In Other Words: “My MIL Tried to Nurse My Baby!”

I saw this question from a reader of Slate’s Dear Prudence and was so appalled, I had to share it with you:

I had a baby two months ago. About two weeks ago, my husband had to go out of town for a few days, so his mother came to stay with the baby and me. One night I heard the baby crying, and heard my MIL go to him. I thought she was going to bring him to me to nurse so I stayed in bed for a while. When she didn’t bring him, I figured she was just rocking him back to sleep and went to see if she needed anything, like a bottle from the fridge. When I entered the room I saw her holding my son to her breast, letting him suckle. I was (and am) livid. I took my son back to my room and told her she had to leave first thing in the morning. I want to call the police, but my husband thinks that would be taking things too far. We’re at an impasse. Should we call the police? I’m hesitant to let her near my son again.

Read Dear Prudence’s reply here. What would you say to the LW?


  1. wow. just wow. i mean…. i just dont know if there are words.

    like, does this MIL even know how biology works? she cant give your baby her boob to eat out of because she doesnt have any food to give him! did she really mean to just use her boob as a pacifier? ive never even heard of that.

    this is too weird. it does seem to me like much more of a mental illness problem then a anti-bottle feeding problem though. i dont know if thats better or worse…

    1. I agree. Sounds like a mental illness.

      1. she missed the connection breastfeeding gives and wanted to feel it again… she honestly thought she was feeding him… she thought that the baby would like her boob more then a pacifier… she thought as the kids grandma it is ok…

        eh, maybe not mental illness, maybe that is too strong of a word, but something is definitely off. way, way off.

        its funny though- my friends baby was teething and she was chewing on my finger.. in reality, what is different from a finger to a nipple that has no milk? i dunno. its still weird.

      2. Avatar photo lemongrass says:

        To baby, there is no difference between a finger to a milk-less nipple. To a grown adult, however, there is a huge difference.

      3. ha- thats a good point. good call

  2. This is too weird. I’m not even sure what to say about this because it’s so weird.

  3. I have to agree with the answer that there might be some type of mental health issue going on because that just seems too bizarre. The husband definitely needs to talk to the mother, and she should not be allowed around the baby unsupervised, and, quite frankly, should probably only come over when the husband is home. If I was the mother/wife, I wouldn’t want to be around the woman at all, but especially not by myself.

  4. This letter was in the Dear Prudence collumn at Slate a few weeks ago. The general feeling over there was – no big deal. Ask her not to do it again & move on.

    1. Oh, well that’s what I get for not reading Wendy’s lead in about getting it from Prudence. Sorry.

  5. SweetsAndBeats says:

    I remember reading in the comments that maybe its a cultural thing – that the MIL comes from a country where familial breastfeeding/suckling is normal. It’s a bit of a stretch, but it could be that she felt it was normal.

    If she’s from the States, though, I don’t see any excuse or justification for her behavior. It is completely not okay to breastfeed someone else’s child without consent in the USA. What she did was weird, completely over-the-top, and incredibly disrespectful. Calling the police would be excessive, but I would definitely never let her watch my kids again.

    1. ele4phant says:

      Yeah, I remember that too.

      Even if its a cultural thing, clearly the LW wasn’t from a culture that condoned such a practice. I would think that unless she *just* immigrated, the MIL would have a clue that her daughter-in-law would come from a culture that would freak the frack out over it. I mean, its not exactly a secret that we have all sorts of hang-ups when it comes to boobs and nursing babies. And that’s when its just the mother’s boobs, much less someone elses!

      Point is, even if its a cultural thing, it shows a SERIOUS lapse of judgement on the MIL to assume it would be fine with her DIL.

  6. i wouldn’t call the police but i would definitely talk to the grandmother about it. it’s just very odd.

  7. I wouldn’t call the police either, but they definitely need to talk to her. Regardless of why she did it, if the parents aren’t OK with it, she needs to stop. If she seems confused by that or uncooperative, then maybe look into whether something is off mentally. Though I don’t advocate overreacting, it would still really creep me out. Even if she thought she could breastfeed, the fact that breastfeeding transmits so much between the mom and baby (chemicals, medications, diseases, etc.) would make it even more irresponsible, in some ways.

