August 3, 2008

There is a big controversy in America about 'milk sharing'. When I first heard of this I was concerned. I drink several lattes a day.

But the milk-sharing debate refers to breast milk. A parenting magazine published an article on mothers who share breastfeeding duties with their friends. It also refers to an online resource where milk-needy mums can meet donors. It's like Facebook. But instead of photos, you're sharing breasts.

I don't have children so this is not something I need. But let's say I did. What's wrong with formula? Or a milk bank? There's a reason the wet-nurse is no longer a popular profession in places like the United States and Britain. There are options.

Besides, I can't imagine any of my friends being willing to breast-share. Forget hygiene, the major hurdle is, it's too much to organise. Between texting and e-mail, it takes days to co-ordinate a phone call. People are busy. By the time I got them to commit to a breastfeeding date, my baby would be in kindergarten.

Then they'd forget they promised to help out. Or their breasts would be too sore. Or they'd be too tired.

Except maybe my friend Sophie. She's been thinking about getting her 34D breasts reduced - they give her back pain - so this could save her some money.

For the most part, my friends are not a charitable bunch. Asking to borrow a blouse is a major production. And I can't remember the last time anyone suggested sharing a bra. So lending a breast seems like a long shot. Not to mention the quid pro quo factor.

My friends keep score. If I ask someone to meet me near my house for dinner, you can bet next time, they'll point it out and use it to wring a concession from me. It's one thing to ask them to come downtown. But to breast-feed my baby? It would give them the upper hand for life.

I can hear it now. "I lent you my breast three times last month. You owe me." There's no such thing as a free lunch.

Of course I wouldn't want to help them out either. To begin with, I'm an only child so I'm not good at sharing. I don't like sharing a toothbrush, popcorn at the cinema, or anything that carries germs. Babies put things in their mouth that have been on the ground. How do I know where someone else's baby has been?

What's more, if my friend is asking me to breastfeed, in an emergency, I'd be suspicious of her reason. What if she considers getting a spa treatment an emergency?

I understand some mothers don't produce enough breast milk but the article says this cross-nursing trend is by choice - when mothers believe there is no substitute for breastfeeding, they turn to friends. It cites an example of a mother who left her baby with a friend to go to a job interview. The interview ran over and the breast-milk she left ran out. The friend used her own breast to feed the baby.

So let's say someone got stuck at yoga - or in Barneys. Would they call their friend and say, "Will you breast-feed for me? I can't decide whether to buy these Prada wedges." Where do you draw the line?

I can't say this is something I would consider. I know some mothers are worried their baby wouldn't bond to another breast. Not me. I'd be too afraid of the opposite.

But also if I were the baby, I would get very confused. Breast milk they say carries a mother's antibodies and could possibly taste of her diet too. It's not like a baby can protest "Hey! Too spicy!"

I can see this ruining a lot of friendships. Chances are, none of my friends would agree to breast-share because they'd be too worried I'd micromanage them. And if they're too tentative to ask me to dog-sit, I'm not going to be the person they think of asking to feed their baby.

I'm don't believe breast-fed babies are better off, anyway. I know they're supposed to grow up healthier, wiser, with a stronger immune system and higher self-esteem. But it can't be true - because I was breastfed, and look how that turned out.