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Nursing Someone Else’s Baby

By Sierra Black |

3722042283_5598e961a3_mJennifer Spiegel is suing a Chicago hospital for $30,000 in damages because, one night in 2008, a hospital nurse brought her the wrong day-old infant boy, and she mistakenly nursed him.

Today, Motherlode invites readers to weigh in on the question of nursing someone else’s child: would you?

I can understand Spiegel being distraught at the mix-up, but I have a hard time seeing it as grounds for a lawsuit.

But maybe I’m a little biased. I’m nursing someone else’s baby right now.

My best friend’s 6-month-old daughter is on my lap, nursing contentedly as she falls asleep. I babysit her twice a week so her mom can teach a course at the nearby university, and nursing her is the obvious, easy way to feed her.

I’ve nursed three babies other than my own, and both my kids have latched onto other mamas’ breasts.

This used to be a common thing, but today it’s unusual enough to raise eyebrows. And apparently anxiety-provoking enough to fuel lawsuits.

I’m distressed that this lawsuit is coming from the mom who mistakenly gave some of her milk to someone else’s child. The baby could potentially have been harmed if Ms. Spiegel had a blood-borne infection like HIV or hepatitis, but what harm was Ms. Spiegel exposed to?

It’s not that I think hospitals should be cavalier about passing babies around to any new mom on the ward. But I think women should be doing everything we can to normalize and destigmatize breastfeeding. Suing because The Wrong Baby nursed from your breast hardly makes  breastfeeding seem normal and healthy.

Really, nursing is just a normal part of life. Our breasts make milk after we give birth, and if a baby suckles them, they continue making milk. It’s food for babies, any baby. Breastfeeding isn’t some arcane ritual or the parenting equivalent of sexual intimacy.

Yes, gazing into your babies eyes as she nurses can be a deeply bonding experience, one you may not want to have with a tiny stranger. But it’s also a simple, dare I say natural, means to deliver food to a hungry baby.

The more we can demystify that, the fewer articles I’ll have to write about women being kicked out of shopping malls and restaurants for feeding their babies.

What do you think? Would you nurse someone else’s child? Have you? What would you do if you nursed the wrong baby by accident?

Photo: Summer

More by Sierra Black:

Honey, Don’t Bother the Gray Lady. She’s Busy Angering Mommy Bloggers

Should You Have Kids?

Did You Really Call That Kid A D-bag?

The Baby Sleep Wars

Will Your Son Abuse His Girlfriend?

More on Babble

About Sierra Black

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Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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37 thoughts on “Nursing Someone Else’s Baby

  1. Heather says:

    I think what surprises me more is the fact that the mother didn’t realize that it wasn’t her baby. I am not saying that in a mean way, just surprised. I found with my two kids, that I could tell them apart from other babies very easily, even when I was dead tired and half asleep.

    As for nursing another woman’s baby, Nursing was never something that came easy for me, or my children, but if it had, and I had the opportunity, I don’t see why not, women pump and donate breast milk all the time. While it is not the same, It is not that much of a stretch.

  2. Natalie @ Naddy's Blog says:

    I’ve never nursed another mom’s baby, but I’ve pumped for my friend’s baby who wasn’t doing well on formula (mom was on meds, was told not to nurse), and if that (tiny) baby hadn’t been willing to take a bottle I’d have nursed her in a heartbeat.

    I wouldn’t nurse a stranger’s baby (unless it was a true emergency w/no other option) because of the health risks, especially since my own nursling depends on me. But if a good friend needed me to, I would. And I would hope my mama friends would do the same for me.

  3. Em says:

    Really, Heather? Honestly, when we were still in the hospital, I’m not sure that I would have been able to tell my son apart from other babies, especially as a first time mom.

  4. Jody T. says:

    “Booo” to the hospital for the mix-up, but “thank you” to the mom who inadvertently nursed the wrong baby…I’m sure the little one was starving.

    I’m a new mom (LO is 8 1/2 months old and I still nurse her 2Xs a day), and if my little girl wasn’t in my room most of the time, I don’t think I would have recognized which squishy-looking baby was mine if it latched on.

  5. Jill says:

    I think the traumatic part would be knowing that my OWN baby had NOT been fed. Why aren’t you mentioning that?

  6. GtothemfckinP says:

    I’m with Heather, for starters. Number 2…not a problem if you have a home birth and the only baby around is yours. Three, no big deal if you do accidentally nurse another kid, or if you choose to do it on purpose. I personally wouldn’t want to do it unless I was in some kind of crisis situation.

  7. Featherenmama says:

    I’d like to think I’m open minded, but this “nursing other people’s babies” thing is hippie-dippie weirdness and v. creepy. There’s a REASON it’s made fun of in “Away We Go.” I’m in the midst of nursing my tiny newborn, and it DOES feel intimate, and important, and special. And please don’t give me that “it’s the same when women donate their breast milk” b.s. because the bonding clearly doesn’t come from the pumping – it comes from holding that little baby you’ve made and feeding and nourishing his/her little body.
    Furthermore, despite the fact that I’m NOT the earthy-crunchy granola-eating type, hands-down I would’ve known my own baby in the hospital if she’d been mixed up with another. No question. Even on post c-section morphine.