  8. That is very creepy – I would be extremely unsettled by this. I agree that I would not call the police but I don’t know that I would feel comfortable leaving my child with my MIL ever again even after time passes. It was such a bazaar incident it makes you worry what would happen next if she is that “off”

  9. Allustriel says:

    Has anyone considered that “grandma” may not be old and may also still be producing milk? One of my coworkers is a 34 year old grandmother with her own infant (her teen pregnancy + daughter’s teen pregnancy + another pregnancy later in life). While it definitely doesn’t excuse breastfeeding someone else’s child, there’s a lot of information we don’t know.

    1. the writer of this letter just does not sound like a teenager. the word choice and over all tone sound much more adult. and in general i would think that 34 year old grandma’s are not the norm.

    2. well boobs dont just have milk in them all the time! i mean i know you can “stimulate” it somehow but doesnt that take time? even if she was a young grandma, unless she is pregnant or has just given birth she shouldnt have milk just available. thats not how it works, right? thats what i always thought anyway.

    3. ele4phant says:

      Even if she was capable of lactating, and was lactating, and was from a culture that condoned wet-nurses (that’s a whole lot of maybe’s there. As you said we don’t know, but that’s still a rather long string of assumptions), it doesn’t make a difference in regards to the DILs reaction. She is the mother, she is not okay with this practice.

      Culturally speaking, yes, this would be okay elsewhere. There’s nothing inherently wrong with using wet nurses or a dry nipple to sooth, but just because its not harmful and is done elsewhere means you’re obligated to be okay with it being done on your child. You can simultaneously respect that other cultures do things in other ways and they’re not bad, but also not want to incorporate those customs into your own parenting.

      If these truly is a cultural thing (which we don’t know), I’m hard-pressed to think the MIL would have *no clue* how taboo this would be in her DILs culture. Unless the MIL literally just entered American society (which I doubt, seeing as her son was uncomfortable as well), she’s going to be aware of the likely response from someone who was raised in her adopted culture.

      Bottom-line, this isn’t really about the practice itself (which in and of itself is neither good nor bad), but about the MIL undermining the baby’s mother making a decision she in all likelihood knew wouldn’t go over well.

    4. I think the LW would have mentioned that the grandma has her own infant. And I doubt she’d be spending the night at their house to take care of the baby if she had her own. We don’t have all the info, but I think it’s safe to rule out unlikely circumstances if the don’t mesh with what the LW has said.

  10. I just finished a book about Africa and there was a part about a nanny whipping out a boob to fondle and suck on. It seemed wierd but it was normal in the culture. It is wierd that I saw this twice in a matter of days. wierd wierd wierd.

    1. My friend grew up in a really remote part of Kenya, she has something like 19 brothers and sisters because her dad had 4 or 5 wives. She told me that growing up they didn’t even know who their real mom was, because the babies would just breastfeed from whatever mom was available. Sounds crazy!

      1. The book I read was based in Kenya! I read it because I traveled there last December and now want to know everything about it. It was a total culture shock for me.

      1. *pine for my own sanity

        which I clearly don’t have right now… why is it not 5 yet so I can go home and let NBC continue to ruin my Olympics!?!

      2. thats just like a wet nurse here in the US. i mean, i know thats not really common anymore, but it used to be… and it does make sense, especially before formula was invented- at that point your baby died. they only drink milk!

        i think in africa, a place where the food is pretty much the same, especially within the same village, that is actually a good thing to do. and in the case of selma- we can pretty much gaurantee she is more healthy then those women, so her milk would only be a plus for that kid.

        in the US, i would be very wary to have someone else breast feed my baby because i dont know what kind of food they eat… our food has so much bad stuff in it. and not like id be worried that her diet wouldnt be healthy (although that would cross my mind), i would be worried that she eats at like mcdonalds, with tons of additives and chemicals.

        i kind of wish this happened more. i wish there was a better way to regulate it and make it more acceptable and not so gross, because it really could help the babies! not to mention, if done out of love (ie not as a paid job), the babies family would save tons of money on formula!

      3. Right, this might be a culture thing but the big thing is that SHE DIDN”T ASK!

  11. sarolabelle says:

    I wish we got letters on DW that were like DP. Not always about relationships of the romantic kind but about relationships with all different kinds of people.

