If anyone on the planet could convince men that breast-feeding moms can have a sex life, it would be Salma Hayek. The beautifully busty actress, on a trip to Sierra Leone to support a tetanus-vaccination project, nursed a starving baby she encountered while being filmed by ABC News. She did this, she told the camera crew, in part out of compassion for a suffering child, but also to help lift the stigma against breast-feeding in Africa, where men often think women can't have sex if they're still nursing. "So the husbands, of course, of these women are really encouraging them to stop [breast-feeding]," Hayek said.
But if breast-feeding is taboo in Africa, cross-nursing in which one woman suckles another's baby is taboo in the U.S. While crunchy sites like Mothering.com have exploded with hundreds of giddy posts praising Hayek for promoting the cause of breast-feeding, plenty of online reactions were more squeamish. EW.com gave the YouTube clip its "biggest eyebrow raiser" of the day award. (See the top 10 pregnant performers.)
Although donating breast milk is becoming more mainstream Nadya Suleman's octuplets have been consuming donated milk cross-nursing still conjures up the specter of wet-nursing, with all its class issues and antiquated notions about women's bodies yoked in service to others. The official word on cross-nursing is still nix. It seems that no institution, even those that support milk-sharing, is willing to endorse women who offer their milk without a breast pump serving as an intermediary. The Human Milk Banking Association of North America, which screens and distributes donated milk to hospitals across the U.S. and Canada, insists that banked milk be pasteurized before being distributed.
"Babies benefit from human milk donated by other mothers when their own mother's milk is unavailable," La Leche League says in its cross-nursing and wet-nursing statement. But, the statement continues, the group's breast-feeding advocates "shall not ever suggest an informal milk-donation arrangement, including wet-nursing or cross-nursing."
La Leche's concerns include the possibility of transmitting infections, a decrease in supply for the donor's own baby, psychological confusion on the part of the infant and the fact that the composition of breast milk changes as children get older.
But assuming that Hayek wasn't at risk of contracting anything from the baby who Hayek reported was healthy but whose mother simply had no milk none of these caveats seem relevant. Hayek's emergency nursing more closely resembles Chinese policewoman Jiang Xiaojuan's heroic breast-feeding of several babies orphaned by the May earthquake, and few would argue she was anything but a lifesaver.
Sure, it was only one feeding, and that baby who was born on the same day as Hayek's daughter will need a lot more milk to see him safely out of infancy. But perhaps Hayek's gesture will indeed make a difference to the breast-feeding cause in Africa. And if nothing else, the world's cross-nursers long equated with wet nurses and made to feel shame for their hippie ways suddenly have the most glamorous spokeswoman they could ever have imagined.