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We Are Mammals: Breastfeeding Our Babies in a Time Magazine Culture

May 23, 2012

Yes, we are mammals, which is why the whole controversy over breastfeeding in public, breastfeeding times, manners of breastfeeding, the terms, etc. always surprise me.  Time magazine just recently published a picture of a woman nursing her son while he stands on a chair and looks a the camera.  People have criticized everything about the picture, from the age of the child, to the mothers attire.  Crazily enough, people aren’t offended by pictures of women living in tribes where the common attire is a skirt and no shirt nursing their children, nor are people offended by bra ads concocted by Victoria’s Secret for the million dollar bra, but the second a woman is nursing a toddler on the front page of Time Magazine, watch out.

We are mammals, no matter who would like to deny.  We have breasts to feed our young.  Breastmilk is the healthiest food for our infants, species-specific, designed to foster the growth of not only the brain, the immune system, the body, but also language, social development, and a parental relationship.  What’s not to love about breastfeeding?  Is it the fact that we feed with our breasts as mammals do?  Is it the fact that we are, after all, animals?  We eat like other animals, and that just scares people?

I can’t tell, but the whole mammalian bit of basic biology escapes many in the discussions about breastfeeding.  Alanis Morrissette apparently said she will nurse her child “until he is done,” which is one of the most intelligent answers I have heard in regards to the private question posed: “How long do you plan to nurse?”

Breastfeeding advocates point out that the US is the one with the huge gaps in logic in sense when it comes to nursing: worldwide the average weaning age is 4 years old.

But while attachment parenting may be a style, breastfeeding one’s baby is the natural way of feeding infants and young children, said Susan Burger, president of the New York Lactation Consultant Association.

“Some parenting styles may facilitate and other parenting styles may interfere with healthy breastfeeding,” Burger said. “While attachment parenting tends to facilitate breastfeeding and breastfeeding tends to facilitate attachment parenting, a variety of different types of parenting styles can lead to successful breastfeeding.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends nursing until the baby is 1 year old, and continuing if the mother and baby are comfortable.

“It is a relationship just like any other relationship where the needs of both individuals should be balanced,” Burger said. “Peer-reviewed research shows that children who are breastfed as long or longer than the two years recommended by the World Health Organization are at least as independent and socially well adjusted than children who are breastfed for a shorter duration if not more so.”

The average age of weaning around the world is about 4 years old, said Emma Kwasnica, a Vancouver, B.C.-based childbirth and breastfeeding educator. In the United States, Kwasnica said, it is nearly impossible for working moms with no maternity leave to continue breastfeeding to meet even the AAP’s guideline, which fails the most vulnerable members of society, “our babies.”

“The role of breastfeeding in attachment parenting is about so much more than simple caloric input; attachment parenting encourages bonding and skin-to-skin contact, of which breastfeeding provides both,” Kwasnica said. “I think that we in Western society lose sight of what breastfeeding an older child is all about: it’s a simple cuddle time with mom, a time of warmth and love and nurturing, where a busy toddler can reconnect with mom.

“We are mammals,” she continued. “If we lose our sense of human connection, human touch, what does the future of humanity look like? Pretty bleak, if you ask me.”

We are mammals, enough said.


Breastfeeding symbol

Breastfeeding symbol (Photo credit: Topinambour)

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