  12. 911 what is you emergency?


    This is certainly strange, but I don’t see it as an atrocity.

  13. lolabeans says:

    I would definitely be shocked, disgusted and super angry if my MIL did this.. wow.

    I feel like, I would ask my husband to have a talk with his mom about boundaries.and also let him know i am extremely concerned about having her stay at our house again for fear of her attempting to do this the next time… i mean, i dont think i could ever sleep comfortable with her in the house again!!
    maybe it was a one off, maybe she thought it would comfort the baby, i have no clue. but its definitely not right. and she should absolutely get a full medical check up and ensure everything is all right up there.

    1. That last link reminded me, I’ve read about MEN that can breastfeed. I tried to google it to provide a source, but I can’t get past the google results page (I’m at work and they have weird filters).

  14. Ha. I haven’t read the comments yet, but I read that one too and was pretty grossed out. I don’t even get how that works.

    1. Oh, and I wouldn’t call the cops. Grossed out, yes. Feel weird around her, for sure. Not letting her alone with my baby. Definitely. Getting authorities involved, no. Cutting off conctact. Again, no.

    2. SpaceySteph says:

      Well I mean babies suck on pacifiers which don’t give milk. i don’t think it means that the baby was drinking from the MIL, just that he was, you know, sucking on her boob.

  15. Avatar photo lemongrass says:

    And I was worried about my MIL teaching my kids to swear.

  16. Avatar photo iwannatalktosampson says:

    Ummmmm I would absolutely cut off contact with this psycho. Seriously. This is so disturbing I don’t even know what to say. I would tell my husband that he can continue a relationship with the creep if he wants but she is no longer a part of my life or my child’s life. End of discussion. This is fifty shades of fucked up.

    1. I will now try to use the phrase “50 shades of fucked up” at least once this week!
      So hearted… now if only my coworker would get out of her meeting so I can carpool home 🙁

      1. WatersEdge says:

        Ok but beware that that phrase is used all over “50 Shades of Grey” and people will assume you read that book.

      2. Avatar photo iwannatalktosampson says:

        Sad I thought I was so spicy with that comment.

      3. Good to know – haven’t read it, and don’t want to think about my mom or any others reading either 😉 but now I will have to clarify because I already used the phrase yesterday and it worked wonders!

      4. Iwannatalktosampson says:

        Yeah I haven’t read the books either. I want to – but I’ve heard they’re awful – so it’s unlikely to happen. I almost want to read them just to say I have.

    2. Would you do the same if it was your mom you caught?

      1. Avatar photo iwannatalktosampson says:

        I would have realized my mom was an asshole years ago if she had the ability to do something this gross. So yes. Or if it is mental health I would have attacked the problem years ago as well. And for everyone saying that this could have been a mother in another culture – well I don’t think dear prudence has a high readership in Africa. We have no formula crisis. We have no shortage of pacifiers. There is no excuse for it. Find a pacifier. How is this not something you would clear with the mother of the child? Oh hey – is it fine if I stick my nipple in your kids mouth? What if this was a Dad? Sick sick sick.

      2. I would have a problem with it – but I don’t think I would cut the child off from a grandparent if that was the only issue. Your response seemed harsh to me and I wondered if it was because it was an in-law as opposed to a parent. In DP the husband was upset also so it didn’t seem like he expected it of his mom.
        It seems like a judgement question and not a cultural one to me but if it is a cultural thing – the culture has to be present in the states – you need a readership in a foreign country. Like a lot of cultural things -it may have be born of need and just continued as tradition. The culture argument falls apart to me since it is clear the mom isn’t of that culture given her outrage so the grandmother clearly overstepped.

      3. oops – you don’t need a readeership…

      4. vizslalvr says:

        As I was trying to rationally think through this scenario, before I even got to your comment, my thought was, “If this was my mother in law, I would be beyond weirded and creeped out to the point of freak out. If it was my mom, I would also be weirded and creeped out, but to a much lesser degree and probably would not freak out as much.” So I am totally with you, firestar. Yes, clearly an overstep of boundaries regardless of the cultural background or anything else – deserving of a firm talking to about boundaries about this and any other possible issue you might foresee. But at the same time, not a “never let your infant child speak to or be around her grandmother alone again” incident. Not even close.

