Thursday, February 12, 2009

Breastfeeding another's baby

Time Magazine has an article in its Health and Science section about Salma Hayek breastfeeding a hungry baby in Sierra Leone. The fact that this is newsworthy is pretty sad in my opinion. Even sadder is the “squeamish” reaction the author describes in the U.S.

According to the article, Hayek did it both to give food to the child and to promote breastfeeding to African men, who discourage it because they think a woman can’t have sex while breastfeeding. I’m afraid many of the Americans who are so critical sound a lot like the African men Hayek is trying to address – focusing more on a woman’s body as a sexual instrument rather than as a means of feeding her child.

When River was six-months old, I visited an orphanage in a developing country. The first thing I did upon arrival was to tell the staff that if there were any babies in need of breastmilk, I was willing to breastfeed them. There weren’t, but I would have been glad to donate a resource I had available and that could have helped them.

A little later, when my milk supply was low, my sister-in-law’s sister gave River a bag of her pumped breastmilk. Some in my family thought it was strange. I admit it was even weird to wrap my mind around. But in the end, I realized it didn’t matter that it wasn’t mine, that River benefited from the immunological properties in the breastmilk and I appreciated her sharing. River didn’t seem to notice the difference.

When my supply really started to decrease, had an option been available to either buy another’s breastmilk or use a wetnurse, I would have been happy to have those options available in addition to formula.

I think we as a society need to pay less attention to what we think the role for women’s bodies should be and respect whatever women, of their own free will, decide to do with their own. If their decisions result in a better outcome for babies as well, how can anyone really complain (unless they are coveting that breast for their own enjoyment)?

Have you ever shared breastmilk or used breastmilk from another?

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