Organization slams ‘Time' breastfeeding cover

Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine says there is no evidence that long-term breastfeeding is harmful to child, mother.

'Time' magazine breastfeeding cover 370 (photo credit: ‘Time’ magazine)
'Time' magazine breastfeeding cover 370
(photo credit: ‘Time’ magazine)
An international organization of physicians who specialize in breastfeeding medicine has condemned Time magazine for its cover photo of a woman standing with her nearly-four-year-old son and breastfeeding him.
However, the 500-member Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) – whose president is Prof. Arthur Eidelman, former chairman of pediatrics at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center – says there is no evidence that long-term breastfeeding is physically or psychologically harmful to the child or the mother.
The New York-based academy said that Time’s provocative cover photograph, titled “Are you mom enough?” has triggered widespread and damaging misinformation about biological norms for breastfeeding.
“All major medical organizations recommend about six months of exclusive breastfeeding,” Eidelman said. “Together with the World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, and US Surgeon’s General Call to Action, the ABM recommends that breastfeeding should be continued through infancy and beyond.”
Eidelman, a veteran expert in neonatology, continued that “claims that breastfeeding beyond infancy is harmful to mother or infant have absolutely no medical or scientific basis. Indeed, the more salient issue is the damage caused by modern practices of premature weaning.
“Human milk contains nutrients, antibodies, and immunemodulating substances that are not present in infant formula or cow’s milk. Longer breastfeeding duration is further associated with reduced maternal risks of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, hypertension, obesity and heart attack.”
Eidelman told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the magazine article actually had very little material on breastfeeding. It focused on a technique of child-rearing called “attachment parenting,” which has been promoted by The Baby Book coauthor Dr. William Sears, who encourages parents to keep their infants in constant bodily contact by sleeping with the child in the same bed or room, wearing a baby sling or letting the child decide when to stop breastfeeding even if he or she already talks and can ask for the breast.
The magazine cover, which Eidelman called “one of the most obnoxious things I have ever seen,” has instead “focused on unfounded accusations that both breastfeeding and attachment parenting adversely affect child development. In fact, multiple studies have demonstrated that sensitive parenting and secure attachment are major predictors of long-term mental health and well-being.
“If there is ‘abuse,’” he continued, “it is Time’s inappropriate use of the mother-infant nursing dyad as a come-on for generating reader interest. Ideally, Time magazine should have featured a photograph of breastfeeding that would have supported the concept of breastfeeding as both the cultural and biological norm. However, by using a staged, provocative picture of an atypical situation, Time chose to generate controversy for commercial ends at the potential expense of well-accepted public health recommendations,” Eidelman said.
He said that Sear is “extreme, not mainstream” in his views.
Asked whether children suffer psychological damage from breastfeeding even at age three or four or more – whether some Electra complex – the mother-child equivalent of the Oedipus complex – could develop, Eidelman said that “nobody can do a controlled study. We will never see a prospective, randomized controlled study on this. But we do not know of any pathology of physical or psychological damage. I know of women who breastfed their children until the age of two or three; one of my daughters did it up to age three. Most children are not interested breastfeeding that long, even if the mother is.”
He also hasn’t seen any difference in extended breastfeeding between the secular and the modern Orthodox or haredi sectors, said Eidelman, who is modern Orthodox. “There is disagreement among Bible scholars whether the matriarchs breastfed their babies for two or four years,” he added.
Long-term breastfeeding cannot be relied upon for contraception, he said, as lactation amenorrhea (a halt in menstruation because of breastfeeding) may be prevented only if a mother breastfeeds many times a day and not once or twice as is done at older ages, Eidelman said. In any case, most religious women have another child a few years after the previous one, and when pregnant, they don’t have enough milk to breastfeed regularly.
The ABM is a global organization of physicians dedicated to the promotion, protection and support of breastfeeding and human lactation through education, research and advocacy. An independent, self-sustaining, international physician organization and the only organization of its kind, Eidelman said, ABM’s mission is to unite members of various medical specialties through physician education, expansion of knowledge in breastfeeding science and human lactation, facilitation of optimal breastfeeding practices, and encouragement of the exchange of information among organizations. It also promotes the development and dissemination of clinical practice guidelines.