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May 18, 2012 / mommy brain

TIME Magazine’s Breastfeeding Cover – Raising Acceptance or Raising Revenue?

We were out of the country for a week, and I was living in a vacation bubble sheltered from all news and media in an attempt to detach myself from my heroin-like dependency on my phone. So naturally, I was dying to read up on what’s been going on in non-vacation-land as soon as we got back, and all the news outlets, Facebook, Twitter, and mommy blogs were abuzz about some Time magazine breastfeeding cover. My first thought was, glad to hear breastfeeding is on the cover of a national magazine! The largest weekly magazine in the world no less. Americans need to become more comfortable with breastfeeding; sounds like a step in the right direction! And I’m not surprised that people are “grossed out” or “weirded out” as I browsed various commentary, articles and blog entries about the cover. While most Americans don’t have a problem with breastfeeding in theory, they have a problem seeing it live. Heaven forbid they get a glimpse of some nipple action; if theres’s one thing that scares the American public, it’s nipples. Remember when we saw Janet Jackson’s for half a second? All hell broke loose. Now let’s see this cover that has everyone’s panties up in a twist.

Ah. Well, this is not the ode to breastfeeding I was hoping for. Interestingly, it’s a brilliant move by the editors of Time. As both a mother and a business professional, I am torn in how I feel about this. Kuddos to Time for stirring up so much discussion and awareness, and I don’t just mean discussion and awareness of breastfeeding; I primarily mean discussion and awareness of TIme magazine. The number one job of the editors and executives at Time is to sell more. Sell more magazines, more ads, more subscriptions. The article is not available without an online subscription, so I’m sure those subscriptions spiked as a result of the sensational cover. As a business professional, I give major props because they are killin’ it with this cover since everyone and their mother is talking about it.

The striking and somewhat shocking style of the cover – the choice in the pose of mother and child, her expression, the wording of the headline, all of this is doing wonders for the revenue of Time magazine. Of this I am quite confident. Is it in the spirit of raising acceptance of breastfeeding and changing how Americans feel about breatfeeding in public? I’m not so sure.

Warning: The following are my own personal thoughts about breastfeeding. I don’t mind if you disagree, and I’m not interested in pushing more women to breastfeed; I’m simply interested in wider acceptance of women breastfeeding in public –>

I think it’s sad that breastfeeding in public is taboo in this country. The pilgrim heritage has made us so prudish that we cringe at the thought of a stranger’s nipple possibly peaking out and ruining our view of the mall or the playground or wherever the mom happens to be when her baby is hungry, which could be anywhere considering that babies eat every couple hours the first few months. I think the pilgrims breastfed their pilgrim babies, though, and the reason I’m pretty sure of this is because…well, babies gotta eat, yo! And the pilgrims survived, which means their babies got fed.

In the 1920s, Similac and other commercial formulas became available, and by the 1970s, over 75% of American babies were formula fed.

Let me state clearly that I think the availability of formula is a huge benefit to humanity. Baby survival rates are higher as a result since some mothers are unable to breastfeed, some babies don’t latch on, and some babies need supplementing because they don’t get enough breast milk for a number of reasons. And of course, some babies don’t have their biological mother as their caretaker. Formula is also essential to many mothers who work, including me, since pumping several times a day is not something everyone is able to pull off.

But I also strongly believe that breastfeeding, if possible, is extremely beneficial for babies, and every mother should be able to do it wherever she is when the baby needs to be fed. Many US and international health organizations including WHO and the US Centers for Disease Control are working to increase the use of breastfeeding and decrease the use of formula. The International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes, created by the WHO in 1981, requires that formula manufacturers include info stating that breastfeeding is best and that a substitute should only be used after consultation with health professionals.

