to feeding our babes.

But if you want to give other moms a present for Mother's Day, shrug your shoulders, let go of any frustration over the image, and don't make today judgment day.

bkassab@tribune.com or 407-420-5448
CHICAGO

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