Saturday, March 6, 2010

Breastfeeding the someone else's baby? It really does happen

Thursday night on NBC's hit TV show The Office, fans welcomed Jim and Pam's new baby and watched in amusement as the sleep-deprived new dad picked up the wrong baby in the shared hospital room and handed her to his groggy wife to nurse.

In real life, though, the results aren't so funny. Back in February, I wrote a post for's Child Caring blog about an Illinois couple who is suing a hospital for making a similar mistake last year:

A Chicago couple is suing a hospital for negligence after the new mom was handed the wrong newborn to nurse.

According to an article in the Chicago Sun Times, Jennifer Spiegel was awakened by an Evanston Hospital staff member at about 4 a.m. the day after she delivered her son. A hungry baby boy was brought in, and Spiegel started breastfeeding him.

Soon after, a nurse walked in and told her that it wasn't her baby. "She said, 'The baby you're feeding isn't yours,' " Spiegel, 33, told the Sun Times. "It was just an awful, internal feeling."

Awkward? Sure. Awful? Possibly. But worth suing over? I don't think so. ... [More]

Now, this may be too much information for some, but even though the only children I've breastfed are the ones I gave birth to, I would have considered nursing someone else's baby. As I mention in my piece -- which I'm thrilled to find was picked up in yeseterday's New York Times -- breastfeeding someone else's baby used to be considered fairly normal: Wet nurses were popular in Europe, and in the United States, black slaves were routinely forced to nurse their white owner's babies instead of their own. In 19th-century Brazil, people placed ads in local newspapers, looking to purchase or rent slave women to act as wet nurses ("In the street behind Rua do Hospicio No. 27 we have for sale or for rent a black woman of the Mina nation with a six-day-old child, with very good milk and healthy..." reads one ad from a 1827 edition of Jornal do Comercio).

Click through to Child Caring to read my entire post, but if you're already a bit squicked out by the idea, consider this: There's little fuss over babies who are given breast milk that had been donated to a milk bank -- even hospitals bank breast milk for premature or sick infants -- which seems to indicate that the issue isn't about milk vs. formula, but bottle vs. (another mother's) breast. Is it the fact that our society still views breasts as sexual objects? Or is it about relationships -- would it more acceptable to nurse your niece or nephew instead of a stranger's child?

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