Latched for Life
For a mother, providing a comfortable and loving environment for a child will be the most important job she ever does. She will go to great lengths to feed and wash and nurture her child. The medical field supports these intentions by encouraging breastfeeding newborns throughout their infancy, as it is a way to not only supply baby with food and nourishment, but a way to create a parent-child bond that every mother strives for. Motherhood is overwhelming, and controversies concerning the right way to parent are argued daily, but a new form of attachment parenting promises relief. Extreme breastfeeding, or breastfeeding a child past the average weaning age into their school years, is a troubling phenomenon. Recently documented cases of this act show elementary aged children being breastfed, prompting psychologists to voice their opinions. These children will grow up with no way around the negative psychological effects extreme breastfeeding presents. They are being damaged by a mother who thinks that she is strengthening bonds and nurturing her child, when she is actually delaying development and denying the child the right to their own personhood.
The act of breastfeeding can be traced back to the beginning of mankind, depicted in cave drawings, sculpted into ancient pottery, and documented in primeval writings. Although the word itself is essentially self-explanatory, breastfeeding ideas continue to evolve leaving parents and healthcare providers alike with questions. Breastfeeding can be defined as feeding a child breastmilk directly from the nipple into the child’s mouth, and although any one person may be able to understand breastfeeding in the physical act, accepting the concept is a different story. The Center for Disease Control reports that 77% of newborn infants are being breastfed, a number that has increased greatly in recent years. These babies, being fed by their mothers, are receiving antibodies and nutrients that will benefit them for years to come. Newborns are helpless and have almost only one way to eat, relying on the natural resource that mothers are able to provide. Without the vital act of breastfeeding, they are at a higher risk for weaker immune systems and sensitive stomachs down the road, among other things. Breastfeeding carries a child through their first year, as teeth develop and solid foods are introduced, allowing a broader spectrum of health benefits. The mental and physical advantages that breastfeeding an infant provide help many mothers make the decision to feed their baby naturally, but if moms are still nodding their heads yes to this decision five years into their child’s life, it is not farfetched to say that a child will develop psychological issues.
A May 2012 TIME magazine cover depicting mom Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her son, who was just one month shy of four years old, sparked much controversy not only in the parenting world, but to people everywhere. The cover boldly asked “Are You Mom Enough?” leaving the 26 year old’s parenting choices under much scrutiny. Grumet states that she, as a child breastfed until the age of six, had a very secure feeling of confidence and love throughout childhood and strives to pass that nurturing environment on to her two children.
Australian mom Maha Al Musa publicly spoke out in May of 2015 about her experiences with extreme breastfeeding, arguing that because her six year old daughter likes it so much, she will continue as long as needed. Al Musa, claiming that it is all for the child, frequently posts pictures and encouraging words on social media for the world to see. Her daughter Aminah, although young and naïve about the subject, spoke to an reporter and said “I might stop when I’m eight,”
Veronica Robinson, a mother of two from Great Britain, was featured on a television special about the extreme breastfeeding craze. Robinson’s oldest daughter Bethany was weaned at age five, but her nearly eight year old daughter Eliza was still breastfeeding. Mrs. Robinson spoke for these extreme acts, bringing up the health benefits and the comfort it brings a child. The Robinson’s case may be one of the most jarring that psychologists have ever seen. Eliza and Bethany often play with their mother’s breasts, draw pictures of them, and even scold her for wearing a bra, as the girls think the breasts are trapped. This single documentation of extreme breastfeeding was enough for psychologists to deem this new form of attachment parenting wrong.
Although women like Jamie Lynne Grumet and Veronica Robinson gush about the bond that is made and the feelings of confidence and comfort that accompany breastfeeding, they do not see past their own attachment parenting. Practitioners of extreme breastfeeding are blind to the damage they are doing. Without independence, children are unable to evolve. Smothering them with attachment parenting will present many consequences during their very important developmental years.
At age two, children become aware that they are separate individuals, different from everyone else. They realize that they have control over many aspects of their lives, like what they want to eat or where they want to go. Breastfeeding a baby creates a lasting bond that eventually grows into hugs, cuddles, and kisses, but when a mother realizes that she is no longer a necessity at all times, she may feel unwanted. This is where attachment parenting as a whole stems from. Mothers want to be the source of their children’s happiness, so much that without realizing it, they may inhibit the physical independence of a child, suffocating the newfound control a toddler has. Afraid that the needs children possess may dissipate at a certain age, mothers can prolong their significance by breastfeeding as long as possible, keeping their child close literally through physical touch, and mentally through mother-child bonding. This gives kids the idea that they can do nothing without their mother. Separation from both mother and father play a key role in the development of independence. Children must learn to cope without their parents and become acclimated to different environments and situations, but an upbringing that denies necessary freedom will surely skew this natural path of development.
Extreme breastfeeding not only limits a child’s mobile independence, but their mental development as well. Babies develop the ability to self soothe within the first few months of life, and continue to do so throughout their childhood. It is one of the first personal abilities they will have, and is therefore vital in development. It is acceptable to breastfeed a three month old when they are inconsolable, but when a child is breastfed into their elementary school years, they will not know any other way to calm down in upsetting situations. Extreme breastfeeding has proven itself as a way for mothers to give themselves a purpose when their preschooler skins their knee, no longer a way to provide food for their baby. If a child from a home where extreme breastfeeding can be found has a meltdown in school or any other public place, the first thing they will want is their mother’s breast. Mothers seem to forget that they will not always be there for a quick feeding session to stop the tears. After infancy, it is unhealthy for a parent to suppress their child’s ability to self soothe. Without this mechanism, children are unable to develop more advanced mentalities and grow to their potential.
