World’s breast mom

Last week’s TIME magazine cover caused quite a stir. How a scientist and a bare breast brought the subject of attachment parenting to the forefront where everybody’s got an opinion and a boob jokes.

“You know you have to write about it,” my conscience whispered one week when I sat down to write my regular RVANews column.1

“I know”, I said, “But not right now. I have Led Zeppelins to discuss.”

“Come on, child,” she said the next week, “It’s time.”

“Okay, okay,” I told her, “but there are Molly Ringwalds to talk about!”

Then, I saw the cover of last week’s TIME magazine and knew it wouldn’t wait. You see, it all started with Alicia Silverstone and Mayim Bialik–as things often do.

First, Mayim Bialik, the actress most frequently associated with her role in the 90’s television show Blossom, but whom I’ll always think of as Young Bette Midler from the estrogen-tastic movie Beaches (Beaches, you guys. Seriously. Beaches.), released a book, Beyond the Sling. The book, written by the neuroscience Ph.D-holding Bialik is a parenting guide that extols the virtues of what is known as “attachment parenting”,2 the key tenets of which include natural childbirth, co-sleeping, wearing the baby in a sling and breast-feeding for longer than average. “The core principle is that a child’s voice matters,” says Bialik.

In the book, Mayim Bialik discusses the fact that she still breastfeeds her 3 1/2 year old son, Frederick, which caused quite a stir. Double the stir when she posted a picture on the internet of her breastfeeding the child on the subway. Lord, did people have opinions. Blossom’s tits had the internet water cooler bubbling with snark.

Not long after the Bialik situation got the parenting pot boiling, Alicia Silverstone, of Clueless fame and another advocate of attachment parenting, posted a video on her personal blog of her son, Bear, and she engaging in the activity of premastication. Premastication is just what it sounds like: a person chewing food for another person.

From the Wikipedia article on the subject:

This is often done by the mother or relatives of a baby to produce baby food capable of being consumed by the child during the weaning process. The chewed food in the form of a bolus is transferred from the mouth of one individual to another, either directly mouth-to-mouth, via utensils, hands, or is further cooked or processed prior to feeding. Many modern societies have strong aversions toward premastication, which have been compared to the aversion towards breastfeeding found in those societies during previous generations.

“Strong aversions”? You aren’t kidding, Wiki. “Modern society” was very vocal about being straight up grossed out. Straight up and mean.

Clearly these women are nuts, right? Surely, this is not how “normal” mothers care for their “normal” children. The internet had a good laugh, dismissed these ladies, and moved on to more important things, like guessing who was next to be booted off of Dancing with the Stars.

Then, this week, TIME went and did it, bearing the headline “Are You Mom Enough? Why attachment parenting drives some mothers to extremes — and how Dr. Bill Sears became their guru.” The cover features a picture of 26-year-old mother Jamie Lynne Grumet, standing next to a chair. On that chair stands her nearly 4-year-old son, Aram, latched on to Jamie’s exposed breast, nursing. Both Jamie (who was breastfed by her own mother until the age of six) and Aram are looking sideways directly into the camera.

The internet exploded. A bare-breasted woman! A child, fully two-thirds her size, using that breast! Now the nuts are taking over mainstream media!

Again, the opposition to the idea of breastfeeding an older child was much more vocal (or, in some cases, much more interesting to feature in commentaries on the subject) than the support. Cries of, at the very best, “weird” or “gross” to, disturbingly frequently, “child abuse”.

I’ll admit, I was as surprised as the next girl by the TIME cover photo, which was very clearly not intended to present a beautiful image of a loving act but to titillate and sell magazines. Shock and outrage equal dollars. Always.

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that breast-feeding should continue “as long as mutually desired by mother and child.” They also say “there is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer.”