  8. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Featherenmama, thanks for reminding me that I want to rent that movie. Sierra, I think the agreement you’ve worked out with caring for and nursing your friend’s baby is one to be commended. I’m also not going to question anyone’s not recognizing their newborn in the hospital. I’m not so confident as to think I couldn’t make a mistake. That’s why my husband accompanied my son when he had to be away from me in the hospital, a grand total of 10 minutes in 4 days. I’m also interested in how much support is being thrown this woman who nursed someone else’s baby and decided to sue. I remember a story on Babble quite a while back where a woman had her baby nursed by another mother and the hospital refused to identify who her child had been with, citing privacy. I thought that was a worthy case, but most commenters shot me down with, “oh, she’s just in it for the money.”

  9. dewdrop says:

    I guess I’m in between here – I actually would be ok nursing another baby, but I wouldn’t want my daughted nursing from someone else. It does feel initimate and, rationally or not, it would make me jealous. Still, your comments about normalizing breastfeeding resonate, and I’m trying to think of it that way :-) .

  10. Sarah says:

    Gotta say I agree with the author (though I’ve never cross nursed myself) and Heather completely.

  11. Heather says:

    Yes, in the hospital, with my firstborn, full of morphine from a c-section, before I even met my son (other than the few seconds they showed him to me on the operating table), I was able to tell instantly which baby was mine.

  12. Poppy says:

    of course i would nurse another baby. what a silly twit this jennifer is. how could she possibly be damaged by nursing someone else’s baby?

  13. JEssica says:

    I remember the first time I saw my son, I don’t think I could have mistaken him after that, but I concede not every woman may be as imprinted with their child’s image as I was. And I vote no big deal on nursing another’s child.

  14. Priscilla says:

    Comments I respect the fact that different people may have different ideas, but for myself: I’m sure I would have recognized all my babies after they were born. I have nursed other babies. One, that I babysat for, nursed regularly for about four or five months, often with my daughter at one breast and him at the other. Much easier than fixing a bottle, holding it, and explaining to my toddler what that was! I also nursed another baby once when her mother was away a bit longer than expected. No problem. A friend tried to nurse my daughter but she wouldn’t accept it; she was about six months old at the time. To me, it’s a very natural thing, not to mention the easy way to do it!

  15. Chip says:

    I’m not equipped to nurse anyone’s baby, but I have a hard time understanding why people get bent out of shape about cross-nursing when they’ll happily feed their kids milk from any old *cow*.

  16. jenny tries too hard says:

    As crazy as it is, I like to think I would’ve known, too. When I had the twins I had to go to the NICU to see them, and when I was washing my hands in the little room at the NICU entrance, I heard the most bloodcurdling, tortured-cat screech, and I thought “yep, that’s my baby” Sure enough, it was one of mine, the other babies in that part of the NICU were all sleeping.

  17. There’s another interesting angle here to think about, a potentially huge benefit to nursing someone else’s babies and having your babies nursed by other women. Babies immune systems are built by the antibodies they get from breast milk, at least in part. So if a baby is nursing from multiple ladies, baby gets a nice spectrum of antibodies to build a happy and healthy immune system!

    Also, and maybe my opinion doesn’t really count since I haven’t given birth or nursed a baby, but I think occasionally nursing duties is both cool and in keeping with the “it takes a village” idea.

  18. Rachel Shadoan says:

    Edited for coherence:

    There’s another interesting angle here to think about, a potentially huge benefit to nursing someone else’s babies and having your babies nursed by other women. Babies’ immune systems are built by the antibodies they get from breast milk, at least in part. So if a baby is nursing from multiple ladies, baby gets a nice spectrum of antibodies to build a happy and healthy immune system!

    Also, and maybe my opinion doesn’t really count since I haven’t given birth or nursed a baby, but I think occasionally sharing nursing duties is both cool and in keeping with the “it takes a village” idea.

  19. LolaLane says:

    As long as my baby wasn’t hungry and another baby was, I would definitely nurse someone else’s baby. It’s a renewable resource.

  20. Maria says:

    Comments
    I think I would have been more concerned about the hospital mixing up the babies and bringing me the wrong one as opposed to being upset that I nursed someone else’s baby. If the hospital brought the wrong baby for feeding time, imagine if they had tried to send the wrong baby home with the mother. Of course, I also agree that I would have recognized that I had the wrong child. As soon as I saw my children I memorized their faces. All other newborns looked the same to me, except mine. I knew them the instant I saw them.

  21. Cheree says:

    Funny how uptight people get about a baby drinking another human mother’s milk, but have no problem giving powdered milk from some unknown cows (notice the plural!) in crowded living conditions.

