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Would You Breast-Feed Someone Else's Baby?

Actress Salma Hayek's generous donation of her own breast milk to a starving African baby got me thinking: How many of us in her position would do the same?

Hayek has been on a humanitarian mission to Sierra Leone since September. "Nightline" has been accompanying her on that trip. The actress was still breast-feeding her 1-year-old when she put a starving African baby to her breast and shared milk (Watch the Nightline segment).

Hayek told "Nightline's" Cynthia McFadden that she didn't believe she was disloyal to her daughter by giving her milk away. "I actually think my baby would be very proud to share her milk. And when she grows up I'm going to make sure she continues to be a generous, caring person," Hayek said. The gesture was also meant as a move to diminish the stigma on breastfeeding in Sierra Leone.

Working Mother magazine's food editor Jennifer Perillo gave her impressions on NYC Moms' blog:

"I'm a nursing mama. Every time I look down at my 9-month old, suckling my breast, I can't help but feel grateful for the nutritious gift that will allow her to grow into a strong, beautiful girl. Hayek has been know for her charity work, but letting a hungry baby latch on for a healthy meal in a country where breastfeeding past the first few months is frowned upon takes 'giving of oneself' to new heights."

On momlogic, Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz compared the move to wet nurses:

"For centuries, poor, working class women and slaves served as wet nurses for generations of well-off, frequently white, babies. These babies' own mothers were constrained by the social norms of their own times that discouraged breast feeding. How ironic that in the new millennium, the shocker is that the well-off white woman would breast feed a poor African baby. Will guerrilla breast feeding become the next step in feminism's evolution?"

While reaction online has generally been positive, there is a question of whether this was a good idea and safe for the starving boy. While casual sharing of breast milk happens, it's not something that moms often admit to. To become a milk donor through a milk bank, such as the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), a mom must undergo a blood test and screening to ensure that her milk is safe. And then, that milk is pasteurized and tested for bacterial growth before it is donated to babies in need.

Obviously, that process wouldn't have been available to Hayek in Africa. I've put in calls to La Leche League and the Human Milk Banking Association to get their thoughts on Hayek's generosity. I'll let you know if I get a response from them.

What do you think of her actions? Have you ever breast-fed another person's baby or given a friend in need milk? Would you?

4 p.m. Update: I heard back from Pauline Sakamoto, the president of HMBANA. Here are her thoughts about Hayek's actions:

"When I saw Salma Hayek, I was totally blown away. This is so wonderful. What a potential public relations piece when you have this beautiful person inside and out and she sees child crying and she’s able to partake and give this child something no one else can inside the room. It’s pretty amazing. I really support what she does. Although there are some issues. I can’t say enough positive things about that piece. This person is incredibly giving." Sakomoto went on to say that there are some small risks involved because certain viruses and bacteria can be passed from mother to child and vice versa. She complimented the fact that there were medical staff around her -- seen in the video -- who were there to keep Hayek and the child safe. Sakomoto calls the sharing risks that Hayek took small, particularly in comparison to the needs of the starving child.

By Stacey Garfinkle |  February 13, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Babies
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I think what Salma did is generous and compassionate. I have a 5 month old and have never even thought of BF someone else's baby. However, I have never been put in the situation she was in. I live a very comfortable life in MoCo and I have never even seen a starving baby. I hope that if I had the chance to help I would, whether it's sharing my frozen milk or BF.

Posted by: Guest1234 | February 13, 2009 7:37 AM | Report abuse

What I didn't see in the video was whether she asked the mother's permission. If she didn't then I find it to have been pretty presumptious and inappropriate. If she did, then I think it is lovely and certainly something that I would do. Who would refuse any kind of meal to a hungry child?

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 13, 2009 7:42 AM | Report abuse

Absolutely. I've never done it, and frankly, I can't now as I'm no longer nursing, but I wouldn't hesitate in a situation where there's a starving child. I can't believe the hubub this is causing.

Does anyone remember the James and Kati Kim story? They took a wrong turn in the Cascades and were stranded for days in freezing weather. That mother kept her children, a baby and a preschooler (who had stopped nursing) alive primarily because of her breastmilk. How wonderful that she was able to do it. Were people arguing that she shouldn't have been nursing a 4-year old then? Same situation: survival. Anyone who has a problem with what Selma Hayek did for a starving child needs to take a good, long look at themselves.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | February 13, 2009 7:44 AM | Report abuse

moxie makes a good point. I assumed that Selma Hayek had the mother's permission. If not, yes, definitely presumptuous.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | February 13, 2009 7:46 AM | Report abuse

The baby sure did look happy!

(watch the video.)

Posted by: anonthistime | February 13, 2009 8:14 AM | Report abuse

"...the shocker is that the well-off white woman would breast feed a poor African baby."
I think what Salma Hayak did was a wonderful example to set for the world. However, she is not white. She is latina.

Posted by: jebemc | February 13, 2009 8:53 AM | Report abuse

"milk is pasteurized and tested for bacterial growth before
it is donated"

Doesn't this process defeat the benefit of human breast milk? I'm beginning to think that sterilizing our children's environment is causing more health issues than preventing them.