        And unless you want to be either laughed at by the authorities or get a mother in law charged with gross sexual imposition or some other high level felony (depending on the officer, prosecutor, your jurisdiction), DO NOT call the police. Do you really want to put your mother in law in prison, LW?

      5. 6napkinburger says:

        I think there is a product that allows an adoptive/surrogate-using mother to faux-breastfeed, where a little tube allows milk to come out from the mothers’ breast as the baby suckles. This allows the mother to have the same bonding experience with the baby as birthmothers. I see absolutely nothing sick about this invention — i think it’s wonderful.

        I agree its F’d up that the MIL did this on her own and surreptitiously. But the idea of someone allowing a baby to suckle even though they don’t produce milk isn’t necessarily sick .

        Note: this TOTALLY happened in the movie Angie, with the MIL. and Geena Davis freaked and left.

  17. A few years ago some guy was arrested at a ball game. He had his family with him, including his baby son. Apparently the people around him got very agitated because he kept kissing his baby son’s penis. (I assume the kid wasn’t wearing a diaper.)

    The guy was arrested and said he was just showing his son he loved him. He was from another culture (can’t remember which one) and said that it was very common in his culture. (I do remember reading comments from others of the same culture saying “No it is NOT common.”)

    I think that might be weirder (or maybe just grosser) than grandma setting herself up as a human pacifier and/or wet nurse.

  18. The sad thing is that I can see this happening with my MIL. My husband and I are recently married and not planning to have kids for the next few years, and I’ve recently been having anxiety about the future in regards to MIL relationship with children. I’m wondering if the woman mentioned in this letter is indeed from another culture, as is the case with my MIL. Apparently her older sister AND cousin nursed her when she was a baby — totally normal to her and totally creepy to me.

    Wonder what the husband thinks about this? so curious

  19. p.s are there any health risks involved with this?!? I would imagine so..

  20. fast eddie says:

    With no harm done and tempered with different cultures it would be better to let it go, BUT a nose to nose talk with grannie is necessary to the peace and I would NEVER leave her alone with the baby again.

  21. Sue Jones says:

    Oh relax…. while I wouldn’t want anyone doing that to my baby, in some cultures all of the village women sharing in breastfeeding is the norm, and not just in Africa. I would just tell her not to do it again because that is not what you want, but to get the police involved? That seems a bit over the top neurotic on your part unless you know she has HIV, takes drugs or something that serious. If she continues after you told her how you felt, then that would be a problem of her not respecting your wishes, but to get law enforcement involved just because it does not fit in with your culture is a bit much IMHO.

    1. Sue Jones says:

      And interestingly just a few days ago we all had a discussion about whether it was OK to drink alcohol during the pregnancy. Way more harmful in my book than sharing breastfeeding duties like we used to in indigenous societies. And the plastic crap in a can or powder that we feed our babies when we cannot or choose not to breastfeed? Having a wetnurse with real breastmilk is far healthier. The issue is that it is no longer part of our cultural norm. We no longer see our children raised in a village, but in supposedly proper and sterile nuclear families which puts a lot of stress on families, especially the mother, thus higher incidences of Post Partum Depression. I am not condoning the MIL’s behavior (she should have asked if it was OK) but I think we are freaking out over the wrong things.

      1. it makes me so angry to see people shame people who choose not to breast feed. breast feeding is not easy for a lot of mothers, and some for one reason or another physically can not do it. there are plenty of formulas that are safe and healthy for babies. wet nurses are not a choice for everyone.

        also what the grandmother did was not on the same page as drinking a few ounces of wine a week. the biggest thing is that unless she’s a really young grandmother who for some reason has milk in she isn’t actually able to breastfeed. so yes, it’s weird.

      2. Sue Jones says:

        Not shaming, but you are completely projecting sexuality onto this situation where it might not ( and probably wasn’t) have been there. The baby was comforted. Nobody was really hurt in this situation except perhaps the mother who got her knickers in a twist. I am with Prudence here.

