Can I Breast Feed My Friend’s Baby?

Dear Mamas,

This might sound like a really crazy question, but can I breast feed a baby who’s not mine?

Last week my best friend left her 8 month old with me while she went to a doctor’s appointment. I have a little girl who’s just a month older, and we’re both still breastfeeding, though the girls are also eating solids.

My friend was held up when she had to wait forever for her appointment (I’m sure you know how THAT is), and poor little Leah was just dying to nurse.  Things got worse when I fed my Casey and Leah started to wail. I was so tempted to just hoist Leah up to the other side, BUT IS THAT OK?

I didn’t do it, and we spent a painful hour plus until her mom got back. So I need to know in case this happens again, is it alright to nurse someone else’s baby??

Dying to know, Pamela

Dear Pamela,

Your question goes back to the age of wet nurses, when it was common for wealthy mothers to employ help to nurse their babies. The practice is seeing a resurgence, and it’s not uncommon to find modern wet nursing situations.

Some women feel comfortable feeding a friend’s baby, and allowing that woman to breast feed her child in exchange. This is called cross-nursing or shared-nursing. However, cross nursing does have some problems and mothers should be aware of them before nursing another mom’s child.

One of the most common problems is the possibility of transmission of infections or medication from the lactating mother to the child. So if you have recently been ill with a viral or bacterial infection, or are taking any medication, it’s best to avoid the practice. Of course, it’s best to talk to your doctor about anything that may pose a risk to your baby as well.

But if you’re healthy, have plenty of breast milk to spare, and are willing, I’d say go for it. It certainly makes it easier to leave a nursing baby, knowing that a friend is ready to step up in a pinch, and that the favor will be reciprocated when needed. Chances are it will deepen your friendship, too. There aren’t many gifts that are more intimate.

Fast forward a few years and your girls will have a special bond that few childhood friends can claim. Yes, it really does take a village …

The Mamas

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?


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One response to “Can I Breast Feed My Friend’s Baby?”

  1. Tina

    Why not ask the Mom? she’s surely going to want what’s best for her baby. If she has a problem with you nursing her baby she needs to leave expressed milk in a bottle for her.

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