If you haven’t seen this week’s cover of TIME, then you probably haven’t walked past a newsstand, because it’s one of their more provocative covers in recent history. It depicts 26-year-old mother Jamie Lynn Grumet breastfeeding her nearly four-year-old son Aram. Grumet still breastfeeds her five-year-old son, and was herself breastfed until she was six. When I was six, I got into my first real fistfight. I cannot imagine going home after that and nursing.
Grumet appears on TIME’s cover – and additional photos appear within the book showing other mothers breastfeeding beyond-infant children – to illustrate a story about the extremes of attachment parenting. This is a set of precepts put forth by pediatrician William Sears. It advocates a number of practices to enhance closeness between young children and their parents, with some of the more talked-about practices including breastfeeding, co-sleeping and baby-carrying.
All three practices are the kinds of things that easily become the social equivalent of that sound a needle makes when it drags across a record. (It occurs to me that that reference is probably lost on somebody as young as Jamie Lynn Grumet. Alas.) I know this because my wife and I, at varying times, practiced all three of these things, and were criticized for all of them. I carried our daughter in a sling for months when she was first born because I was working from home and she absolutely, positively refused to be put down. So I wore her, she slept happily and I worked standing up at a kitchen counter. It wasn’t 24/7, it wasn’t ideal, and it wreaked havoc on my knees and back, but it worked out. Some friends looked at me like I was an idiot for it, until I hit them with the golden rule of first-time parenting: if it’s a dumb idea that works, it’s not such a dumb idea.
Co-sleeping was an even more controversial practice, since there are some who feel that it endangers the baby. You could roll over on the little one and smother them, so the theory goes. I’d have to be pretty drunk to do that, quite honestly, and if I was that blotto it’s a sure bet my wife wouldn’t even let me into bed. The bottom line with co-sleeping was that for us, anyway, it worked out nicely. My wife slept better, our kids slept better and everybody felt better at the start of the day. It only lasted as long as my wife was nursing, which takes us to the third and most controversial practice, and the one at the heart of the TIME story: breastfeeding.
My wife breastfed both of our children for a little more than a year each. The bottom line on this one was pretty easy for us: there is no shortage of science that shows that breastmilk is the best thing for babies. Formula might be the best alternative, but there is nothing in this world that beats the nutritional value of breastmilk for little ones. And there is also plenty of evidence that breastfeeding is good for mothers, too. This really shouldn’t come as such a surprise, I suppose…if it was bad for us, we probably wouldn’t have evolved to do it. When you consider how huge the healthcare costs of a newborn’s medical problems can be, I’d think that any practice that might hedge things there would be seen as a positive.