A Breast is a Breast except...
Last week was World Breast Feeding Week. A celebration of the natural method of infant feeding and a wonderful bonding experience for mother and child. Everything seemed to be going along swimmingly, until "Mama Jessica" shared a photo of her tandem feeding toddlers on the Mama Bean blog Facebook page with the hashtag #milksiblings. One might assume at first glance the boys are fraternal twins. However, the poster revealed one child was her 16 month old son and the other her 18 month old babysitting charge. Suddenly all hell broke loose.
The first issue the interwebs seemed to take offense to was the age of the boys. While "extended breastfeeding" is not extremely common in the US and the UK, the World Health Organization recommends nutritionally supplemented breastfeeding to age 2 and beyond. Why this is still an issue when scientifically we know that extended breastfeeding offers boosted immunity and improved health benefits for the infant and reduced risk of certain cancers for the mother?
The second issue the virtual masses seemed to react to was that one child was not her biological son. Wet nursing is a tradition as old as humanity itself. When a mother was unable to nurse her child, due to illness, circumstances, or death; another nursing mother would take in that child and nurse them. In the age of the Aristocracy, the Ton had commoner wet nurses for their children so they did not have to be burdened with the "tedium of nursing." Later, in the era of American slavery, it was very common (and tortuously unjust) for a slave to nurse her owner's children. Even after slavery was abolished, women of "means" often had women of the "working class," some were women of color, some were not, who left their own children at home and raised their employers children, including nursing them. The WHO recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed, if that is not possible, then they be fed expressed milk. If a mother expressing her own milk is not possible, the next recommendation is milk sharing, or wet nursing. If wet nursing from a healthy source is unavailable then the WHO recommends a milk bank. After all of those resources have been exhausted then formula supplementation with cup feeding is recommended. How different are those recommendations from modern America where the most common feeding method is formula, then breastfeeding supplemented with formula, then exclusive breastfeeding. Rare is the child who has shared milk and even rarer is the wet nurse.
The Ohio Doula supports ALL feeding choices. That includes exclusive breastfeeding, exclusive pumping, supplementation, wet nursing, milk sharing, milk banking, and formula feeding. My own breastfeeding journey was filled with challenges. We were blessed to have trusted donors for both of our children who ensured our kids got at least 25% of their daily calories, usually 50%, from breast milk. We saw 7 Certified Lactation Counselors and 2 IBCLCs during our breastfeeding journey that helped to support us. We were fortunate to have the support of family who ensured our children received the best supplementation available. We went through the fire with breastfeeding and we support ALL mothers on their infant feeding journeys.