Given the challenging economic climate, I think we should all also remember that breastfeeding babies is FREE and formula is expensive. We spend over $100/month on formula now that I am no longer able to breastfeed. And my pump, which I used several times a day for many months, cost over $300. (I had to the get the cordless kind because I’m not always in an office and often on the run not near a plug; I pumped in my car in countless parking lots and in many public bathrooms.) This may not sound like all that much $$ to some, but for many mothers, I think breastfeeding is not only the best source of nutrition for their baby, it’s the best economic choice as well.

For me it boils down to this: Breastfeeding is extremely nutritious and beneficial for babies and recommended by most international health organizations. Not all women are able to breastfeed or choose not to due to health, work or personal reasons, and formula is a life-saver decreasing infant mortality rates and a huge convenience for working mothers. However, mothers who do breastfeed should be able to do it wherever they need to. Just like mothers who use formula should be able to pull out a bottle wherever they need to when their baby is hungry.

Personal thoughts on breastfeeding done.

Back to the Time cover.

I don’t like it. I couldn’t care less that the kid is almost 4. I think you should be able to breastfeed for as long as you want. I personally set out to breastfeed for at least a year, but had to start supplementing with formula at 7 months due to my failure to keep up with pumping at work, and by 9 months, I dried up. Now that I see my 24 lb 11.5 month old gnawing on his bottle when he takes a break from drinking with his 4, and soon to be 6, teeth, I’m personally not sure I would continue at this stage even if I still had ample supply, but that is my personal choice, and it is the personal choice of all women to breastfeed for as long as they wish. I am ashamed of the American public and our inability to deal with mothers breastfeeding their children, however old, in public. Think back to those pilgrims that left us this prudish legacy; you better believe they were breastfeeding their babies and toddlers while wearing their long skirts and long sleeves and bonnets in the summer heat. And their rich counter-parts in Britain had wet nurses for that, but same idea.

What I don’t like is that the kid is in an unnatural pose (up on a stool? Looking rather uncomfortable?) And the mom is giving the camera her best blue steel zoolander pose. It’s adding a little sexiness to something that is not in any way sexual, adding fuel to the squeemish prudish Americans who are “weirded out” by breastfeeding in public. And the biggest problem of all is the headline: Are You Mom Enough? What the heck? Alluding to “Are you tough enough?” or even “Are you man enough?” This is purely there for sensational reasons. A mother’s job is to care and nurture her babies, not to prove that she is “good enough” or better than other moms who don’t breastfeed or stop breastfeeding at a certain age. By the way, I bet the mom on the cover had great intentions of spreading awareness and acceptance of breastfeeding (and attachment parenting). I bet she’s a great mom. I’m just not a fan of the way she was styled and posed by Time for this provocative cover.

All these aspects of the cover made me cringe, and I do not believe the spirit of it is in the interest of spreading acceptance of breastfeeding in public or the support of breastfeeding women in general.

It is, however, very much in the interest of increasing the brand value and the revenue of Time magazine. And again, as a business professional and a capitalist, I applause them for that.

As a side note, Beyonce did raise some awareness for breastfeeding in public recently by….breastfeeding in public! She’s awesome. Thanks, Beyonce! And congrats on your gorgeous little baby!

A couple commentaries on the cover that I found interesting –>

http://melissablogs.com/2012/05/10/about-the-time-magazine-attachment-parenting-cover/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shannon-colleary/time-breastfeeding_b_1510510.html

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5 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Journeym4n / May 18 2012 2:34 PM

    I can see why the cover might be causing a little out rage, the child really is too old to be “breast feeding” and it just looks odd however I agree with you, breast feeding in public shouldn’t be a taboo… it’s a shame that all people focus on is the fact that a woman has a breast out, not that she’s feeding her child.

  2. westendbaby / May 18 2012 2:57 PM

    I absolutely agree that this cover was all about the controversy. Good move on the part of the Time team – shame that it is more likely to add fuel to the fire in the respect that people read from this deliberately provocative pose that it’s ‘wrong’ to breastfeed into advanced years.
    Enjoyed your post.

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