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Is Extended Breastfeeding a Problem or Solution?

"Time" magazine's new issue explores a trend in attachment parenting, including breastfeeding beyond babyhood, but a pediatrician at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore warns against creating codependencies in both parent and child.

Time magazine has glommed onto a trend called attachment parenting, which includes "extended breastfeeding," when a mother breastfeeds her child past infancy, babyhood, and into toddlerdom and older.

The cover of its May 21 issue features a controversial photo of a mother who has one breast partially exposed as she breastfeeds her toddler. And the cover article focuses on Dr. Bill Sears who, along with his wife, Martha, wrote The Baby Book that has spawned a trend in attachment parenting.

The trend includes co-sleeping and "baby wearing"—wearing your baby on your body in a sling, according to a "Behind the Cover" article by Karen Pickert in Time.

"Some parents subscribe to his theory that attachment parenting ... is the best way to raise confident, secure children," Pickert states in the article. "Others think Sears is an antifeminist tyrant, or that his ideas are just totally unrealistic."

One Baltimore pediatrician says there should be no timetables dictating when breastfeeding or co-sleeping should end.

But he warns against developing codependencies for both the parent and child that could stifle independence and healthy relationships.

Dr. Michael Zollicoffer, a pediatrician at the Herman & Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital at Sinai Hospital said he watches both the parent and child for signs of what he calls the "Linus Blanket Syndrome"—if they depend on each other or on something too much.

"It's a problem when you go through life and you set these kind of codependencies where you are connected to someone in a way that you have no independence in life: You can't ever start things on your own," he said.

Codependency is a problem no matter how you get there, Zollicoffer said. "Whether it's by holding a pacifier, or sitting down with a favorite bottle, or a breast, something that you can't 'let go of'—that's a negative."

While he often recommends breastfeeding for one or two years, and having a child sleeping alone by age 4 or 5, "there is no end point to me, or a timetable," he said. "As a public, we are looking at limits, and that is an error that we make."

Rather, in his practice he looks at each person—the parent as well as the child—to determine whether they are building healthy relationships.

"If you can't turn it off and you are riding off to college with a kid in the back of a stationwagon in a child seat, that is a problem," he said.

See Time cover mom Jamie Lynne Grumet and her child for yourself in a video from her Today Show interview.

What do you think? Should children sleep in bed with their parent and breastfeed into toddlerhood and beyond? Is it a positive or negative that a mother poses for a cover photo with her child breastfeeding? Can attachment parenting go too far, or is it the path to raising a confident, secure child?

Elizabeth Janney May 13, 2012 at 11:22 PM
We've deleted some comments that were attacks on other users. Please stay on topic.
Karen Wallace Lutz May 14, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Leigh. What people do in their own homes is their own business. But seriously, why put on a magazine like that? like someone else said, what is the boy going to think when he gets to his teens?...assuming he's done breast feeding by then.
S Walsh May 14, 2012 at 02:38 PM
People fail to realize the health benefits for both mother and child. The longer a mother breastfeeds, the lower her risk for developing breast cancer. Also, the mother's body continues to make antibodies that help the child fight illness. My daughter is almost 19 months old, and we are still nursing at night. She has had a total of 3 colds and they were minor sniffles. She has never had a fever or infection and has never been on antibiotics.
Aaron from Baltimore May 15, 2012 at 01:00 PM
Must be nice having this kind of time to kill!
Becky D, RN May 16, 2012 at 08:46 PM
I couldn't have said it better! Well done! I for one am sick of hearing about extended breastfeeding. It is just what it is, extended past what is recommended. Parenting is about setting limits and boundaries. How backwards to let the child decide. Shame on you TIME for exploiting breastfeeding like this! Breast milk is for babies. NOT children.!

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