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  23. Manjari says:

    I definitely knew my twins after the first time I saw them, and I was able to immediately tell one from the other, so I’m sure I could have distinguished either of them from an unrelated baby.

    I don’t understand why this mother would sue, except that she’s just thinking she might get away with it and get some money.

  24. ann05 says:

    Traumatic labor and delivery here, with kid whisked off to the NICU and didn’t see him for days. I assume he’s mine. The notion that I should just know though? Eh. I like him enough I’m not giving him back. If needed I would nurse another kid and/or let a mama I trusted nurse mine. I mean, people feed their kids cows milk (so weird). This is at least milk designed for humans.

  25. TC says:

    I hate to say it, but I really feel that suing the hospital over this is pretty lame. Seriously, so what?! You nursed another hungry baby. And, opportunity comes for you to make a buck.

    I’d be more upset with the hospital giving me someone else’s child than with actually nursing someone else’s child.

    Another frivolous lawsuit (and we wonder why expenses and CYA costs are so high).

    With both of my babes, I knew they were mine. No mistaking from the get go.

    And, nursing another child really is no big deal. Nursing is natural.

  26. JBoogie says:

    I can see how it would be a little awkward at first, but I think I’d get over it. So no big deal, I’d nurse another baby.

  27. Jen says:

    I don’t see the issue with nursing any baby. I know I don’t have any diseases that would harm the child. But for my own, I would be concerned about disease transmission from someone else. I would only ever let someone like a sister nurse my baby besides myself.

  28. CrickettSongs says:

    When my son was first born, I remember thinking that if I saw him in a lineup of similar dark-haired babies I might not know which one was mine. I loved him, but I was really exhausted and he was really swollen.

  29. LAMR says:

    I would have no problem breast feeding a child that isn’t mine. Breast is best and I hate the thought of any child having formula mine or not. the only reason I would be upset is because what was my child given? I can only hope at best that the other mother breastfed her.

  30. Shelly says:

    Loved the article and agree with you wholeheartedly. I would LOVE to nurse someone else’s baby and would be happy to have my baby nurse elsewhere. I think the immune system effects alone are a good reason to share nursing, but I also like the idea of my baby having a close connection to other nurturing influences. I feel a little sad that I haven’t had an opportunity to share nursing with my dearest friends, but who knows, maybe someday!

  31. Tabatha says:

    my only concern for both sides would be to make sure the nursing mothers did not have some kind of disease or illness. Other than this, I nurse all 3 of my babies and would do it for another little angel…I’m clean, babies hungry, you do the math lol

  32. LittleElf says:

    My mother could not breastfeed she had a friend that had a baby about the same age as me and her friend breastfed me along with her own daughter.THERE WAS NOTHING HIPPIE-DIPPIE OR WIERD OR CREEPY ABOUT IT.It was one mother helping another and sharing a wonderful gift.It’s people that say things like that,that help to stigmatize breastfeeding.Once upon a time there was no such thing as formula and if a mother could not breastfeed other mothers helped so a baby did not go hungry.There were wet nurses.Why it’s being made a big deal out of i’ll never understand.This woman breastfed someone else’s child her child was not breastfed by a stranger so the lawsuit is ridiculous.

  33. dawn says:

    My daughter’s daycare mixed up her bottle with another baby’s. They both contained breastmilk. What i find interesting is that both babies refused to eat.

  34. Christian Beth says:

    It should be the baby’s parents who get the money…not the dumbass who doesn’t even know her own baby! I’m a brand new first time mom and I knew who my baby was and could even tell it was my child by his cry when they’d bring him to me. I also work in the medical field…hospitals have safety measures in place to prevent this…so what happened?! Even though I had my baby at the hospital I work at, EACH time they’d bring my baby back to me, they had to confirm with me and match up the unique number on his ID band with the number on my ID band. It’s the baby she fed I’m concerned for since soooooo many diseases can be passed through breast milk!

  35. Christian Beth says:

    Dawn, now THAT’S scary! Glad they didn’t drink! Although people are human and can make mistakes…your scenerio is WAY more concerning to me!

  36. tig says:

    Dawn…maybe it’s cause it smelled wrong to them? Babies have a senstive sense of smell right?

  37. Anna says:

    In the hospital where I had my baby she was never apart from me, I had a C-section even. After she was born they did the usual weight, length, footprints, etc, all in the same room with my husband standing next to our daughter and me on the table. She was then handed to my husband all wrapped up and we all went to the recovery room together. After recovery we went to our room where we all stayed until we left the hospital. My daughter never left my sight from the moment she came out. I think it should be that way at all hospitals… obviously unless there were some sort of medical situation that prevented it. This would make it really difficult to mix up babies don’t you think? I’m not even sure why they have nurseries any more? I would have been terrified to have my brand new baby taken out of the room by anyone other than me or my husband, even by a nurse.

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