How did something totally natural become so controversial?

Image of a Health Canada poster on Facebook

Image of a Health Canada poster on Facebook

This being 2013, a coaliton of Canadian Government agencies has a Facebook page called Healthy Canadians. It’s full of links, photos and tips to encourage (what else?) healthy living.

To mark the La Leche League of Canada’s world breastfeeding week in early October, the site included a poster of a pleasant-looking woman nonchalantly breastfeeding a toddler. (Note: apparently there’s more than one world breastfeeding week to choose from, including one held this past August.)

As reported by Elizabeth Payne for the Ottawa Citizen, response to this poster has been largely positive:

“Thank you so much for this ad,” wrote one of hundreds of commentators on the Healthy Canadians Facebook page. “It is showing up all over the international breastfeeding forums I read and is making me feel especially proud to be Canadian.”

Fiona Audy, chair of La Leche League Canada, said the poster should help to normalize the breastfeeding of older children. “I think Health Canada is working toward creating a climate in which breastfeeding is the norm and that images of breastfeeding beyond the newborn stage are something that people start to see and don’t look twice at,” she said.

This image did prompt some recollection of a news-making Time magazine cover from 2012, depicting a fairly large three-year-old attached at the nipple of a defiant-looking advocate of something called attachment parenting. (OK, maybe the Mom wasn’t especially defiant, but the headline was intentionally provocative, asking the world: “Are you Mom enough?”)

The Time Magazine images sparked heated debate about what I would argue are separate (if related) issues, like child-rearing practices, so-called cultural norms and the often-debatable concept of modesty.

Attachment parenting, for example, strikes some as excessive: babies and children should fit into the parental relationship, not be the center around which all else revolves. And many who have nothing against breastfeeding done with discretion flat out balk at the in-your-face stance taken by some.

And then there’s the whole “mommy wars” thing: real or imagined tension between stay-at-home moms and career moms. You know: which one is the right choice, how many parents really have a choice, can a bottle ever be as good as the breast, does society owe families with small children more support, or should that be handled by way of personal responsibility?

When I see a nursing mom, my own thoughts turn nostalgic. The years spent tending to a baby’s many needs do not feel fleeting at the time. But only too soon that tiny bundle is grown and gone – perhaps to repeat the cycle with his or her own sons and daughters?

The American Academy of Pediatrics has this to say on the topic:

Breastfeeding is a natural and beneficial source of nutrition and provides the healthiest start for an infant. In addition to the nutritional benefits, breastfeeding promotes a unique and emotional connection between mother and baby. In the policy statement, “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk,” published in the March 2012 issue of Pediatrics (published online Feb. 27), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reaffirms its recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age, and continuation of breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.

It’s rare for babies in the U.S. or Canada to be breastfed for a full year, let alone two or more. Which means those who breastfeed babies into toddlerhood do face skepticism or disapproval.

Parents get to make dietary decisions, based on what’s best for their baby and family needs. But it’s easy – “normal” these days – to opt for the bottle or to end breastfeeding after a few months. In that sense, developing greater tolerance for nursing past the age of one year would foster more choice.

If you are bothered by the sight of a child able to walk and talk who still nurses, what part of that bothers you most? An apparent disregard for public propriety? (As in: some things should take place in private?) A belief children that old should be done with nursing already?

Will posters like this one encourage a more supportive atmosphere? What else might be needed to make something humans have done for millions of years seem natural again?

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7 Comments on “How did something totally natural become so controversial?”

  1. Knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Why is it you can strap your kid in a car and speed down the road;or go to the store and buy pesticide to use in your home or herbicide on your lawn; you can turn on the television and expose your kids to propaganda, advertising, soft porn, and violence; or any number of other harmful activities and hardly anyone will blink an eye. But breast feeding gets people all worked up and judgemental.

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  2. Pete Klein says:

    Two quick comments.
    I don’t get the modesty things since men are allowed to go topless just about anywhere, anytime, and some of the heavier men have breasts larger than some women.
    As far as breast feeding is concerned, at home or in public, it might be time to stop when the kid starts asking to be fed. Otherwise, I fully endorse the practice.
    Question.
    How many fathers have taken a few sips after the baby has been fed?

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  3. Walker says:

    Answer.

    Who cares?

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  4. Donna Smith-Raymond says:

    @Pete Klein: babies start asking quite young, so if your kid’s smart enough to use language, s/he should be immediately weaned? Or scolded for asking? What? Don’t want to see a toddler nursing? Don’t look!
    @knuckleheadedliberal: Exactly! Nothing new there.

    I had three kids in five years and my “short-time” breastfeeder was two, and because the milk tastes different when you’re pregnant and he was–until then–an enthusiastic eater, I knew I was pregnant before doing any other test. The other two were around three before they moved on from this stage. They are all adults, all healthy, all wonderful people. I hope that I helped steer them into their joyful lives.

    Since my baby just turned 30, you can only imagine how much grief I got from many people, especially my mother and strangers. Thankfully, my spouse supported me completely: he is a wonderful father still! Even the La Leche League requested that I NOT go to meetings after my babies were “older” because they were afraid that new, first-time mothers would be “offended” and be less likely to breastfeed at all if I was nursing a small child rather than an infant. I’d gotten the help and support that I needed, but I did point out that the little ones come out small and grow pretty quickly; as a parent, you don’t see the shift as much, of course. I carried on by myself, thankful for the support I had, combating as gently as possible the negativity I got. Thirty years ago, not many people knew anyone who was breastfeeding even newborns! Not in the U.S., especially in the suburbs of a big city!

    I’m happy about my choice, which was based on each baby’s/child’s need, not on the judgement of others.

    That is all!

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  5. Marlo Stanfield says:

    I knew a kid in kindergarten who was still being breast fed. He was a jerk, never wanted to trade lunches with me.

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  6. Mervel says:

    It’s healthier and natural. I agree with Knuckle on the topic.

    I think the points he brings up are related to this debate though, the reason some people are so uncomfortable with older breast feeding or breast feeding in general is the over sexualization of our society in general and the view of females and female breasts in particular as sex objects alone; versus their natural and biological purpose, which is providing nutritional and natural food for our children,

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  7. oa says:

    Breasts are dirty and shameful. Everyone knows that. Duh!

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