So at the expense of giving Ms. Grumet another minute in the limelight, I had to comment of the Time Magazine cover and story. I’m not shocked, not even surprised, that a woman would breastfeed a child at 4. I’m also not surprised that Time Magazine would run the story or put her on the front page in a way clearly aimed to sell magazines and shock readers. I am however disappointed … both in the magazine and Dr. Sears.
The cover has raised more discussion about the decline of sales of magazines on the newsstands than about the benefits of breastfeeding. It has been heralded by the media as an example of print well done and even called a stroke of genius. Sadly, I think it is a continuing example of the media missing the mark and not giving us the stories and news we want. I want substance NOT drama. If I wanted drama … Time Magazine, I would pick up a copy of US Weekly.
The story also continues to pose women against women in the never ending competition women inflict on eachother and the ‘mom wars’. It has resulted in personal criticism against Grumet and her lifestyle choices and made those women who favour attachment parenting defensive of their choices while others are critical.
In all this I am also surprised to share in the opinion of an unlikely ally. Alyssa Milano tweeted at Time Magazine:
“You missed the mark! You’re supposed to be making it easier for breastfeeding moms. Your cover is exploitive & extreme.”
In the midst of the controversy and reaction from the public the real story that should have been the focus of the article has been lost. No one is talking about the benefits of breastfeeding.
It’s sad actually. Sad that our society will take anything and muck it up… Make it controversial and even a little dirty.
People in the media have gone as far as calling it disgusting. I know they are referring to nursing an older child and not breastfeeding generally BUT for young moms trying to figure out what they want to do and how this is not the message that helps them decide in favour of breastfeeding.
I nursed my son until he was about 14 months old. Months after he was born, I realized that I had become what I described as a bit of a breastfeeding bully. When asked my opinion by a woman working on my nails at a salon about whether she should breastfeed her newborn daughter I realized how much I sounded like the pro breastfeeding pamphlets. I started to convince her with the benefits to the baby, then health benefits for mom, bonding, weight loss, it’s easier than washing and boiling bottles and found myself even throwing in “and it’s free”. I also found that I was disappointed when she later told me that she would not be breastfeeding because her husband told her it’s O.K. not to.
Sadly, this focus on breastfeeding older children misses the real issue; that the majority of mothers in North America are not getting the support they need to breastfeed for even six months.
Why do I care? Because, I truly believe in all the benefits to breastfeeding including; the health, nutritional, immunologic, developmental, psychological, social, economic, and environmental ones.
So what is the scoop on breastfeeding? Here are some of the benefits I have found in research:
For baby, breast-fed infants:
have a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome;
are less likely to develop asthma;
are less likely to develop allergies;
are less likely to be overweight or obese later in childhood;
suffer fewer illnesses such as:
earaches and ear infections
respiratory tract infection
necrotizing enter colitis
urinary tract infection
late-onset sepsis in preterm infants
type 1 and type 2 diabetes
viral infections, such as meningitis
Breast milk contains antibodies that are passed on from mother to baby and that help fend off and fight infections until their own immune systems become stronger. This protection cannot be duplicated by formula, which contains no human antibodies.
Benefits for Moms:
decreased risk of developing breast cancer;
decreased risk of developing ovarian cancer;
may reduce the risk of osteoporosis;
decreased postpartum bleeding;
more rapid uterine involution;
decreased menstrual blood loss;
burn more calories and return to pre-pregnancy weight quicker;
increased bone strength, which helps protect against bone fractures in older age;
delays the return of menstruation (talk with your health care provider about birth control);
release of the hormones prolactin and oxytocin, which promote a feeling of calmness, relaxation and well-being … even sleepiness and also promotes a deeper sleep, which enables mothers to feel more rested in a shorter amount of time;
helps mothers miss less work because their babies get sick less often;
release of endorphins, which benefit mothers in being happier, less tired and having less post-partum depression.
