Salma Hayek cross-nurses needy baby in Africa

Remember the fuss over Salma Hayek being “abusive” because she was “still” feeding her toddler?

Salma Hayek took a humanitarian trip to Sierra Leone. This video[1] shows her being there for the death of a baby from tetanus, speaking to a UNICEF representative, and travelling to a remote part of Sierra Leone.

At around -2:50, the voiceover says that many men discourage women from breastfeeding, as they believe they cannot have sexual relations with a lactating woman. There is a Mende taboo (read more from page 172 in this book [2], combined with the extreme success of breastmilk substitute marketing in Sierra Leone [ref]. Forced early weaning, and the withholding of colostrum (also common in the region) adds greatly to malnutrition and infant mortality.

Hayek is then shown on screen breastfeeding a sick little boy who is the same age as shares a birthday with her daughter. Hayek also recounts a story important to her and told to her by her grandmother, of when her great-grandmother cross-nursed a village child whose mother was lacking milk.

This video could have been done badly, I think, the concept of the privileged person jetting in from far away coming in and nursing the token sick babies, then wandering off again. But for some reason it works in this video, for me. She doesn’t barge in telling people what they need, forcing tinned milk and used ski equipment on them. She asks them what they need – the answer is breastmilk – and she has breastmilk, so she, almost automatically, just sits down and does what needs to be done. It’s rather beautiful, and rather reminds me of the story of the Chinese police officer nursing orphaned babies after the earthquake.

But just wait for the slobbering bilehowlers to start wanking over how “perverted” it all is. There will be some sore elbows tonight.

[1] Please excuse the Pampers marketing in the video. See also Bluemilk’s take on the publicity for this programme.

[2] “Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives” by Patricia Stuart-Macadam, Katherine A. Dettwyler, 1995.

Categories: Culture, ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, health

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28 replies

  1. Buuu, link to video ain’t working.

  2. But just wait for the slobbering bilehowlers to start wanking over how “perverted” it all is.

    What did they think a ‘wet-nurse’ did?
    Deus Ex Macintosh’s last blog post..Hamas steals from ordinary Palestinians

  3. – But just wait for the slobbering bilehowlers to start wanking over how “perverted” it all is.
    What did they think a ‘wet-nurse’ did?

    My year 10s classe’s response to the ‘Nurse’ character in Romeo & Juliet being a wet-nurse and not a medicial nurse and being told exactly what a wet-nurse does?
    I felt sad.

  4. Fab video. What a brave woman to witness that awful disease in babies and to face up to even stronger cultural objection to breastfeeding babies than she has in her own culture. A small point – the baby in the video is not the same age as her daughter, but born on her daughter’s first birthday.

  5. I love Salma Hayek so hard.

  6. @ QoT:
    Ditto, QoT
    I think that now, if I had breasts full of milk and was faced with a starving infant, that I would offer to nurse the child without a second thought. I hope that I would have done it 15 years ago when I actually was lactating but before I’d thought about stuff, but I’m not sure whether it would even have occurred to me. The carers of the starving infant would actually have had to ask me, and they may have not felt able to ask.

  7. Not your average celebrity “mission” visit to Africa.

  8. Good for her.
    Note that the whole breastfeeding todo is not about sex. It’s about something worse – intimacy – or the denial thereof. For these people, every person is an island, and even sex is just a full contact sport.

  9. For these people, every person is an island, and even sex is just a full contact sport.
    Le mot juste! 🙂

  10. Great story – shame it’ll be misused.
    Grendel’s last blog post..Shuffle

  11. Wonderful post, and I love Salma even more now.
    MomTFH’s last blog post..Cross-nursing, Hollywood style

  12. What’s she’s doing is showing compassion. Yay Salma. I thought of that wonderful Chinese cop too. What greater gift could we offer?
    Y’know, I’d got a bit thingy about feeding my two year old in “public” but changed my mind and have continued to feed him wherever when he’s keen. If those of us in a physical and emotional position to do so, can every little bit helps.

  13. This story made me cry, I love it.
    About 17 years ago I cross-nursed my best friend’s 8mth old baby, who was born ten days before mine, when she came down with a severe case of mastitis.
    This helped to keep him settled while she took care of herself.
    We’ve never told anybody for fear of the “ew gross” reactions we would certainly have received.
    I dread to think of what the msm will do with this story. I’ll probably cry all over again.

  14. This is beautiful, and absolutely the way it should be. Go Salma!
    Remember the ending of “The Grapes of Wrath?” So poignant, so understated, so sad, haunting, and natural. No “ewww” factor at all.

  15. I love this video. What a beautiful thing she did.

  16. The fact that breastfeeding has been relegated to a provocative news item is sad but it’s heartening to see the overwhelming support that Selma is receiving. Maybe people are finally coming around?

