Vivek Prakash/Reuters
Time Magazine has upped the debate about breastfeeding – and in particular, the sort of extended breastfeeding that health organizations say should be a global goal. Save The Children and others say mothers should breastfeed their children for at least two years. Phulwati, 27, who has given birth hours earlier, lies a bed in the post-delivery ward along wth her newborn baby at a community health center in the remote village of Chharchh, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, February 24, 2012.

Time Magazine style breastfeeding a global goal

Time Magazine has upped the debate about breastfeeding – and in particular, the sort of extended breastfeeding that health organizations say should be a global goal. Save The Children and others say mothers should breastfeed their children for at least two years.

Days after Time Magazine came out with its now famous (infamous?) cover of mom Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her three-year-old son, the cyber tongues are still a-wagging.

Omg, look how old he is! seems to be the main reaction from Internet land. Breastfeeding is fine and dandy, many of the Tweets, posts and comments say. But breastfeeding a toddler? Not so much.

Related: Are you a Helicopter Parent? Take our quiz to find out!

Now, we have our own opinions about whether Time’s cover is helpful for what should be a national conversation about breastfeeding. (As we noted last week, the US ranks last among 36 industrialized nations in support of breastfeeding, with only 35 percent of moms exclusively nursing when their children are three months old.)

But since there’s a debate raging now about whether it’s appropriate to nurse an older toddler, we thought we’d just throw out some international context on this particular angle of the conversation.

In the southern African country of Malawi – one of Save The Children’s top ranked developing countries for moms – 77 percent of children are still breastfed at age two. That number is even higher in Bangladesh, where 90 percent of children still nurse, and in Nepal, where the number is 93 percent. Moms in India nurse 77 percent of their two-year-olds, and mothers in Rwanda are still breastfeeding 84 percent of theirs.  

Even those countries that score “fair” or “poor” in Save The Children’s breastfeeding ranking nurse a lot more than the US;  In South Africa, for instance, 31 percent of children are still breastfeeding at two years old, as are 19 percent of Vietnamese toddlers.

There are good reasons for this.

Breastfeeding until age two, according to Save The Children, is one of the clearest steps that mothers in developing countries can take to ensure the health of their children.

Early nursing is most crucial. According to the World Health Organization, breastfed children who live in the conditions that normally exist in developing countries (including unhealthy water and poor sanitation) are at least six times more likely to survive in the early months than non-breastfed babies.

But continued nursing is also hugely important. The World Health Organization, UNICEF and other organizations say breastfeeding should continue until a child is at least two years old. And in recent years, these groups have been making a new push to improve awareness about the benefits of this so-called “extended” nursing.

For many children, malnutrition is most likely to begin in what Save the Children calls in its recent motherhood report, “the vulnerable period from six to nine months of age.” Breastfeeding provides energy and nutrients even when children are eating other foods.

“Breastfeeding, when practiced optimally, is one of the most effective child survival interventions today,” the Save The Children report states. “Optimal feeding from birth to age two can prevent an estimated 19 percent of all under-five deaths, more than any other intervention.”

So let the conversation about Time Magazine continue. But let’s also remember the larger issues at stake.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Time Magazine style breastfeeding a global goal
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today