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Time mag breastfeeding cover doubletake: What about the stats?

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(Read caption) Time magazine's current breastfeeding cover. The US ranks last among the 36 industrialized nations in support of breastfeeding. But the extended breastfeeding cover image – as in an elderly toddler suckling his model-mother's breast – is Time's angle into the American trend of attachment parenting.

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So, we usually try over here at Modern Parenthood not judge a book by its cover.  But when we got a glimpse of the Time Magazine cover this week, which was released online today....  wowsers.  I just couldn’t help but break our own rule.

Because, if you haven’t seen yet, this Time Magazine cover shows Los Angeles mom Jamie Lynne Grumet, posing defiantly, in skinny jeans and hand on hip, with her 3-year-old son, who is wearing camouflage cargo pants and a gray long sleeve t-shirt and... has her left breast in his mouth.

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Ah, nothing like making an already contentious subject among the moms even more controversial. 

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The cover goes with a Time Magazine story about Bill Sears, the attachment parenting guru whose books on child rearing have, according to some culture watchers, changed the way American moms interact with their kids. (The article goes into depth about the way his philosophies have been adopted and challenged in the modern parenting world.)

Among Dr. Sears’s parenting suggestions, such as “baby-wearing” (keeping the baby close to you in a sling) and co-sleeping (sharing a bed with baby), he promotes breastfeeding. 

And not just breastfeeding, but extended breastfeeding. 

Hence the 3-year-old on the magazine’s cover. 

Now, kudos, I guess, to Ms. Grumet for putting her face (and other body parts) out there to show that she stands behind her beliefs about this particular Sears-ian tenet.

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But I worry that the provocative nature of the pose will actually obscure some of the real issues surrounding breastfeeding in this country.

Because the challenges to nursing – which study after study has shown to be the most healthy way to nourish a baby – are significant in the US.

In its report this week about global motherhood, Save The Children ranked the US last out of 36 industrialized countries in its support of breastfeeding. A lack of paid maternity leave and the prevalence of formula marketing within the country’s maternity wards contributed to the low ranking.  (Gotta love that. Or how you get formula coupons after every grocery store purchase of a nursing-related item.)

A 2010 article in the journal “Pediatrics” estimated that low rates of breastfeeding added $13 billion to medical costs in the US. Only an estimated 35 percent of American moms are exclusively breastfeeding their children at three months, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive nursing until the baby is six months old. (Less than half of moms nurse at all at six months.)

The numbers of breastfeeding moms drop significantly as the child gets older. Although it’s not easy to find statistics, a study published in “Pediatrics” from the early 2000s found that around 17 percent of moms were still nursing when their children were a year old, and that 5.7 percent of moms still breastfed when the child was 18 months.

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The World Health Organization says that breastfeeding is beneficial for toddlers aged two and beyond.

So – we have some questions to explore here.  And if we’re lucky, Time’s cover will help prompt those conversations.

After everyone is finished doing that double take in the checkout line.