Why I offered a helping boob to my niece
When JOAN IRAVWEZI was diagnosed with stomach cancer, her worry was not only on getting the shocking cancer diagnosis, but also what her five-months-old daughter would feed. However, her sister-in-law, DOREEN MULINYA, offered to breastfeed her baby.
Milliam Murigi @millymur1
Breast milk is the perfect food for babies in their first six months of life. But if, for whatever reason, you are unable to breastfeed your baby, would you hand the task over to another woman?
To many, this is unheard off. Actually, breastfeeding someone else’s baby, known as wet nursing, is unthinkable for some mothers.
This is exactly the same thought that Joan Iravwezi Shamwama had in December 2016 when she was diagnosed with stage one stomach cancer and was under medication.
Since she literally produced no breast milk and her baby Darionne was five months then, her husband decided to introduce baby formula to supplement the little breast milk she was getting.
However, things didn’t work out well. The baby lost so much weight such that she became underweight.
The family was also running out of money faster as they also had medical bills to pay.
However, her sister-in- law, Doreen Mulinya, who had given birth at the same time with Joan couldn’t sit and watch her niece suffer.
In this case, she decided to offer a helping boob. While her sister-in-law was taking her medication she assumed her niece’s feeding responsibilities.
“The decision to wet nurse was something we discussed just as a possibility with my sister Sheila Mulinya before we travelled home for December holiday.
It wasn’t serious at first, but my sister made me open up my mind by talking about old women who would breastfeed their grandchildren when the mums passed on,” says Doreen.
Seeing her in-law too weak to breastfeed (by then they were staying together in their mother’s house) it became a no brainer, Doreen had to do it.
“I usually have excess milk. Since I was healthy, I had no objection. At first Joan was shocked since she had not seen it before and she thought that the baby won’t agree to feed from a stranger,” Doreen recalls.
According to Joan, seeing her daughter breastfeed normally was the best feeling ever.
She had wished to exclusively breastfeed her daughter for six months. “I was so happy seeing her breastfeed though not from me. I thank God her aunt was there to play my role,” says Joan.
It was not easy for Doreen to breastfeed the two girls at first. Her baby couldn’t allow Darionne to feed.
The children had to learn how to share since all of them were born as singlet.
The other challenge was that since her niece had been starved of breastmilk for a while, she used to pull, bite and kick because she couldn’t believe that she was feeding again.
“I had to endure the bites and kicks, but deep down, it was really fulfilling. It also made me become closer to my in-law and niece, and my brother too,” says Doreen.
After one week, the family started seeing positive changes on Darionne. One month later, when both parted ways after the holiday, the baby had regained her weight and was ready to start weaning as recommended by World Health Organisation.
“I wish I could have done it longer, but I had to come back to Nairobi to work. But this is something I can definitely do again and again.
I usually have excess milk, so it’s a relief to me. The problem is having the mother to trust me,” says Doreen.
According to Joan, she would recommend wet nursing to women who are unable to breastfeed their children for one reason or another.
It is thought that wet nursing started in ancient times when a mother died during child birth and another woman breastfed and raised the baby.
This was, especially so in some African cultures where maternal and child mortality was high.
Most African families were polygamous, and if one of the mothers in the family fell ill or died during childbirth, it was the duty of her co-wives to nurse and bring up the child.
Wet nursing has also been linked to social class, where monarchies, the aristocracy, nobility or upper classes had their children wet-nursed for the benefit of the child’s health, and sometimes in the hope of the mother becoming pregnant again quickly.
Experts argue that there is no reason why women should not feed more than one child simultaneously. Even women who are not lactating or do not have children can still breastfeed.
Regular breast suckling can elicit milk production through a neural reflex action. Some adoptive mothers have also been able to establish lactation using a breast pump.
However, there has been growing concerns about milk sharing because some medical conditions such as hepatitis B, tuberculosis and most importantly HIV/Aids pose a great risk to the child if the wet nurse happens to be infected. This calls for extra care and precaution while choosing a wet nurse.