1.00pm, 10 September 2008
We all know breast is best, but does it really matter whose breast? GMTV’s Kate Garraway travelled the length and breadth of the UK and the US in search of those many would consider nowadays to be on society’s periphery – women who wet-nurse or cross-feed. The programme was broadcast last night on C4 entitled ‘Other People’s Breastmilk’ and confronted the notion of women who breastfeed other people’s infants and/or offering their own children up to be breastfed by another.
Breastfeeding is more than nutrition, it is time bonding with your child, as Kate herself highlights. So when another woman steps in, this process is eroded. But is it? I want to be rational about this and say it’s all about infant nutrition, breast is best and if for some reason I was unable to breastfeed my baby, I’d want her to receive the superior nutritionally-balanced breastmilk. So what was it as I watched friends swap babies and continue breastfeeding that made me feel somewhat squeamish, embarrassed, heading towards moral outrage, sense the potential for jealousy, issues for partners. Were they all so liberal and I’m just a stuffy somewhat prudish Brit? After all, wet-nursing has been integral to human society. Read the history books, it’s all there. And for many it’s still culturally acceptable. But why is it not in most Western societies nowadays? Why is it such a taboo? Why did women want to remain anonymous on the programme?
One woman was feeding her baby and expressing at the same time, the expressed milk was being sent to the local milk bank to feed premature babies on local neonatal units. I felt a sense of pride at this – good on her, what a brilliantly selfless act. A woman returning to work, a friend of hers is still breastfeeding and planning to stay at home, they have an arrangement – the stay-at-home mum breastfeeds both children. Both receive the goodness of the breastmilk and neither faces formula. In theory, that seems agreeable. So is it no more than a woman’s selfishness and possessiveness that would deny her child this option should it be available? And what if a woman can’t breastfeed or doesn’t produce enough milk – wet-nursing could be the answer.
I do feel I should mention at this point that there was no reference in the programme about a crucial issue – that of cross-infection.
I’m not sure if the message the programme tried to present was too mixed and only reinforced the fact that in general Western society doesn’t really accept breastfeeding as a whole. Introducing a mother who still breastfeeds her four- and five-year-old was not actually what the programme was supposed to be about, and only seemed to muddy the waters even further.
I think ultimately I want to be rational about the issue – I hope I would think about what is best for my child. Breast will always be best. But why does the notion of bottlefeeding another woman’s breastmilk now feel more acceptable than having the child latch on to her breast? I’m confused. What do you think?
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