Breastfeeding other people's babies by Vicki Moore


Oh Sam, can you just breastfeed my child a minute?

Seriously, if those words came out of my mouth, I think my mum bestie may be taken slightly a back.  We were pregnant together, and have babies that are only a month apart, as well as 7 month old Elliot joining us now.  We experienced everything together, the birth, the labour horrors, colic, teething, sleep deprivation, toddler tantrums the lot.  I was unable to breast feed Elijah but never once in my wildest dreams would I have asked her to do it!  That’s a close friend, well to be honest we class each other as family. Imagine asking a stranger, someone you have never ever met before, knowing nothing about them to come and feed your child.  Not just with expressed milk in a bottle but to nurse them.  Well that it what Ronja Wiedenbeck did when she had to go into hospital and couldn’t breast feed her 11-month old child.

Now, I admire those who are able to keep up breastfeeding in that first year.  Elijah was formula fed until about 6 months and then weaned onto cow’s milk.  He also drank some water/ juice since about 4 months whether it was in a bottle or a sippy cup to complement the weaning.  I would say Elijah was fully weaned at around 10 months, I class this as him eating normal food and not having baby jars/ pouches.

Ronja had to go into hospital and was put on strong medication so she unable to breastfeed her son.  Now, I am sure you are all thinking oh so why doesn’t she express while she is there?  Apparently, he wouldn’t drink from a bottle or cup? At 11 months I have to say I do find this a bit strange.  It may be me being ignorant as I didn’t breast feed is it harder to get a baby to drink from a bottle or cup even at 11 months?  Elijah was a bit of a diva when we made the switch to bottles to a sippy cup but after half a morning he began drinking quite happily from the cup.  I was always told a baby wouldn’t ever intentionally starve themselves or de-hydrate themselves.  After a couple of hours, I am sure he would have begun feeding from the bottle. He must have been on solids to at this age?

The logical next step was of course, putting an advert out on a Facebook page asking for volunteers to feed her baby?!  The Facebook page in question is called the ‘breastfeeding yummy mummies’ page.  It is a closed group with hundreds of members.  I have to say its slightly intimidating when the whole ‘pro breastfeeding’ army descends.  Do they think I am a bad mother for formula feeding my son?  An even worse mother as he was in NICU?  Should I have made myself?  I suffered health complications and was advised not to breastfeed, it wouldn’t have helped Elijah anyway as it wouldn’t have repaired his heart defect.  Would they consider me a bad mother for thinking this was a highly illogical step to take just so that her son got breastfed?

Many volunteered to come and help her out by nursing her son.  I find this bloody weird.  People just waiting for posts wanting people to breastfeed their children and like that they are in the car and on their way?  One turned up in less than an hour and boom was feeding Ronja’s son!  Now, the first thing that pops into my head is… What do you know about this person?  Their medical history?  Let’s not forget that you are able to pass on bacteria, yeast, herpes, infections, and even HIV through breastfeeding normally via cracked nipples.  Is she doing some sort of screening process or does she not care?  Did she check they were on any medication?  How does she feel when she is sitting there with someone else feeding her child?  It baffles me.

In some cultures, there is ‘cross nursing’, ‘milk kin ship’ and people become ‘milk brothers and sisters’.  During the 19th Century many rich families hired a ‘wet nurse’ someone who was employed to feed their child.  This did tend to die out in recent years due to the health and hygiene worries.  This then got me thinking, if it was safe and in the child’s best interest why don’t the NHS and Health Visitors promote this?  I was unable to feed my son and this option was never provided to me, nor was donated milk.

Here, I think is where the tables turn slightly.  The NHS and many organizations such as Human Milk 4 Human Babies, will promote breastfeeding mothers to donate excess breast milk.  It can be used when babies are in NICU.  It is medically screened and regulated.  Although as I mentioned before I don’t think it would have made much of a difference in Elijah’s case I was a bit miffed I was never even given this as an option.  Does this mean they are not able to offer it to all?  Once you have picked formula and noted down the preference have you made your bed?

Alicia Silverstone has also started her own donation program for those who wish to use or donate breast milk for vegan mums.  Again this is not regulated or medically screened.  Breast milk is specific to the baby.  It changes to suit the baby whether they are ill, need more etc it changes colour and texture.  So how is it changing to suit a new baby?  What effect does the new milk have on the baby?  To me there just seems to be so many unanswered questions about the whole thing.  But I suppose it is slightly different when they are not actually asking you to nurse their child, instead it is just another bottle of milk.

NetMums did a survey and found that 1 in 25 mums have breast fed someone else’s child?  Are you fricking kidding me?  That’s like sitting in a baby music class and trying to spot the mum who will readily get her boob out for your child. I am not aware of any mums doing this!  Is it more discreet than this?  Are they doing it in secret?  I asked Sam how she would feel if I had asked her to feed Elijah.  She contemplated this for a minute and said if you really really wanted me to do it then I would have. I also asked her how she would feel if I was looking after her kids and I breast fed them, you could see with the expression on her face this is something she wasn’t really comfortable with.  As a mother, we are equipped with the ability to feed our baby (in theory that is) however in practice this is not always the case.  So when we are not able, have we failed as mother?  Of course not.  Boob, bottle, organic, non-organic as long as your child has been fed and is content then you as a mother have done your job.  I feel that some people have tunnel vision when it comes to what is best and things can get out of hand.

I may have been able to get my head around this lady letting 5 complete strangers (after 1000 came to her call) if we were talking about a newborn.  Newborns solely rely on milk, however an 11 month old?  Hmm I thought maybe it was because I hadn’t breast fed Elijah that I didn’t understand this but it turns out friends who have breast fed do not get this either.  The NHS advise you should breastfeed your baby until around 6 month of age.  Is there now so much pressure from midwives’, health visitors, pro breast feeders that when they cannot breast feed their child they are now turning to others to do it.
Are we making mums that want to formula feed so shit even though many babies thrive on formula and have done for years that feel the need to resort to extreme measures?  How long will it be for an informal agreement to go wrong?  For a child to get sick? One of these ladies even took the child home to nurse him through the day!

Do you think this will ever become an acceptable thing to do, and here is the big question is would you breastfeed someone else’s child?

Vicki blogs on Confessions of a NICU Mum.  Her blog was set up to confess honestly on what it's like to have a baby in NICU and for them to have open heart surgery at 6 months.  Vicki wanted people in the same situation not to feel alone or be ashamed of how they are feeling.  Also just for others to relate to the highs and lows of raising a toddler!