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Time Magazine's Breastfeeding Story

?A new Time magazine cover that shows a mother breast-feeding her nearly 4-year-old son is creating a bit of a controversy around the nation this week. The cover image is drawing criticism from different camps for different reasons even though the article itself is supportive of breastfeeding.

The controversy surrounding the cover image is mostly due to the stark background and in-your-face graphic nature of the photo that shows a fully dressed young boy standing on a chair with his mouth clamped on his mother's exposed breast. That both mother and child are staring directly into the camera doesn’t soften the image much and has caused a storm of comments and criticism on new blogs and social media sites. Much of the controversy stems from the concern that the child in the photo looks a bit too old to be breastfeeding and even breast-feeding advocate groups are unhappy with the cover because they think the image is exploitive and extreme and does not do anything to show the nurturing nature of attachment parenting.

In case you were wondering, attachment parenting is a parenting philosophy that maintains that when a child forms strong emotional bonds during childhood due to sensitive and emotionally available parenting, it delivers lifelong benefits. Although some parents may feel that breast-feeding a child for 5 or 6 years is a very beneficial form of forming attachments, there have been no conclusive studies that back up the theory, and understandably, the theory has many critics. In addition to extended breast-feeding, attachment parenting also includes co-sleeping with children in the same bed and "baby wearing," in which infants are physically attached to their parents with sling devices.

Parenting experts have said they are not surprised that people are upset about the cover because so many people today already have issues with nursing in public, and in a society where most children are weaned between 6 months and a year, the cover depicting an intimate act between a mother and a fully-dressed, school-aged child could be viewed as sensational, unrealistic and a bit extreme. The 26-year-old Los Angeles mother pictured on the cover says she hopes the fourth year will be the final year of breastfeeding for her son, and admits that the cover image is not the way they actually breast-feed at home. Jamie Lynne Grumet said nursing at home is “more of a nurturing, cradling situation" and that she thinks Time chose the photo because it would “create a media craze to get the dialogue talking."

Regardless of the reason Time chose to challenge traditional social taboos, the story has drawn many critics from the general public to noted celebrities who say that the cover really missed the mark because it will do nothing to make life easier for the real breastfeeding moms in the world today. After igniting a firestorm of controversy, even the editors at Time must now be wondering if they shot themselves in the foot with the graphic cover that definitely “gets the dialogue talking," but may have negative boomerang effects that do not communicate the true value and benefits of breastfeeding. Time's managing editor, Rick Stengel said in a recent interview with Forbes magazine that although he hopes retail stores will not cover the magazine up or refuse to carry it, he does admit "It's certainly a possibility."

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