On a different subject - I knew of an adult babysitter who would occasionally put the little ones on her own nipple to calm them down. When the neighborhood mommies discovered her technique, they went ballistic as if the babysitter commited some sort of sex crime. The dads just shrugged their shoulders and agreed that a happy, sleeping baby is a good thing.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | February 13, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Whacky, they do make pacifiers for that I think! Big difference between a starving child and a babysitter looking to calm.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 13, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

My kids are all on solid food right now, but when they were babies, it would have been a cold day in hell before I let someone breast feed them other than their mother.

Not that this was probably a risk in the case of Salma Hayek, who we can probably assume has decent medical care, but many serious infections diseases, including HIV and hepatitis, can be spread via breast milk.

For those of you who would let your kids get fed by some one other than their mother, are you sure that woman is healthy? I mean, really sure? I think you'd be 100x safer to just pop over to the local CVS and pick up some formula. Blasphemy, I know.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | February 13, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Moxiemom, a rubber pacifier is far from the real deal, ask any of my kids when they were 6 months old. Also, I'll agree with you that there is a difference between using the breast to comfort a hungry child and using the breast to comfort an anxious child, however, not so much as to hail one as a hero and the other as a sex criminal. And given that The starving child could just as easily gotten his nourishment from a bottle, I don't really see much of a difference at all.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | February 13, 2009 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Whacky, i agree about the difference, believe you me, I was a human pacifier - but I think the circumstances dictate the appropriate action. In any case, no one should nurse or suckly another woman's child without her permission. I'm guessing that the starving child is probably starving because there weren't any bottles and could certainly use any antibodies more than say a child in a developed country. Afsljaf....I don't think anyone here is arguing for wet nurses, but if my kid was starving, I'd sure be happy to have another woman nurse my child. I would like someone else to nurse my child on a Tuesday at Nordstroms. In many developing countries where they don't have CVS, or adequate nutrition, I think wet nurses could serve a very vital role. Again, circumstances.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 13, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

suckle and

I WOULD NOT like someone else to nurse my child on a Tuesday at Norstroms.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | February 13, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

However, she is not white. She is latina.

The point is that she is wealthy and wealthy women in the past did not nurse other people's children (or their own sometimes).

Also, the fact that she is latina does not preclude her from being white also. Hispanics and Latinos can be white or black or indiginous or mixed. I think her roots may be Lebanese and Spanish.

Posted by: emily8 | February 13, 2009 11:54 AM | Report abuse

A human pacifier? Hahaha! That just might explain why so many women view their husbands as big, overgrown babies. :-)

I would go so far as to say that unless a serious condition calls for immediate action, nobody should even *touch* or even offer food to a child without asking the mother's (or father's) permission. Good advice, but sheesh, the idea of a hands off, no touch society is disheartening to me.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | February 13, 2009 12:00 PM | Report abuse

I just watched the video, and the baby did look blissful while it was suckling. There are lots of reasons why breastfeeding may be crucial to that baby's survival. Formula requires that it be mixed with water, and we have no idea if the mother, even if she had access to formula, has access to clean water. And if this publicity helps the cause of breastfeeding in this country, then Salma may have done a great public service.

Posted by: emily8 | February 13, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

One very important point:

"The gesture was also meant as a move to diminish the stigma on breastfeeding in Sierra Leone."

It hasn't been that long that there was a stigma on breastfeeding in this country. Breastfeeding mothers still occaisionally receiving scathing looks from strangers even when totally covered.

I agree that what Ms. Hayek did would have been inappropriate without the mother's permission, but the idea was to show the women of Sierra Leone that breastfeeding was simple, convenient, and perhaps most importantly nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. Clearly bottle feeding is not working in a country where infants routinely starve to death.

Posted by: momofthree1 | February 13, 2009 12:23 PM | Report abuse

The thought had never occurred to me to share milk or even nurse another child until my 2nd decided she couldn't be bothered with a bottle. I had a freezer full of stored milk that I was desperate to not see wasted. I wasn't sure how my offer would be received but I made an offer to a family member with a preemie. When she wasn't appalled I was a little surprised. She was actually very grateful. I was able to donate almost a gallon of milk after being screened and with the support of my SO to a milk bank. What Salma Hayek did was unspeakably selfless and incredibly generous. The look in that baby's eyes says it all. Supporting another mom and newborn is one of the greatest gifts one woman can give.

Posted by: flabbergast | February 13, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

The original question was: "Would you breast feed someone else's baby". Yes. Undoubtedly. Without question. If I were in her shoes, yes, I would have done the same thing. Now if the question was put to me by a neighbor who was going out to get her nails done and asked me to sit her child, and "Hey by the way, since you are nursing yours, why don't you just pop one of those puppies out for my kid too while you are at it, huh?" then that is an entirely different story and "No, get lost freak."

Posted by: mrsboggie | February 15, 2009 9:27 PM | Report abuse

My mom used to take my sister to our next door neighbor's house to nurse. The neighbor had a set of twins, but still had enough for my sister, and my mom I guess, wasn't producing enough for my sister. I agree with Whacky that a "hands-off" society is disheartening, but at the same time, I get mad when people slip my stepdaughter candy or junk food without asking us first.

Posted by: smrtrnu | February 17, 2009 1:51 AM | Report abuse

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