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Family Talk: Time Magazine Breastfeeding Cover

How old is too old to suckle your child?

If you thought breastfeeding was just for newborns and babies, think again.

As many of you, I'm sure, have already seen, Time Magazine featured a photo of an advocate of Attachment Parenting while breastfeeding her 3-year old son on its cover. In the photo, Jaime Gumet and her son, Fred, are in a standing position, while Fred is on a chair to better reach his mother's breast, from which he is nursing.

Since its debut, so to speak, the cover has been at the heart of a number of discussions about, not only the photo itself, but breastfeeding and Attachment Parenting as well. Even actress Mayim Bialik, also a proponent of Attachment Parenting, chimed in during an interview on CNN.

While Attachment Parenting International says their work "is about forming and nurturing strong connections between parents and their children," there is no claim that mothers should be breastfeeding children up until any specific age— a point Bialik highlighted during her interview.

The site, however, does acknowledge the belief that breastfeeding is the ideal choice for nourishment and bonding when it comes to feeding.

As a mother who nursed both her kids ( until 6 months and until 13 months), I wasn't too shocked by the Time cover, but rather unimpressed at the blatant attempt to stir up controversy.

And yet, here I am writing about it in my column. Kudos, Times.

Actually, Gumet's interview with Access Hollywood, wherein she claims she was breastfed until the age of 6, shocked me more than the photo of her with her son.

Discussions of breastfeeding always seem to focus on the more sensational aspects, e.g. breastfeeding in public.

There isn't anything unnatural about breastfeeding, but I do think that it becomes inappropriate passed a certain age.

Gumet also stated that those opposed to the act have acused her of child molestation.

I have to admit child molestation did come to mind when I analyzed the subject at hand. Do I think that any mother breastfeeding her older child is sexually molesting them? No.

I do, however, think it's important to note that if the adult in the scenario was getting sexually aroused, and was engaging in the act for that sole purpose, it would be considered child molestation.

Yes, the intention of the mother does change that, which is why I would not go so far as to say these kids are being sexually molested, but the fact that if the intention were different it would be a malicious and illegal act is something to consider.

In her interview, Bialik cited the comforting aspects the act provides her child, along with the nutritional and overall physical benefits that breast milk provides.

While breastfeeding can be very comforting to a child, so can an embrace, a kiss, a stroke of their hair. I think there are other, more appropriate, ways to comfort a toddler.

As for the nutritional benefits, I'm all for it. And an alternative way to make sure your child continues to receive that kind of nourishment is by the use of a breast pump. There is no reason why a growing child cannot reap the benefits of breast milk, without physically breastfeeding.

cmjake May 17, 2012 at 12:28 PM
We need to look at the long-term results/studies before judging. There are societies where it is quite normal to breast-feed boys til they are 5. I remember being "disgusted" when I visited a friend and saw her child (2-3 - I can't remember) breast-feeding. He is now 30 and a wonderful man.

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