Breastfeeding Is Not Fast Food
Breastfeeding Is Not Fast Food
It is my observation that mothers who are brainwashed by outside pressures into this pattern of on-the-go, hyperactivity and over-stimulation soon find that quality time with the child is replaced with stress, tension, anxiety and depression.
by Nelly Farnoody-Zahiri, Ph.D.
From the earliest ages, the important bond formed between mother and child has been depicted through every form of cultural expression – art, literature, music, philosophy, archeology. As a child psychologist and a mother of three young children, my professional passion and personal mission surrounds this very foundation, to cultivate and convey the undeniable importance of strong attachment bonds formed between parent and child.
Why, then, the media frenzy over a recent Time Magazine cover portraying a provocative image of a woman nursing her 3-year old son? In an era where news seems to be saturated by negative images and stories – from bullying, teen suicides, and cultural misunderstandings to school shootings and racially provoked violence – I ponder why this particular image would incite so much response.
I confess that when I first started writing this article, it was a gut response to public “outcry” over an admittedly uncomfortable “visual.” But unlike the mainstream retorts trending on Twitter, I was uncomfortable and offended not because the woman depicted was nursing a 3-year old, but because of how she was nursing him.
The cover was such a portrayal of “what not to do” that I was surprised that more discussion had not taken place at Time Magazine before they released the image into our consciousness. The way the mother is breastfeeding is detached, robotic, mechanical and unemotional, depicting an assembly line version of one of the critical moments between mother and child. It is a cold and anxious look at a moment that is filled with the emotional linkage of mother and child.
We get “Modern Mom” and “Modern Baby” involved with this sensitive bond, yet sharing no eye contact. As a child psychologist, I can affirm that eye contact is one of the most vital components of the breastfeeding process. But the Time Magazine cover refutes the natural by replacing it with a modern on-the-go, drive-by breastfeeding. To put this image out there is to send a strange, somewhat disturbing, and empty message about the power of the mother and child pair-bonding.
Meanwhile, the essence of the debate has been on what is best for Baby, with everyone and their mother chiming in with opinions based on what has been passed on from family down the years, or unproven fears about women who breastfeed too long. What is lost in this part of the debate is the additional strong psychological fact that “downtime with baby” is just as important for Mom as it is for the infant’s brain development.
Kids today have half as much free time as they did 30 years ago, notes a national study of 3,500 children 12 and under released by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. “Children are affected by the same time crunch as their parents,” notes Sandra L. Hofferth, a senior research scientist at the institute.
During downtime, children explore the world at their own pace, develop their own unique set of interests and indulge in the sort of fantasy play that will help them figure out how to create their own happiness, handle problems with others on their own, and sensibly manage their own time. It’s a critical life skill, learning how to regulate, and self-regulation happens naturally and at its best during breastfeeding and the practice of attachment parenting.
It is my observation that mothers who are brainwashed by outside pressures into this pattern of on-the-go, hyperactivity and overstimulation soon find that quality time with the child is replaced with stress, tension, anxiety and depression for themselves. In denying themselves the joy and pleasure of bonding with Baby, they are neither giving nor receiving the essential ingredient both need so intrinsically, which is simply connecting with each other, eye contact, tactile affection, emotional reassurance and all the other benefits that a mother and child discover when they are linked in the most natural way.
It is this visual which, if portrayed properly, leaves a positive image and message in readers’ minds. It leaves room for genuine, open dialogue about parenting, not excessive, uninformed or misguided ranting that may boost magazine sales momentarily, but long-term does nothing to address the real cover story – raising our children in America today with the nurturing and caring that will help them grow with a fundamental sense of well-being and inner peace, resulting in a more peaceful world.
Nelly Farnoody-Zahiri, Ph.D., is a licensed child psychologist and mother of twin 5-year-olds, and a 3-year-old daughter who is still breastfeeding