Is TIME Magazine’s Breastfeeding Cover Just a Shock-Fest Sales Ploy?

The internet's a-buzz today about TIME magazine's provocative new issue showing a California woman breast-feeding her three-year-old son.

Breastfeeding has a way of getting people all upset (see: Beyonce, nurse-ins). I think it’s because every new mother spends a lot of her time worrying about whether—and how—what she’s doing right now will impact her kid when he or she grows up. So when advice (solicited and otherwise) rains down from all directions, instructing you to do exactly what it is you’re not doing lest your kid turn into a psychopath, it’s no wonder moms get a smidge defensive.

TIME Magazine gently stoked poured gasoline on that fire today with the online release of its latest issue (it hits newsstands tomorrow), which shows 26-year-old California mom Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her three-year-old son. The article talks about a decades-old trend called attachment parenting, a technique touted in The Baby Book by Bill Sears, which was published in 1992. Its practices—baby-wearing, breastfeeding into toddlerhood, co-sleeping—stem from the underlying belief that babies who spend more time in their mother’s arms are more likely to turn into well-adjusted children and adults.

The book is controversial, yes. And, sure, its methods have been making new headlines lately thanks to Blossom actress Mayim Bialik’s new book about attachment parenting. But what’s really getting the internet going are the photos accompanying the TIME story. I guess it’s one thing to read on paper, “This woman breastfeeds her three-year-old son,” but another to actually see it happening. What you get is a visual of just how old a three-year-old actually is—and, well, it’s kind of weird.

Plus, there’s the fact that this woman is ostensibly breastfeeding her kid well into toddlerhood in hopes upping his chances of turning out well-adjusted, but just how well-adjusted is a toddler shown breastfeeding on the cover of a national magazine really going to end up becoming? It might not scar him for life, in the sense that every day he’ll walk around with this dark cloud of embarrassment over his head. But I’m sure the cover will resurface at the most inopportune times—like when he begins dating, applies for college, applies for a job. The cover probably won’t be a full-on deal-breaker in any of these venues, but if you met this kid in 20 years, Googled him, and realized this was the same person as that, wouldn’t you … have a few questions?

So the photos and headlines and general shock-value execution of this story—which, I’ll remind you, is 20 years old at this point—makes you wonder: creepy marketing ploy, or genuine stab at journalism? This about nails my position on the matter, but feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.