As for premastication, in the Journal of Maternal & Child Nutrition, experts said the practice helps boost a child’s immunity. “Its abandonment, particularly in poor communities, has placed children at increased risk of inadequate nutrition and decreased ability to confront infections.”3

So, while the extremes of attachment parenting might be alien to us, and cause some uncomfortable feelings, and are certainly not for everyone, they are likely not child abuse. Besides, if you truly believed they were, would you not somehow be obligated to contact the authorities rather than making shitty comments on the internet?

How about we all go ahead and get busy raising our own children, rather than each other’s? How about we support those who make decisions which differ from our own but, nevertheless, seem loving and concerned with the best interests of their child? If we find ourselves unable to do that, how about we just mind our own damn business? Parenting is a difficult enough venture, without having to fend off second-guessers.4

Now, go tell your mom you love her and thank her for weaning you before prom. Moms love that kind of stuff.

— ∮∮∮ —


  1. By the way, the voice of my conscience sounds an awful lot like Touched By An Angel-era Della Reese 
  2. Though Bialik is uneasy with the term, citing the fact that it suggests parents that don’t subscribe to the method are not attached to their children. 
  3. Though it’s also important to note that dental disease can be passed from mother to child, this way
  4. A surprising number of whom, I’ve found, are childless. It’s easier to form an opinion on something about which you know nothing. Trust me, I’m an expert. 


Photo by: Monika Thorpe

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The Checkout Girl

The Checkout Girl is Jennifer Lemons. She’s a storyteller, comedian, and musician. If you don’t see her sitting behind her laptop, check the streets of Richmond for a dark-haired girl with a big smile running very, very slowly.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Just because a professional association says something’s okay doesn’t mean it’s a great idea. Technically speaking there’s nothing wrong with letting your kid watch TV in a pitch-dark room for five hours every day as no studies have shown it harms their eyesight, but that doesn’t mean you should let ’em do it because they want to.

    You’re free to raise your kids as you see fit, of course, but it’s hard not to admit that there comes a point where it’s all just a bit weird. Even if it is better than a mango.

  2. As a child psychologist and a mom, one of the things that is so misleading about attachment parenting is the name. It is only called attachment parenting because of the theory it was based upon. It is not called this because it is the only form of parenting which allows parents to develop a secure attachment relationship with their children. There are numerous ways to develop a secure attachment relationship with our kids. I explore more of this myth here for anyone who is interested:

  3. Kate on said:

    Brando, that is a very poor agrument. There are numerous studies that show that watching TV for five hours a day is detrimental to a child’s development. In fact, the american academy of pediatrics recommend no tv at all for kids under 2 and no more than 1-2 hours per day for older children.
    There are however no studies that I have seen that show breastfeeding children up to age 3 or older to be anything other than beneficial. The arguments against it are baseless and come from ignorance and the over-sexualization of breasts in our society. I wish people would open their minds and realize that just because they haven’t been exposed to something doesn’t make it “weird” or wrong. It would be so refreshing if people would educate themselves on issues like this rather than just express their knee-jerk, ethnocentric reactions.

  4. “By the way, the voice of my conscience sounds an awful lot like Touched By An Angel-era Della Reese”

    I’m glad I’m not alone.

  5. Delrose on said:

    It may be natural but it’s still weird to see a 3-year-old stroll up, unsnap his mom’s bra, pull up her shirt and start feeding while she leafs through the Sundance catalog.

  6. Julie on said:

    I only breastfed my oldest until 15 months, my youngest a couple of weeks…I could have gone on longer in both cases, but I went back to work full time. And while, to me, breastfeeding a 3 year old isn’t weird, pumping with a machine really is. The perception of mammaries as purely sexual is annoying to me. Kind of as though a woman’s anatomy exists only for a man’s perusal and pleasure. Seriously, motherhood and child nurturing…that’s far more valid and sacred to me than what a man may think they are good for. American society sure has a way of taking things that are natural and beautiful (not just this, but even sex actually) and casting them in a dirty light. It’s sad that this is how people need to get their kicks, IMO.

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