Mom and photographer Jade Beall practices “extended breastfeeding” with her son Sequoia, who is 3-and-a-half. (Photo: Jade Beall/Facebook)
Jade Beall is well aware that most people would consider her 3-and-a-half-year-old son, Sequoia, too old to be breastfed.
Which is why Beall, a photographer from Arizona, used to make sure she nursed him in private, away from the curious or condemning stares of strangers. “But then I thought, why do I feel uncomfortable about something so natural and normal?” Beall tells Yahoo Parenting.
So earlier this month, she posted a self-portrait on Facebook that showed her proudly holding Sequoia to her breast as the preschooler happily suckled. The photo celebrates her son, but it also aims to spark dialogue about motherhood, nursing, and cultural norms.
And spark dialogue it did. Since hitting Facebook on July 16, the photo has racked up 9.7K likes and 1.7 shares. Most of the comments about the photo have been supportive. They’re often from other moms who, like Beall, practice extended breastfeeding — nursing a child older than the age of 1. For context, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding until a baby is 6 months old and continuing “as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.”
Other commenters have been negative, even nasty. “If this offends you, ask me a question rather than call me names,” Beall wrote in a caption aimed at her detractors. “Let’s learn from one another.”
What is it about images of real moms breastfeeding that stirs such debate? “A lot of people think of breasts in a sexual way, so breastfeeding a child who is not an infant comes across as sexualizing the child,” New York-based lactation consultant Leigh Anne O’Connor tells Yahoo Parenting.
That may have been what was behind the outcry when Time magazine put a photo of a mom nursing her 3-year-old son on its cover in March 2012. And it may also be the reason Beall’s own photo of a soldier mom breastfeeding while wearing a military uniform caused a firestorm when she shot it earlier this year.
Though extended breastfeeding remains controversial, O’Connor believes that increasing numbers of moms are choosing it. “As more people do it, it’ll become normalized,” she says. “Extended breastfeeding is healthy and normal, and if a mom wants to do it, she should be supported.”
Though Beall is no stranger to controversy, she didn’t realize her self-portrait would strike a nerve. “My work celebrates motherhood,” says Beall. “My body changed so much when I was pregnant and after my son was born, and I realized I’d never seen images of a real pregnant or new mom body. I wanted to show what had not been seen or talked about.”
The photo of her nursing Sequoia accomplishes this goal. “I have no agenda about breastfeeding; this is just what I do,” she says. “I hope to help other women who also breastfeed to not feel awkward or abnormal doing it.”