Also (in case you are not yet convinced):
Breastfeeding is nature’s way; breast milk is naturally and uniquely produced.
Breastfeeding provides warmth and closeness. The physical contact assists in creating a special bond between you and your baby.
Breast milk is absorbed quickly and causes less stomach upset, constipation and diarrhea than formula.
Breastfeeding enhances the development of oral muscles and facial bones.
Breast milk is easier for your baby to digest. Breastfed babies have less spit-up, tummy discomfort and constipation than formula-fed babies. Breast milk is especially tolerated better during an episode of the stomach virus.
Breast milk is more convenient. There is nothing to mix, measure, wash or prepare.
Breast milk is always available.
Breast milk has all the nutrients, calories, and fluids your baby needs to be healthy.
Breast milk has growth factors that ensure the best development of your baby’s organs.
Breast milk has many substances that formulas do not have that protect your baby from many diseases and infections (see above).
Breast milk is free whereas formula can cost hundreds of dollars a year (it is estimated to cost on average $1,600 per year per baby).
Breast milk contains substances that induce sleep and calmness in babies.
Breast milk contains endorphins which soothe and calm babies during times of stress. This comes in very handy during vaccinations, injuries, illnesses, or when your baby just needs that special cuddle.
Breast milk provides perfect and varying proportions of fat, carbohydrates and protein for babies at different ages. Your body knows you are nursing and adapts. A newborn has different nutritional needs than a three, six or nine month old baby and your milk is constantly changing to provide the perfect balance for your baby (this is one reason not to freeze and store breast milk for long periods of time).
Breast milk protects against cavities. Breast milk’s bacteria fighting cells actually help prevent tooth decay.
Breast milk can reduce the need for braces. The action of suckling on the breast helps the proper formation of the jaw, palate, teeth and gums. The longer you breastfeed, the more likely this benefit will occur.
Breast milk reduces bed-wetting. Children breast-fed as infants are less likely to wet the bed later.
Breast milk increases organ acceptance in case of transplant. Grown children who were breastfed and who receive donated kidneys from their mothers or a sibling are significantly less likely to reject the organ than if they were not breastfed.
Breast milk increases vaccine effectiveness. Breastfed babies’ immune systems respond better to vaccinations than formula-fed babies. Plus, nursing is soothing after those shots!
Breastfeeding moms sleep more. Breastfeeding mothers reportedly slept an average of 45 minutes a night more than mothers who were formula feeding. Parents of formula-fed babies suffered more sleep disturbances as well.
Babies are born with an immature digestive system and breast milk completes the development of the stomach lining making thicker than that of a formula-fed babies.
Breastfed babies make better eaters as toddlers. Different foods, oils and spices you consume flavour your milk, introducing and exposing your baby to a variety of flavors before ever tasting solid food.
Breastfed children cope better with stressful situations years after being weaned. Breastfeeding gives your baby an early opportunity to learn important self-soothing and self-regulating skills, which are life-long social and emotional development tools.
I completely understand and acknowledge that not all moms have a choice. There are many reasons why woman cannot breastfeed including not producing enough milk, baby not latching on or having to return to work. I am not judging. All I am saying is if you can, do so. There are so many reasons for it and none that I can think of against it.
For many mothers and babies, breastfeeding goes smoothly from the beginning. For others, it takes a little time, some frustration and several attempts. Like anything new, breastfeeding takes practice AND this is normal. If you need help, ask the doctors and nurses while you are still in the hospital, your pediatrician, a friend, your mother, a lactation specialist (see the below link to the La Leche League) or a breastfeeding support group.
As for the question of how long? The Canadian and American Pediatric Associations, as well as the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for up to 6 months of age. The WHO recommends continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.
After that … I don’t know. Personally, it’s not for me and I think there may be reasons not to continue to breastfeed older children including health and dietary requirements. I’ll let Dr. Sears, and the ‘experts’ answer this one, if they should be so inclined as to weigh in at the opportune moment.