Social limitations have presented as negative side effects of the extreme breastfeeding craze as well. Kids learn to socialize, ask questions, and initiate conversation during this time period. They are able to communicate their needs and wants. Children who are breastfed into their educational years will have a much harder time making friends and learning in a school setting, thanks to a mother who never let them think for themselves. Parents are setting their child up for failure by denying them the right to grow. Nothing gives schoolmates license to tease more than a child that is still breastfed. Kids are crueler and more desensitized to the things that once hurt the feelings of others, and damage to a child’s self-esteem at this age will have lasting effects. Jamie Lynne Grumet’s son will forever be known as the little boy who suckled his mother on the cover of a national magazine. He is homeschooled, perhaps because his parents want to shield him from what other children might say about their own choices and how it effects their son. Maha Al Musa’s daughter will always be reminded of how her mother posted daily pictures of the two during feedings. This kind of attachment parenting is detrimental to this age group, cementing a stigma on these children that will follow them for the rest of their lives.
Perhaps one of the most shocking results of extreme breastfeeding thus far is the heavy dose of confusion it gives children. Personal boundaries seem to no longer have meaning. Dr. Ellie Cannon published an article,“That’s just selfish and wrong: How the image of a mother breastfeed a toddler reignited a health controversy”, speaking out against breastfeeding older children, specifically spotlighting Jamie Lynne Grumet’s public display. Cannon made excellent points refuting Grumet’s choices. She states that children who are breastfed well past infancy will not understand limits and appropriate talk and use of bodies. Commentators and authors of separate articles similar to Cannon’s spoke out, many saying that they have witnessed a child demand in perfect speech that they want to be breastfed, like the author of “Breastfeeding Controversy: What’s Normal? What’s Accepted?” Some have even recalled watching a child go up to their mother, open her shirt, and feed without permission. This, in addition to the sensitive period of childhood where children become more interested in gender identity and body parts, will complicate this stage of development. If a child can go up to their mother and open her shirt to breastfeed, where will they place boundaries on the bodies of others? They have no true idea of what is acceptable.
When extreme breastfeeding is analyzed, there are questions to ask. Is this happening for the child or for the parent? No parent is perfect, and striving to meet the needs of children can get hazy along the way. Mothers get the wrong idea in their heads, thinking that attachment parenting will create a happy child and in turn, a happy mother. Many argue that extreme breastfeeding is a cry for attention and praise as a mother. Writer for The Daily Telegraph Susie O’Brien’s article “Who does extreme breastfeeding really help: a child or their mum?” speculates Maha Al Musa and her rather public style of parenting. There are parents who post pictures of their children excessively, and there is Al Musa, who frequently shares with the world photos of her six year old breastfeeding. Dr. Keith Ablow of the Fox News Medical team is unabashedly disgusted with Jamie Lynne Grumet and her willingness to showcase her son standing on a chair to reach her nipple as she stands with a hand on her hip, staring seductively into the camera. In his article,“Time magazine cover — forget the breast, what about the boy?”, Ablow claims “This is self-centeredness at its worst, sold as good parenting.” And rightfully so, as Grumet stains her son for life without understanding how affected he will be by her actions.
Breastfeeding past the accepted weaning age becomes a case of having poor boundaries and an unclear idea of lifting children up to their potential. If a mother wants to be involved and feel like she has a purpose in the life of her children, there are other ways to fulfill that need. There is no clear answer to whether the act is narcissistic or nurturing, but psychologists argue that it does no good for a child and is a selfish way for mothers to perpetuate their importance. There is no coincidence of developmental delays in a child blanketed under their attached parent. The popular television show Game of Thrones includes a character who breastfeeds her adolescent son, who is depicted as cognitively under-developed for his age. This portrayal is not an accident. Weaning a child off of breastmilk is done for the same reason as potty training and teaching them to walk and talk. They must learn to be independent beings. As they are breastfed beyond the typical age, they are being deprived of a normal childhood. The psychological repercussions will become evident as a child grows older in an extreme breastfeeding home, causing possible issues with school, peers, future relationships, and self-esteem. All over the world, healthy breastfed babies will grow into damaged breastfed children if the number of mothers choosing extreme breastfeeding continues to increase.
Ablow, Dr. Keith. “Time magazine cover — forget the breast, what about the boy?”. Foxnews.com. 11 May 2012. Web. 2 November 2015. http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/05/11/time-magazine-cover-forget-breast-what-about-boy.html
O’Brien, Susie. “Who does extreme breastfeeding really help: a child or their mum?”. The Daily Telegraph”. 25 May 2015. Web. 2 November 2015. http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/rendezview/who-does-extreme-breastfeeding-really-help-a-child-or-their-mum/story-fnpug1jf-1227368766830
Cannon, Dr. Ellie. “That’s just selfish and wrong: How the image of a mother breastfeed a toddler reignited a health controversy”. The Daily Mail. 19 May 2012. Web. 3 November 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2146870/Breastfeed-year-old-Thats-just-selfish-wrong.html
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “Breastfeeding Report Card, United States/2013. July 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/pdf/2013breastfeedingreportcard.pdf
“Breastfeeding Controversy: What is Normal? What is Accepted?” WordPress.com. 18 May 2012. https://formingthethread.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/breastfeeding-controversy-whats-normal-whats-accepted/