When I first heard that Salma Hayek gave breast milk to an African baby, I was initially ok with it. There are many babies in need around the world and I didn't see how Salma giving her milk to a baby in need in Africa was any different that moms in the USA donating their breast milk to a breast milk bank for other parents to obtain for their babies.
Of course, I made a huge assumption that Salma had offerred that baby pumped breast milk. It never enterred my thinking that she would actually nurse that baby herself.
Only hearing snip-its of the story, it wasn't until late last evening that I had a chance to see the actual video. Hayek was clearly moved by what she saw and tried to help do what she could about a bad situation. She tried to undo biases and teach a culture a lesson. I don't think anyone would deny that her intentions were heart-felt. However, she was short-sighted in the many cultural and health issues at play.
What Hayek failed to recognize is that it is not as simple as picking up a baby and refeeding that baby. Just offering breast milk from any breast isn't good enough. For breast milk to be safe, it must be screened for infection and pasteurized. That's the bench mark everyone who advocates breast milk donation strives for.
Developmentally, babies need to be fed by their own parents and caregivers. Those boundaries are important for all concerned. Time Magazine talked with the La Leche League who echoed these concerns and also emphasized their group never, ever supports cross-feeding in any form and advocates formal donations of breast milk when needed, not informal donations as Hayek did the other day.
Africa may have some extreme circumstances, but that doesn't mean we toss caution out the window. Hayek's intentions were well meaning but impulsive. This one moment in time will not harm this baby in the end but other babies will not fare so well given the high rates of HIV and other diseases in Africa if cross nursing occurs without thought.
If Hayek really wants to be a spokesperson for these people, she should work a bit more to learn from the experts in the area how best her celebrity status can help reteach the African people why breast feeding is so important and why it doesn't change a woman's sexuality. Perhaps her celebrity status could even help start a breast milk bank. There is a lot someone like Hayek can do to help, if she takes the time to really consult experts and act with her head and not just hear heart.©2009 Pediatrics Now. All rights reserved. PEDIATRICS NOW® is a registered trademark of Pediatrics Now.
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