Family Matters

Boob Tube: A New Reality Show About Extended Breast-Feeding? Who Cares

Producers want to examine "extreme" parenting practices, so they're making plans for a new reality TV series on extended breast-feeding.

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There are so many television shows to choose from already that new programming, in theory, has to meet a pretty high bar. Notable exception: the announcement that Collins Avenue Productions, the outfit behind such esteemed productions as Dance Moms featuring tweens performing burlesque, is in the process of shaping a reality series about — gasp! — moms who still breast-feed their kids who are old enough to walk.

“I didn’t set out to nurse a 3-year-old,” Jessica Cary of Park Slope, Brooklyn, whose daughter Olive continues to nurse told the New York Post. “But two years came and went. Now breast-feeding and mothering are so intertwined for me.”

Good for Jessica and good for Olive. But why should anyone other than the mother and daughter care?

Jamie Lynne Grumet, 26, is a proponent of attachment parenting. Here she breast-feeds her son Aram, 3

Martin Schoeller for TIME

The unfortunate truth is that they do, as evidenced by the fallout over TIME’s recent attachment-parenting cover photo of a svelte mom nursing her preschool son. I’m not quite sure who would sign up to star in a show like this, considering that Collins Avenue’s track record suggests it has little intention of producing anything remotely resembling an educational documentary. Yahoo! News reports that at least one of the moms featured in Kate Pickert’s TIME cover story is on board, but I’m skeptical. It would seem that the moms featured — not to mention their kids — just might be being exploited. Of course, that’s their choice. But spare some sympathy for those kids, who aren’t young enough to protest.

(MORE: Why Most Moms Don’t Reach Their Own Breast-Feeding Goals)

The fact is, moms who choose to continue breast-feeding beyond babyhood represent just a sliver of all breast-feeding moms. Just 44% of mothers who breast-feed are still doing so by the time their baby turns 6 months old, and only 15% are relying solely on breast milk — even though the American Academy of Pediatrics advises women to breast-feed exclusively for six months and to continue to breast-feed until at least baby’s first birthday. By that milestone, fewer than a quarter of mothers are breast-feeding at all.

So why the focus on the outliers who persevere in their nursing endeavors? Most aren’t seeking media attention. They’re simply making a feeding choice that in reality becomes more about nurturing than nutrition once babies reach their first birthday. It’s not that toddlers don’t continue to benefit from the goodies in breast milk — they do — but once children can eat the same table food as adults, the decision to continue to breast-feed is essentially a decision to keep going with something that feels right for mom and baby.

It’s highly unlikely that many moms pledge from Day One that they’re going to nurse until a particular age. As Cary notes, it just sort of happens. You go with what you know, and if what you know is working, well, why stop? I’m trying to imagine what might possibly be compelling about filming a mom nursing an older child. Had a cameraman come into my house over the years, he would have found a repetitious display: first it was my son, then later my daughter, then finally her younger sister, each cuddling up with me before bedtime for a book and a few minutes of snuggly breast-feeding. Not exactly the stuff ratings are made of. Or is it?

(MORE: Extended Breast-Feeding: Is It More Common than We Think?)

Eventually, most young children lose interest in breast-feeding. Now, if they didn’t and if they actually grew up and went on to college with their still-lactating moms in tow — that would be a reality show even I’d watch.

I’m not aware of such a phenomenon, but I’ve got another tip for Jeff Collins, executive producer of Collins Avenue. Since he’s said his new show, Extreme Parenting, will incorporate not just extended breast-feeding but other “untraditional” and “extreme” parenting practices, he’d be wise to check out advice columnist Emily Yoffe’s response to a mom whose mother-in-law crossed the decency line.

On Monday, Yoffe — “Dear Prudence” to fans — posted a transcript on Slate of her weekly live chat on Washingtonpost.com. The first question came from a mom inquiring how to handle her husband’s mother, whom she discovered breast-feeding her 2-month-old in the middle of the night. “Should we call the police?” the distraught mom asked.

Yoffe advised the mom to deputize daddy to give grandma a stern talking-to. Oh, and a mental-health work-up might be in order too:

New parents get into all sorts of hassles with the grandparents over different styles of raising the kids. But this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a young mother having to say to her mother-in-law, “And I’d prefer you didn’t put your breast in little Jason’s mouth.” I completely understand your need to ask her to leave. But though your complaint would be a classic on the police blotter, it is not a matter for law enforcement. … In any case, if she keeps buttoned up, she should be allowed to have access to your son, but I understand if it’s a long time before she makes it onto the baby-sitting roster.

