By Tracy G. Cassels
When it comes to breastfeeding, there is no celebrity parent quite like Salma Hayek. If you happen to be one of the few people on earth who missed her splash in 2009, Ms. Hayek travelled to Africa (Sierra Leone to be exact) on a goodwill mission for a tetanus-vaccination project. However, instead of bringing the world’s attention to this particular project, she managed to bring breastfeeding to the forefront of the news. And it wasn’t because of her rather enormous breasts (though I’m sure it helped the news front), it was because she stopped and fed a starving African child – and by fed I mean breastfed.
Apparently in Sierra Leone (and other parts of Africa), children are being weaned way too early (especially given the lack of other sustenance there) because husbands believe that a woman can’t have sex while breastfeeding and would like to, you know, have sex again (cue most Westerners shaking their heads in disbelief). In order to help dispel this myth and the stigma that’s been built up against breastfeeding, Ms. Hayek decided to document her feeding this child and publicly share it. The video of her breastfeeding this child showed up everywhere on the news in Western nations and sent everyone into a tizzy. Entertainment Weekly even labeled the video its “biggest eyebrow raiser” of the day when it aired. Why was this video such a big deal? I mean, in Western nations, do we not accept that women can nurse and still have sex? Well, we may look to certain African beliefs and wonder how on earth they believe such a thing, but we have plenty of our own bizarre ones and nursing another person’s baby is definitely one of them.
Because breastfeeding has become so sexualized, most Western women would not feed another woman’s baby and most Western men find the thought disgusting. This, despite the fact that evolutionarily it used to be that if mom couldn’t feed her baby at any given time (for whatever reason) another lactating woman in the group would. It’s akin to spoon-feeding another person’s child in our culture. Ms. Hayek realized the ridiculousness of this stigma that we have and so not only did she manage to publically work towards ending the stigma about breastfeeding in Sierra Leone, she also managed to make us Westerners sit back and ask ourselves why we’re so against the idea of breastfeeding another person’s baby.
In addition to breastfeeding another woman’s baby, and doing it proudly, Ms. Hayek has also been outspoken about the benefits of breastfeeding. While many celeb moms like to talk about how great it is for losing that baby weight (as if that’s the only real benefit), Ms. Hayek has taken another route and focused on the good it provides her daughter. When her girl was 13 ½ months, Ms. Hayek was quoted as saying, “It’s like, I don’t care if I cry, I don’t care if I’m fat, I’m just gonna do it for one more week, one more month. Then, when I see how much good it is doing her, I can’t stop.”[i] Sadly, comments from ignorant individuals proliferated after she admitted to extended breastfeeding of her daughter. One person claiming to be a licensed psychiatrist wrote in to a site saying that breastfeeding beyond a year is akin to a form of child sexual abuse and that women use it to “fill an emotional void”[ii]. Here I thought you had to go to medical school to become a psychiatrist and so anyone who’s done that should have learned about the extensive benefits of breastfeeding, but apparently not. Given the unbelievable ignorance that has proliferated in our culture, it’s always nice to have a public figure stand up and tout the many benefits of breastfeeding. While Ms. Hayek is doing what many of us moms do on a daily basis without all the hoopla, I think most of us cheered a little when we got to see her make it all so public, ignorant people’s opinions be damned. So to Ms. Hayek and her incredible love of breastfeeding, I salute you!
Remember – there is no shame, only love, in extended breastfeeding and breastfeeding another baby.
While many of us are unable to physically feed another person’s baby, there is always ample need for a mother’s breastmilk to help those moms who can’t breastfeed their child on their own.
If you live in Canada, there is one milk bank left in the entire country and it’s run by Women’s Hospital in Vancouver, BC. Although located on the west coast, women from all over the country can both utilize and donate to it. For more information, please go to http://www.bcwomens.ca/Services/PregnancyBirthNewborns/HospitalCare/Breastfeeding.htm#Milkbank for a list of FAQs and contact information.
If you live in the United States, several states have milk banks which you can donate to. I don’t know how each of them sets their standards or if they take donors from out-of-state (if you live in a state without a milk bank), but a list of all the milk banks in the US, with contact information, can be found here: http://www.hmbana.org/milk-bank-locations.
If you live in the United Kingdom, you have 17 milk banks (go you!) and the primary site with information and how to donate is found at http://www.ukamb.org/. And as an aside, I love their motto – EVERY DROP COUNTS. (Yes, it does.)
If you live in Australia, it seems that there is only 1 milk bank that is run as a volunteer effort. I can’t speak to the standards and screening that go on there, but you can find out more information and how to donate by going here: http://mothersmilkbank.com.au/.
If you don’t live in one of these countries and want more information, I would be happy to help you find it, just contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And of course, no matter where you live there is the always-wonderful Human Milk 4 Human Babies network which is GLOBAL. Here you will be able to network with other moms who may live in your area and need breastmilk. This is not a regulated endeavor and is running solely on the goodwill of mothers everywhere. Do not donate here if you know you have a communicable disease or are taking medications that may affect a baby. Be honest as we don’t want to see such a wonderful grassroots project come under fire because people weren’t careful enough.
Good luck and happy breastfeeding!
[i] http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1878917,00.html (Accessed July 27, 2011)
[ii] http://hoydenabouttown.com/20081112.2541/salma-hayek-and-the-anti-breastfeeding-cocktail/ (Accessed July 27, 2011)