      3. i’m not sexualizing it at all. i’m saying that it’s not typical for a non-breast feeding adult woman to use her breast as a pacifier without permission. i’ve comforted my share of babies and not once did i think that it would be normal to let them try and breast feed from me, since i wasn’t producing milk, and the fact that i wasn’t there mother nor did i have permission to do so. and i have plenty of ‘crunchy’ friends who are all about breast feeding, breast feeding sit ins, cloth diapers, organic this and that. and not one of them would be ok if i whipped out my breast which cannot produce milk and let their child suck on it. especially without even thinking about asking permission.

      4. I mean, seriously.

      5. Who said the baby was comforted? I wouldn;t think that sucking on what he knows to be a food source and having NO FOOD come out would be very comforting.

      6. Sue Jones says:

        Pacifiers are like boobs without milk, no?

      7. No.

      8. vizslalvr says:

        How not, though? For an infant. I’m genuinely curious because I don’t know much about this.

      9. Because a breast nipple, unlike a pacifier, is attached to a person. And because a breast nipple is what a baby understands to be a food source, so if it sucks on one and no food comes out, that’s probably confusing and upsetting. A pacifier is not attached to a baby’s mother, so a baby learns quickly it is different than a breast nipple. It learns to not expect milk to come out.

      10. Wait, what? The MIL should have asked if it was OK if she stuck her tit in her grandson’s mouth? Seriously? Because some cultures have wet nurses? And a grandmother, who most likely does not produce breast milk, sticking her boob in her grandson’s mouth is the WRONG thing to freak out over when we could be freaking out, instead, of mothers feeding their babies formula? Wow.

      11. Eve Harrison says:

        Ha ha, that’s a really great point. I won’t get into the formula/breast feeding debate. I will say that communciation [how ever odd] is important. Even though MIL Breastfeeding is totally inappropriate, we don’t know the dynamic of the MIL’s family, or the experiences that brought her to believe this was alright. Asking, however bizarre, would have prevented this damaged/strained MIL-Mom relationship dynamic that emerged.

      12. Sue Jones says:

        We Americans have completely sexualized the boob. When I was breastfeeding my infant son on an airplane once, completely covered, I may say, some woman looks at me and says “I know what you are doing and I am calling a stewardess!” I looked at her and said ” Well go ahead and do that because that’s what they are for!” Look, where I live, we are bit more crunchy. My homebirth midwife would hold monthly potlucks where some women who were having supply problems would hand their baby over to another woman to feed. Not a big deal. But there was permission. One of the midwives had 2 adopted children, at age 50 or so, who she breastfed. Some women’s breastmilk never quite dries up when left on its own without dry up pills. In my community, at a swimming pool when one young and foolish lifeguard told a mother to stop breastfeeding their child, they had a “nurse-in” the very next day. 50 breastfeeding mothers converged on the place with their babies and boobs exposed as it is their legal right. Some cultures see giving a child a breast as more of a cultural feeding or comforting thing. Most Americans see it as a sexual thing… which is weird when you think about it. And if a mother cannot breastfeed I understand that, but we Americans as a culture are really weird about boobies. In Europe at beaches women walk around topless and it is not a big deal… I could go on and on. It would not bother me. That is all I am saying and if taken from a cultural world history of the human race, it is really only very recently (last 70 years) that if a woman cannot breastfeed that she does not have a wetnurse and instead gives her baby formula which has a lot of health issues related to it… allergies and such…

      13. i still don’t understand what you are saying has to do with a grandmother with no milk supply attempting to breast feed without permission?

        being upset about that is not the same as and has nothing to do with the fact that mothers should be able to breast feed in public with no backlash. and has nothing to do with the fact that americans have sexualized the boob. if we were all comfortable being naked in public we wouldn’t have an issue with the grandmother doing this?

      14. Sue Jones says:

        It was a boundary issue, for sure. But a 5 alarm fire issue? Not so much. LW should talk to MIL and let it go. If it continues then it shows a lack of respect for the LW’s feelings and boundaries, but I really think we are dealing with cultural norms here. MIL may have been an aging crunchy granola hippie with loose boundaries and LW may be uptight suburban housewife who bleaches her floors so the baby doesn’t get dirty, etc…

      15. Uptight suburban housewife who bleaches the floor!?! That’s a HELL of a leap given the information provided.

        Maybe the new mom has been having troubles breastfeeding, maybe it took a month to get her and the child into a routine, maybe this new mom needs every possible experience and chance to bond with her own child because she’s having milk production or other difficulties… and her MIL without her permission just exposed her infant to a human boob that doesn’t produce milk — which as Wendy references above is completely different from a pacifier. I know mom’s who wanted to pump and allow their husbands to share in the feeding/bonding experience and they couldn’t because of the challenges in getting the infant to go back and forth from 2 different food sources (had to give up and stick with the breast – or no breastfeeding at all).

