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Grandmother ‘Breastfeeds’ Baby as a Soothing Tactic – How Would You Respond?

breastfeeding, pacifier

Boundaries, anyone?

Alright. Try to open your mind a little bit here if you can. Maybe. I don’t know. But I’d like to have a really thought-provoking discussion about this rather than hear a bunch of knee-jerk reactions over and over if possible, because everyone’s initial reaction to this is going to be, “OMG holy shit ew WTF?!” But here’s the thing: a lady wrote in to Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, to say that she caught her mother-in-law letting her baby suckle in order to quiet him back to sleep in the middle of the night. Now, obviously, grandma wasn’t producing any milk (powder, maybe?), and she was using her nipple as a pacifier. The mother was horrified, possibly considering this child abuse (tho she doesn’t come right out and say that, she did ask if she should call the police) and she kicked her MIL out of the house immediately. I’ll tell you Prudence’s advice, and then I want to hear your take.

Prudence says:

Seeing your mother-in-law turn herself into a human pacifier must have been quite a shock. Your poor infant son also must have been wondering why mom’s abundant supply was now Sahara-dry …. But the fact that this letter is about your mother-in-law’s nipple is enough to give anyone feelings of morning sickness. New parents get into all sorts of hassles with the grandparents over different styles of raising the kids. But this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a young mother having to say to her mother-in-law, “And I’d prefer you didn’t put your breast in little Jason’s mouth.” I completely understand your need to ask her to leave. But though your complaint would be a classic on the police blotter, it is not a matter for law enforcement. Your husband needs to have a very serious talk with his mother about boundaries—emotional and physical. He needs to explain that if she can’t respect and understand them, she will not have access to her grandchild. I’m also wondering if she might possibly need a mental health work-up because her behavior was just bizarre. In any case, if she keeps buttoned up, she should be allowed to have access to your son, but I understand if it’s a long time before she makes it onto the baby-sitting roster.

Now, I’m certainly not here to defend the grandmother’s actions. Nor am I here to say she’s some creepy child molester. I feel like this incident falls somewhere in-between. Like, I can sort of understand the inclination to use what really is nature’s pacifier as one, but I know I would never do it. Heck, a few months ago my daughter (who is 6) went through a phase of being obsessed with my breasts, and that made me feel really awkward. I didn’t hide them from her, and I wanted to encourage her understanding of the female body since before I know it she will have breasts of her own, but still, it was uncomfortable. I discovered other mothers had written online about daughters the same age being interested in breasts, and some mothers who were breastfeeding even younger children admitted to allowing a curious older child to try it again. I think every one of them said once was enough to satiate the older child’s curiosity and then they stopped asking. Eventually my daughter stopped paying attention to mine, too.

So what do we think? How do we deal with these weirdo breasts that are sexy but also practical and also nurturing? Are we too in our heads about these glorious pillows attached to our chests? What about breastmilk sharing or breastfeeding someone else’s child? Those practices exist today and have existed for hundreds of years. And what do you think about grandma using her nipple as a pacifier? I’m inclined to say inappropriate, but I don’t necessarily think she’s bonkers, based on this one isolated incident. You? Let’s get down to the titty nitty gritty, ladies!

Photo via iStock

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