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?

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 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