Grandma as unauthorized wet nurse? Now that’s Nielsen material.

MORE: Q&A with Breast-Feeding Mom Jamie Lynne Grumet

23 comments
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Sibling Show
Sibling Show

Hello to all the parents out there! Based on the discussions below, I thought some of you might be interested in a new show I am working on. 

A major cable network is casting a unique, new documentary series about SIBLINGS who are raising their children in very DIFFERENT WAYS.  We’re seeking dynamic, polar opposite siblings who do not see “eye to eye” when it comes to their their parenting philosophies.

Both siblings would need to participate in the show. Should be located in the NY/NJ/PA/CT area.

If you’re interested, please send an email to:

mykidscasting@gmail.com

Thanks for your time!

SiblingShow
SiblingShow

A new documentary show about siblings who are now parents and have very different parenting techniques than each other is looking for people in the NY area to be part of their show. Looking to give a glimpse into different ways to raise children, and how two people raised by the same parents have chosen such different ways to bring up their kids. If you or a friend are interested, please email mykidscasting@gmail.com. 

Sobless
Sobless

I think that kids should be sheild from a lot of things. Until they are older to really think and make their on decision

Sobless
Sobless

I believe in breastfeeding but only to a infant. A toddler needs whole milk and it really looks and can be disturbing to the child who does not know better and the people who look on to it. when a child becomes a certain age they should not see certain body parts.

Nikki Jayne
Nikki Jayne

These kind of women are why I don't want to breastfeed when I have kids. They're all so SMUG about it and it makes me want to fight against it.

I wasn't breast fed. Formula isn't the devil, you know.

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

Given that reality shows are entirely about the curiosity factor it has to be morbid, sensationalized, contrived, over-the-top and/or bizarre for it to be a success.  Sadly, I expect this will be a hit for those with a lactation fetish or who wish to catch a glimpse of female anatomy not normally shown on television.  However after the first few episodes, (if it lasts that long), that interest will wane, the show will go away and we'll be back to debating the merits of kids suckling far beyond that of any other primate on the face of the planet.

Penny Piercy
Penny Piercy

I doubt that any of these people are "suckling far beyond [...] any other primate on the face of the planet.   Large primates like orangutans and chimpanzees do indeed nurse their young for years, and, if looked at proportional to the natural adult life span, smaller ones do too.  The point is, that's what primates *do*: nurse their young a long time relative to grazing species or carnivores that cache their young.  But I agree with you that this premise for a show, not to be intentionally punny, sucks, and I hope the notion goes away quickly.

f_galton
f_galton

I breast fed on a wet nurse until I was twelve and I think it gave me a lot of confidence.

bestforbabes
bestforbabes

Thank you for expressing the exact sentiments of breastfeeding advocates: the physicians, scientists, lactation consultants, peer counselors, friends and cheerleaders who are all tired of media outlets that seek to make a spectacle of  the tiny percentage of moms who manage to overcome crippling barriers and breastfeed past a year, something that every major health organization urges moms to do.  Katherine Dettwyler, PhD, an anthropologist interviewed by USAToday, suggests that breastfeeding is evolutionarily designed to continue into toddlerhood because the brain is not fully developed even at age 5, and needs the highly bio-available long-chain fatty acids in prevalent in mother's milk.  Let's not forget that moms confer immune protection as long as they continue to nurse, antibodies in breastmilk and 400 ingredients not replicated in a lab don't disappear magically at 365 days.  Human milk is a living, complex tissue, and we simply don't have the science yet to fully prove what we instinctively know about it's value after 1 year.  

KMarinelliMD
KMarinelliMD

I cannot agree with you more BestforBabes!!  You have presented the information we know succinctly and well.  These are the facts--not the sensationalism that a reality show is going for. Those of use who are advocates of breastfeeding as you mention are working for the health of the baby and the mother, not for  ratings.  We continue to look at the facts, investigate the science and try to get the message out so moms and families can make informed choices.  There is no money to be made in what we are doing--advocating for public health.  So called "reality shows" are all about ratings and to get them use sensationalism--is that reality?  Look at the science when you look human milk--it speaks for itself without need for exaggeration! 

