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?