Breastfeeding: How old is too old?

Magazine cover stirs controversy, poses question

COVINGTON, Ky. - As the warm springtime sun shined down on her, Ai Li Brown lifted the top left side of her mint-green colored blouse and gently placed the small ruffle over her baby, Eliot's mouth. He cooed. It's time for lunch.

The 36-year-old mom of two in Covington, Ky., said, "It's only natural. It's custom-made for your child. Cow's milk is made for a cow," she laughed.

But for Brown it's not just about the milk.

It's a choice, she said, in parenting. It's called "attachment parenting."

"If you respond to their cues and you don't deprive them of attention that first year then they feel secure and confident as babies. So that when they are older, they carry that confidence [with them]."

It also allows mother and child to bond in a way like no other, she said.

The cover story in the latest edition of Time magazine pinpointed that topic, delving into "attachment parenting" which encourages extended breastfeeding, passed the baby's first year.

But the cover, which depicts mother and parenting blogger, Jamie Lynn Grumet, 26, standing, breastfeeding her 3-year-old son, who's standing on a chair—both looking at the camera with large, bold, red letters asking: ‘Are you mom enough?' has parents like Brown talking.

"There's no one [way to be] the right mother, or ‘are you mother enough'... it seems, that phrase and that cover is just kind of you know, provocative," said Brown.

While she doesn't agree with the choice of photo for the article, she said that she does agree with what's inside the magazine.

"We shouldn't frown upon the mother who decides to bottle feed, nor should we frown at the mother who decides to breastfeed until her child is 4 or 5 years old."

She sat on her front porch, nursing her 12-day-old son. He's her second child. Her daughter Naomi breastfed up until a few months ago, into her pregnancy with Eliot.

"We just followed her cues the first year. We breastfed on demand. So I let her wean herself at 3 1/2."

Naomi was down to nursing once a day and a few months ago when she stopped asking. Her mom said she "was ready."

Naomi, who will be 4 in July, sat in her high chair in the kitchen. In front of her, a blue bowl full of lunch—which these days is, "Mac and cheese," she said scooping a big plastic spoonful into her mouth. Her favorite meal is chicken and noodles.

Ai Li said that Naomi didn't get sick as much and her allergies seemed to have been curbed by her breast milk.

In fact, there are many health benefits to breastfeeding, said Sandi Brown, registered nurse and lactation consultant at St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Edgewood, Ky., calling breast milk the "perfect food" for humans.

"It helps with their immune system, it helps with brain growth and it helps with their digestive and circulatory system and respiratory."

It also benefits mothers. There are fewer cases of cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis when a mother breastfeeds, she said.

In the U.S. it is recommended that mothers nurse for the first year of their baby's life. In other parts of the world it's 2, 3 years old or older.

However, there is no cut off for when mothers should stop nursing, said Sandi.

"The longer the child breastfeeds, the healthier they will be. And it pretty much sustains them through life."

As for Eliot, Ai Li said that she will take cues from him like she did with Naomi, and nurse until he no longer needs or wants it.

The May 21 issue of Time hits newsstands Friday, May 11.

So how old is "too" old? Tell us in the comments below and go to our Facebook page.



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