KMarinelliMD
KMarinelliMD

Bonnie,

Thank you for

continuing to present the facts, and the "real reality" of

breastfeeding in the US today. Breastfeeding is not something to be ashamed of,

but something to be celebrated. As a pediatrician, I know that the American

Academy of Pediatrics, and other medical societies in the US encourage and

support exclusive breastfeeding for almost all babies for the first 6 months,

with continued breastfeeding for a year, or even longer as the World Health

Organization recommends (2 or more years). We fall far short of these goals.

They are not "extreme parenting" goals, but pubic health goals.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to see mainline TV shows embrace feeding our babies

and young children in this way and help us normalize it in our culture, instead

of sensationalizing breastfeeding?

Kathleen Marinelli MD

Cecilia Persnickety Mitchell
Cecilia Persnickety Mitchell

Any time so-called reality TV gets hold of an issue, you can bet it's going to be portrayed unfavorably and inaccurately.  I cannot imagine what is inside the heads of any woman who signed on for this kind of exploitation and misrepresentation.  The producers of this show contacted several of my close friends who are breastfeeding children beyond infancy, but none of them agreed to take part in his fiasco, as far as I know.

I breastfed both of my children well into their preschool years, but there's no way in hell I'd have let anyone make a TV show about it.  It's a beautiful thing, but it's also a personal decision.  And that's not what Jeff Collins is looking to convey to the public.  

iamnotthebabysitter
iamnotthebabysitter

For the record, every one of the TIME moms was approached to do a series and immediately turned it down.

-Jamie Grumet

HaRae
HaRae

Reality TV is silly and this show probably will be too. I want to comment on this part of the article:

"They’re simply making a feeding choice that in reality becomes more about nurturing than nutrition once babies reach their first birthday."

This is simply not true for many breastfeeding kids. They can and do thrive on a diet that contains a significant amount of breast milk.  15 ounces (younger toddlers may drink much more that this each day) provides 43% of the protein they need every day, 60% of the Vitamin C they need, etc. Great for any kid, and especially for those that are picky eaters.

For my son, it might have been more around his 2nd birthday that I considered breastfeeding to be more about the antibodies and comfort than actually contributing to the calories/protein/fat he needed for the day. Still definitely valuable at that stage though.

That's why the World Health Organization's recommendation reads: with continued breastfeeding for up to two years and beyond. That's not just for "3rd world" countries either, I know Health Canada promotes the same suggestions as the WHO.

Bonnie Rochman
Bonnie Rochman

I don't disagree with you, HaRae. Breast milk is great and continues to evolve to meet a child's needs, whatever the age. My point is that once babies eat a wide variety of food, they're able to get 43% of their protein and 60% of their Vitamin C elsewhere — if that's what they (and their moms) choose. Once there are other nutritional options for a child's diet, continuing to breast-feed — at least for me — was about love more than vitamins.

JWR97
JWR97

I love this new feature in TIME of the article's author replying to comments.  Will this continue?  Will all of TIME's writers be doing this? 

HaRae
HaRae

Yes, I agree! Thanks for clarifying. Every mom's motivations are different and may vary through the course of nursing. Just wanted to emphasize that nothing magical happens on the child's first birthday to make nursing less about nutrition. It gradually becomes less and less of their diet over time. I know at 14-16 months my child was getting most of his calories (maybe 80 or 90%) from breast milk and I think it's important to for people to know that that is perfectly normal for a lot of kids.

Unfortunately I had a doctor as well as acquaintances tell me that I *needed* to give my child cow's milk because breastfeeding after age 1 was "for comfort" (which it is or can be, but it was also fulfilling my child's nutritional need for milk).

Thank you for emphasizing that it's not usually all that crazy...just moms and kids doing living their normal lives doing what works for them.

Kyla Wapshott
Kyla Wapshott

So Time are the only ones allowed to exploit people for their own gain?

Fatesrider
Fatesrider

No, that's pretty much a human nature thing.  Everyone does it.

in bed with married women
in bed with married women

my breast feeding reality show with involve me, cowlike, with the breast pump whirring away as I sobbed while listening to elliot smith. 

 

Sara Rose
Sara Rose

May I be the first to say--this s-u-u-c-c-k-k-s-s!

in bed with married women
in bed with married women

A breast feeding reality show of my own experience would have been me, hooked up to the breast pump--cow-like, and possibly sobbing while listening to Elliot Smith.

Later, me in IKEA with boobs leaking and staining front of shirt. Lactation due to overfilled boobs or possibly biological reaction to IMPOSSIBLE PRICES on Swedish design.

jill

http://inbedwithmarriedwomen.b...