  17. Last week South Australia’s ABC 891 evening host ‘discussed’ Salma Hayek on his Goers’ Gals timeslot. Goers’ gals are mostly all well past breastfeeding age and their comments ranged from things like who would do such a stupid thing doesn’t she know that baby needs more than one drink to survive! Their comments mostly indicated their bemusement and awe at this personal publicity stunt.
    They were literally treating her like she was a self obsessed peepshow. When I rang in and said this is political – Salma Hayek is on a mission as a kind of breastfeeding Ambassador to Sierra Leone which is a country where the men discourage breastfeeding – as they hold a taboo that lactating women aren’t sexually available.
    So, despite my explanation they offered no kind of correction. I think this is more than just not deciding a correction is in order and that it represents a form of self censorship where the ABC doesn’t discuss violence against women discrimination/oppression of women and children etc where it is being perpetrated from cultural practices of an ethnic subgroup.

  18. their comments ranged from things like who would do such a stupid thing doesn’t she know that baby needs more than one drink to survive!

    *boggle* So Hayek feeding that starving baby while she happened to be there with milk to spare wasn’t worthwhile, because she couldn’t feed it forever? Keeping that baby alive long enough to have more time to find a permanent wetnurse wasn’t worthwhile?

  19. Giving the child some comfort regardless isn’t worth doing? What is it with these people?

  20. their comments ranged from things like who would do such a stupid thing doesn’t she know that baby needs more than one drink to survive!
    So, they’re part of the “bootstraps” school of thought? The kind that disapprove of any kind of assistance rendered on grounds that that will encourage laziness when dammit, these people could look after themselves if only they just worked harder? Cute. That kind of thinking makes me wonder how else they apply it in their lives.

  21. Right, so let’s never bother to help *anyone* for any reason, because one day they’ll eventually die anyway. It’s the same thinking that makes people say you shouldn’t give money to people who are homeless, cos it won’t buy them a house and they’ll just spend it on The Wrong Things.
    Besides, do they honestly genuinely believe that Salma actually thinks a baby *can* survive with just one drink??
    That assumption is sheer wilful stupidity in itself.

  22. The latest comments I’ve seen about this are along the lines of “Well, ok, Salma did it, and that was ok, but don’t try this at home people, because what if you give AIDS to someone else’s baby?”
    The “one drink won’t save the baby” is worth thinking about, however, the people who are jumping up and down about it in this case are off base. If someone does just jet in and feed babies for a short time (breastmilk or formula) then jet out, breastfeeding can be undermined, because mothers who could breastfeed will hold back in favour of the “superior” milk offered by the aid agencies, and this will leave them with low milk supply. This is one of the reasons formula and bottles should not be on the “Donate Now!” list for disaster situation appeals. (I can write or link to much more on this elsewhere, if you’re left feeling ‘but how do they feed orphans?!!’)
    But in this situation, I have confidence that that was not the case, because she was there with UNICEF. UNICEF are the world freakin’ expert on this issue; they co-wrote the Breastfeeding In An Emergency guidelines with the WHO, they are the most breastfeeding-supportive agency in the world. They provide very strong assistance for relactation and cross-nursing locally.

  23. It is so sad that breast feeding has moved from the mothering and nurturing of babies realm to the sexual realm.
    My mother (a European) had her babies in third world countries. She was one of these women who could feed 2 or 3 babies whilst only having one. No way were the midwives going to let this go to waste! Especially as the first milk is so rich in colostrum. Her breastfeeding was gratefully accepted for babies whose mothers could not feed them.
    (She does remember sore nipples though! Strange how that doesn’t turn one on)
    Having grown up with this notion, can you imagine my utter shock when 20 years ago after the birth of my son, in Australia, and leaking like anything with too much milk the excess was just thrown down the sink? I couldn’t believe this awful waste. I argued with the nurse, thinking it had something to do with consent or whatnot.
    I worry about people who give breastfeeding sexual conotations. It demontrates a discomfort about ones own body and physical closeness with another, as if that can only occur during a sexual act.

  24. I haven’t breastfed for 18 months – but that photo started the relactation process. (I was lactating on demand for 10 years and throughout 2 pregnancies. I also once tandem nursed at a breastfestathon – I regret now that I didn’t do it much in public space)
    This might be simplistic but I always thought that if it’s free that the lactaters ought to drink it to supplement their own nutrition i.e. what if anything is done to supplement the mother’s nutrition especially in Emergency situations? They have stronger immune systems so the water quality is potentially not so much of a problem as for a newborn?
    I feel for this topic as I have cross nursed two babies – the first when mine was 19/ 20 mos. old and the ‘orphan’ was about 4 mos. old and away with Dad for too long. She nursed happily, never met me before until she needed a rest until realising hey this is not the nice lady with the milk bar that i am used to and started getting a bit loud ..Her Dad quickly whisked her into the car for the long ride home and that was that. Problem solvered.
    The second time was when my son was almost finished at about 2.5 years (I had to hurry him along at 3 as i needed to start a medication) and with a little boy who was about 5 mos. old – he was spending a lot of time was his paternal grandma because his young Mum had lost custody of him. (There is still plenty to do re so much institutional bullying in regard to disability issues/pensions etc as y’all know so well and also a lot when it comes to single Mum’s and young Mum’s to be.)
    Anyway, the second time I ‘cross-nursed’ I offered the baby the breast but he politely declined in favour of a bottle from his grandma.
    Down with breast feeding taboo
    Go Hoydens


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