child breastfeeding

Woman Asks If She Was Wrong To ‘Emergency’ Breastfeed Her Friend’s Baby

Despite the advancements we’ve made with women’s rights, there is still plenty of stigma surrounding breastfeeding. This woman had to make the tough decision to emergency breastfeed her best friend’s baby, and now her friend won’t speak to her. The question now remains: Is it okay for a woman to breastfeed another woman’s child? (1)

Woman Emergency Breastfeeds Her Friend’s Baby

Last year, a Reddit user was left confused as to whether or not she did the right thing by emergency breastfeeding her best friend’s two-month-old baby. Her friend was furious and now refuses to speak to her. To get some insight she posted her story to the popular forum Am I the Asshole to get more opinions. (1)

The user starts off by explaining that her friend never truly wanted to be a mother. She was apparently disconnected from the pregnancy and has been struggling to connect with her child because of severe postpartum depression. (1)

“I’ve been trying to help, however, I gave birth to my second child about two weeks after she had her baby, so I’m needed at home with my family.” she wrote. (1)

She knew, however, that her friend needed some downtime where she didn’t have to be “mom”, so she offered to take care of the baby for the day along with her own child. (1)

The Packing Mistake

Her friend obliged and brought her son to the Reddit user’s house. She explains that her friend’s child has digestion problems, so can only take either breast milk or a specialized formula. The mother doesn’t breastfeed, so the specific formula it is. (1)

“I asked her if she had packed diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, and bottles in his diaper bag and she said yes. Then she left.” (1)

The day started out well until it came to feeding time. 

“I went to fix him a bottle and realized she hadn’t packed his formula,” she explained. “When I asked if she had packed bottles she answered literally, but I never specified if she packed formula as well, I thought it was given.” (1)

Now, the woman was stuck. She tried calling and texting her friend to see if she could drop off the formula. There was no response to either. She was home along with the two babies and only had one car seat, so she was unable to go anywhere that wasn’t within walking distance. Her husband was at work and she didn’t know any of her neighbors. (1)

Worried for the screaming, hungry child’s health, she decided that the only thing she could do was emergency breastfeed him herself. (1)

The Mother’s Response

Over three hours later her friend finally returned her call. She calmly informed her friend that she can’t ignore the calls and texts of the person taking care of her child in case of an emergency. She then explained the situation and why she decided to emergency breastfeed the child. (1)

The user, who made it clear that she was perfectly healthy and she knew her breast milk was safe, was expecting her friend to be apologetic and grateful. Instead, she got the complete opposite response. (1)

“She freaked out on me and accused me of some horrible things and then left,” she wrote. “She blocked me on social media, something I learned when a mutual friend told me Best Friend was saying some awful things about me online. I don’t know what to do, I can’t even talk to her about this.” (1)

Left questioning her actions, she asked the Reddit community for help.

Reddit’s Response to Emergency Breastfeeding

The overwhelming majority of commenters were adamant that she did the right thing. Though many had some harsh things to say about her friend, most came from the side of concern for the other mom. (1)

“Newborns need to be fed every 2-4 hours as you know. She forgot to pack the formula and ignored your calls and texts. You did what any mom would do…meet the needs of the poor kid.
I am seriously worried about your friend and the baby’s well being. Hate to be extreme but you may want to call CPS for a welfare check.”
said one user. (1)

The original poster responded, confirming that she and other friends have, in fact, called Child Protection Services to hopefully help their friend and her child. (1)

“I wouldn’t be the first friend who has placed a wellness call on Best friend, unfortunately. We have a few mutual friends (who were unable to come on short notice when this happened) who are really concerned with her disconnection. A caseworker visits her twice a week to do a wellness check and she’s got an order from CPS to be seeking mental health. We all do what we can to help but we all have our own busy lives so we can’t do everything. I wish I could do more.” she replied. (1)

The Stigma Around Breastfeeding

Other commenters talked about stigma and the immense pressure that moms are under.

“It’s not an odd reaction at all; it’s just misplaced. Mothers are under an intense amount of pressure to breastfeed. There’s a good bit of stigma that comes with not breastfeeding and using formula. Not only because of the health benefits and the idea of doing “the best” for your child, but also the warped notion of the “ideal mother” being about to biologically provide for their child, which leaves mothers feeling like failures for not breastfeeding. My mother stopped around 6 months and still feels guilty for no reason.” said one commenter. “So yeah, if I were a mother and not breastfeeding, I would feel super insecure about another woman breastfeeding my child. But that’s just because of personal insecurities and social pressure. OP did absolutely nothing wrong and I would have done the same in her position. Child’s welfare > parental psycho-social shit.” (1)

Another commenter agrees, citing how uncomfortable certain aspects of breastfeeding make many people feel.

“What were you supposed to do? I know people get weird about breastfeeding, I’m still nursing a three-year-old and I’ve heard it all, but you had nothing else to feed a hungry child because she didn’t bring anything. I say she should be thankful you felt comfortable enough to nurse him instead of leaving the poor guy hungry. Kudos to you for what you did, I think it’s great.” (1)

Is Breastfeeding Someone Else’s Baby Weird?

There is still so much stigma surrounding breastfeeding. Women are continuously shamed for things like when it is and isn’t okay to breastfeed, where women should and shouldn’t breastfeed, and how long it is appropriate to breastfeed for. On the flip side of that, moms who don’t or can’t breastfeed are also shamed.

The reality is that many women still get a bit uncomfortable when it comes to the topic of breastfeeding. While yes, it is a beautiful, more intimate way to connect with your child, at the end of the day the purpose of breastfeeding is nutrition.

Having someone else breastfeed your child, or you breastfeeding someone else’s, isn’t as strange as you might think. In fact, wet nurses and nursing has been around for a very long time and has a variety of reasons behind it. (2) These include (2):

  • A woman who wants to maintain a strong breast milk supply while their own child is unable (perhaps they are premature or sick).
  • Adoptive mothers who want to breastfeed may stimulate their milk supply, hire a wet nurse, or purchase donated breast milk.

Before formula was invented, it was common for women to breastfeed other women’s babies if that mother was unable to breastfeed herself. This wasn’t just about emergency breastfeeding either. Often this was done by a family member, however, wet nurses could also be hired. (2)

Since the invention of formula, this sharing of breastfeeding duties has become relatively uncommon in most western cultures, however, it does still exist in many others. (2)

Complications of Wet Nursing

Several test must be done before a woman breastfeeds another mother’s child to ensure everyone’s safety. (2) These include (2):

  • Testing both moms and all babies involved for infections and illnesses such as HIV.
  • Age-matching: The biological child of the wetnurse and the other baby needs to be close in age. Breast milk composition changes to suit the needs of the child as they grow.

For moms who can’t breastfeed themselves but are still uncomfortable about having another woman feed their child, they can talk to their doctor about breast milk banks. These doctors can actually write prescriptions so that the baby can get the nutrition that it requires. (2)

Emergency Breastfeeding is Not Wrong

While yes, there are legal complications to breastfeeding another woman’s child without her consent, sometimes emergency situations require quick intervention. If the other mom knows that she is healthy and infection-free, then to emergency breastfeed someone else’s baby in order to keep the child fed and healthy is a perfectly acceptable decision.

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Julie Hambleton
The Hearty Soul Team
Julie Hambleton has a BSc in Food and Nutrition from the Western University, Canada, is a former certified personal trainer and a competitive runner. Julie loves food, culture, and health, and enjoys sharing her knowledge to help others make positive changes and live healthier lives.