Sunday, May 25, 2008

Got milk?

Today in the morning service, we had a missionary from Nicaragua speak to our church. He told us a story to illustrate the amount of culture shock Americans encounter while living abroad. I thought it was funny, but as I thought more about it, I decided to share because it made me think more than usual.

He and his wife had some families to visit on an extremely hot day. They decided to leave their children in the care of a Nicaraguan family from their church. The smallest child was only five months old, and they didn't want to expose him to hours of heat. His wife nursed the child before she left him, and like all breast-feeding mothers, carefully timed her departure to make sure they got back before he became too hungry. She told the family they left their children with that the baby should be fine, and she would feed him again when they return.

After they finished all their visits, they returned to pick up their children and were surprised to find a happy baby. They were expecting a hungry infant. When they got back to their house, his wife tried to feed the baby (she was probably getting uncomfortable at this point), but the baby wasn't eating. The older daughter, who was only around four years old, told her mother that she didn't need to feed the baby because the babysitting family fed the baby already. The missionary wasn't sure what to believe, his daughter was only four, but she kept insisting that the family had fed the baby already.

After questioning her, they found out that the babysitting family had taken the fussy baby over to the neighbor's house because he was hungry, and the neighbor had a infant she was nursing. The neighbor was more than happy to nurse the missionary's baby also. His wife was a little shocked (to say the least). This just isn't something you do in America.

My question for you is why not? We understand that breast feeding is important to infants; many shopping centers and public places have areas set aside for nursing mothers. It is no longer uncommon to see a draped mother nursing her infant in public. There have been laws passed in most states protecting the rights of a nursing mother to feed her child in public.

Is another woman's breast milk harmful? We also have ways to donate breast milk to those who are unable to nurse their premature infants. Many hospitals accept donated breast milk and, after sterilization and testing, feed at risk babies who for one reason or another cannot digest formula. I know of surrogate mothers who pump and donate milk to babies that they have carried but are not genetically theirs.

Is it because of our view of privacy? Most people are still uncomfortable seeing another woman's breast during feeding, even one of a close friend. Don't misunderstand me, I was taught that what's under your clothes stays under your clothes. I always covered up when nursing in public, even at home while company was over. But in a culture where exposing the breast in advertisements and movies is normal, why is it that nursing a friend's hungry baby is taboo? It's not as if the baby is going to be traumatized. Most people don't recall memories formed that early in life.

Is it because of the special bond it might promote with another woman? We are quick to shift responsibility in other areas of our children's lives. Nannies, babysitters, and au pairs are accepted. They often give our children bottles, baths, and rock and sing them to sleep. Why not adopt practices held in many countries for years, and nurse infants that aren't our own? Wet nurses were used throughout history to feed babies of the rich.

I hope this made you think. Americans can be strange and completely oblivious to how strange we are.

I still don't think I'll be offering up my services. It just isn't done.

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Andrea Baker said...

This was a very interesting post. It made me think!

We miss you over at FAM! Hope to see you around soon.

Arasay Ontaguemay said...

Very interesting! I must say I never really thought about this...

T.Allen-Mercado said...

Interesting, thought provoking post. Thanks for sharing. I would certainly have no problem nursing another woman's child; a hungry infant take priority above whatever societal pressures one might have been raised under. My initial reaction upon reading that the child was nursed by another woman was, "Ooh that mom is going to be livid"! As I most certainly would have been, BUT I also have never used a sitter and think the whole concept of au pairs and nannies to be quite 'foreign' as prevalent as it is in America.

Deirdre said...

It's kind of gross but I can't exactly say why. I guess because it's nipples and boobs and all the sexuality and privacy that comes with that territory. I can barely allow myself to think that at some point I was breastfed myself. That disturbs me, and I'm a person who srongly believes in breastfeeding. So, the split goes deep with me.