Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Monday nights I generally spend the evening at the home of our young campground managers, caring for their 8-month-old son while they go out. With not much to do, I've taken to watching Supernanny, and I'm often impressed with her solutions to critical family problems.

Last night's show featured a family with a rebellious, disrespectful teen boy, a girl about 5 years old who kept getting up at night and coming to her parents' bed, and a 14-month-old girl who was still nursing at the breast. This "prolonged" nursing was treated as just one more out-of-control issue in this out-of-control family.

The first 2 kids' behaviors I agree are problematic; the nursing toddler? Sounds normal to me. My friends and I, in the 70's and 80's, all nursed our kids until they were two or so. So do a lot of mothers. But the promo clip briefly showed the child nursing, then slurping sloppily from a sippy cup, featured Supernanny saying the child clung to Mum like a koala, and the voice-over saying, "Get that kid a bottle!"

Which Supernanny proceeded to do. Asked the mom why she was still breastfeeding and got the kid on the bottle within days.

I object on several grounds:

  • Supernanny (who has no children) is misinformed about what's normal. In much of the world, as well as in many circles in North America, nursing is continued into the second or third year as a matter of course. It's a fallacy that nursing is just for little babies, and an expert as current as Supernanny ought to be savvy to this. I was appalled at her ignorance.

  • Abrupt weaning such as was carried out in this case is emotionally traumatic to both parties and is unhealthy for the mother. She continues to produce milk, which causes engorgement and swelling, and ensuing pain and possibly infection.

  • I disagree with having weaned the child to a bottle. If she's young enough to need a bottle, she's young enough to continue nursing. Weaning a cup-cabable child to a bottle seems pointless, and reduces breastfeeding to a mere "where the milk comes from," without considering the many emotional, social, and health benefits to the child of continuing to nurse when both she and the mother are willing.

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that breastfeeding continue for at least the first 12 months of life.

  • It was none of her business. The mother had not expressed any discomfort about her nursing daughter.

    • As children grow, their naturally-growing interests and abilities gradually replace nursing times. If the mother feels it is time to stop, one of the advantages of having the child a little older is that mom can explain and reason a little bit: "I think we should save nursing for bedtime. Let's just cuddle and read a book."

      I think the mother and child could have been taught some "nursing manners" -- the when, where, and how of their nursing relationship could have been pulled off more esthetically. The child nursed whenever and wherever she wished, and the mother was not discreet in the process. This is, perhaps, one of the behaviors that gives longer breastfeeding a bad name.

      Supernanny skillfully and effectively showed the mother how to demand respect from her older son without showing any disrespect for him. She offered good suggestions for teaching the other little girl to sleep in her own bed.

      But she blew it on the breastfeeding issue.


    Anonymous said...

    Perfectly said!


    Vickie said...

    Well you have to realize most people in the US object to nursing in the first place, so carrying it into the second year is most appalling to them. All of my kids weaned themselves at different ages, but generally 14 months was the latest. Your information about nursing and stopping suddenly is right on, but it is almost pointless to expect the average person to realize or accept this. They would have to be nursing mothers themselves at some point in time to appreciate all the good things that come from this.

    Anne said...

    I've never quite understood the hang up people have with extended nursing. I do agree that a bottle for a "cup-aged toddler" seems regressive. I guess that's how she'd wean the child from the breast.

    The problem in all these shows is the parents, not the children (you can't exploit a child but you can certainly capitalize on poor parenting). I had to stop watching those shows because I was appalled at what I kept seeing, though I suppose they do a public service to others struggling with similar issues -- though usually not to these extremes.

    Anonymous said...

    Don't forget the World Health Organization. Two Years.

    Also, no bottles needed, ever. Teeeeeeeny babies can drink from a cup. I forget how young, but maybe newborns. Mine were 5 months when they started with a cup.

    ~and wow the new heading looks great! heidi

    the Dread Pirate Rackham said...

    couldn't agree with you more - well said!