Another case of my comment on a site getting too long and turning into a post.
Hi, TBTAM! One of my favorite blogging ob/gyns had a post up about women breastfeeding each other’s babies in order to feel a sense of community.
I was involved in a discussion about this online with a bunch of mothers, the majority of them having breastfed at one point or another, after the Katrina disaster. I can attest that, like many moms I spoke to, my breasts hurt when I heard of babies dying because their moms didn’t have formula for them.
I am not making any sort of commentary on why these women chose (or didn’t choose) to formula feed, that is a question for another day, and no judgment is intended towards baby feeding choices.
I am just saying that we all agreed that our first instinct when hearing these stories was that we would have breastfed those babies if given the opportunity. Now, this is an extreme situation.
Interestingly enough, we all said that we would be comfortable breastfeeding another baby, but would be uncomfortable having our baby breastfed by someone else. However, none of us had been in a situation in which we would need our infant fed and we could not provide for them, so that kind of a judgment call may change depending on the circumstances.
An interesting side note, a poster on that message board said she breastfed a baby she was babysitter because she felt sorry for the baby for being only fed formula. This was without the mother’s permission, in fact, deliberately without it. There was an uproar about it being extremely unethical.
I trained with a midwife whose nanny used to breastfeed her babies if she was stuck at a prolonged labor. She was very comfortable with the practice, and encouraged babies with problems latching on to be nursed by more experienced mothers to see if it was a mother’s milk supply problem or a suckling problem.
Of course, our mothers were screened for hepatitis, STDs including HIV, etc. But, a negative screening is not a guarantee of a lack of risk of passing on something with adverse effects on to the baby. Drugs can concentrate in breast milk, even legal ones. She could have a new infection or even an existing one that wasn’t screened for. Allergic babies can have severe allergic reactions to foods eaten by the breast feeder.
These are also extremes, however, just like the Katrina example. Not very likely.
The same birth center participates in a milk donation project. The mothers are screened, and the milk is processed by a pharmaceutical company that prepares it into a supplement for babies in NICU. I am spacing out on the name of it right now. I am exhausted. I was at a medical conference this weekend, and back to school this morning at 8 a.m.
I was given the opportunity to breastfeed another woman’s baby once. I felt extremely honored to be given the opportunity. The mother was a close, close friend of mine, one I have known since childhood. I have lived with her. I was her doula.
She and her baby were having a very hard time establishing a breastfeeding relationship. We are not sure what the problem was, because she couldn’t have had more support or tried harder. She is now guessing it was due to the baby’s short frenulum. When I say she tried everything, I mean it, and it included letting me try nursing her baby once and seeing if we could figure anything out by that. I could tell the baby had a weak suck, but I didn’t know if it was because she was so much younger than my child was, or if it was something with the latch.
There are definite ethical and medical reasons why it is taboo in this society and it doesn’t happen commonly. Like any other health decision, it should be entered to with a good deal of consideration. Just doing it for some sort of companionship would not be worth the risks, in my judgment.