        The problems abound in this instance, and it has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not you are a crunchy granola type or not:
        1. Lack of Permission
        2. Lack of Boundaries

        Great job all around grandma, no matter where you are from.

  22. Avatar photo Michelle.Lea says:

    i would have lost my sh*t. and she would never have been left alone with the baby again.

    It’s not the shared breastfeeding aspect, it’s the fact that she is not a lactating female, and this was not discussed. i honestly dont think there’s anything inherently wrong with wet nurses, or friends who feed their friends babies or whatever, as long as it’s discussed and agreed upon.

  23. Eve Harrison says:

    Maybe this is extreme, but I would enforce supervised visits. That baby would not be left alone with the MIL until weaning age. I understand the need to bond but the MIL should have communicated her interest instead of assuming this was alright.

    And yeah, damn right the husband better step up to the plate here. Shit. This scenario is so pseudo-Freudian I wonder if this has to do with the father’s childhood or something.


  24. On one hand, it shut the baby up- maaaaaybe her intentions were altruistic in that she wanted her daughter to get some rest.

    On the other, it’s kind of like putting peanut butter on your balls and letting the dog lick it off.

    1. Sue Jones says:

      Haha. Do you think the MIL was getting off on this? That seems to be what LW thinks… I have witnessed enough old crunchy hippie grandmas to think otherwise… but only MIL knows for sure…

  25. Something More says:

    What the fuck did I just read?

  26. Sue Jones says:

    Look we are a boob obsessed culture. Especially with the younger women. I was in a yoga class this weekend and there was a girl with a sports bra over ENORMOUS fake boobs.I could tell they were fake because they were huge, and stuck straight out and did not sag at all. Real boobs that large sag. Period. I noticed more as a curiousity, like, “Why?”. and “Hmm, I never saw that before”. When I was younger , the athletic girls were getting breast reductions, but it is different now. Boobs = Sex. I was like, “Who Does That????” And she will have trouble breast feeding her babies later because of all of that silicone… but whatever… I find this whole thread really entertaining… from a sociological perspective…

    1. ele4phant says:

      These are all very good criticism’s towards our cultures issues with breasts, but…this isn’t really the issue at all.

      The mother of the infant is not comfortable with grandma using her boob as a pacifier. Most women in our culture would feel the same. Why is neither here nor there. If you know (which any person fairly well accustomed to our culture would), that such a practice would be frowned on, you don’t do it on someone else’s child. I guess you could ask first, but why waste your breath? Again, most reasonable people could anticipate the answer. Whether or not its inherently “good” or “bad” is besides the point – its not your kid, not your decision what is acceptable.

      The end.

      P.S. The argument “But other cultures do it too and it totes fine!” drives me up a wall. Yes, other cultures do many things any numerous ways, and for the vast majority, human beings are just fine despite having vastly different experiences every step of the way. Other cultures are more permissive of wet nurses, and of using dry nipples to soothe a child. You can simultaneously respect the traditions of other cultures while not being obligated to take them on as your own. Should the woman call the police or cut off grandma forever? No (unless of course the assumption about the MIL being from a different culture is wrong, and there IS something wrong with her).

      But I think the DIL has every right to be livid.

      1. Iwannatalktosampson says:

        Totally agree on your ps. Other cultures don’t have running water and shit in their backyard…. But you don’t see me waking up – taking my morning coffee to the front yard to get the paper and taking a huge dump by the mailbox.u

      2. Sue Jones says:

        I have a friend who does relief work in Mali, building schools, wells, etc. She is sort of a saint in my book. On her first visit to the village all of the women were walking up to my friend, who was in her 50’s and handing her their babies and asking her to nurse them. She had to explain that she had no more milk in her breasts, which they could not understand. Not part of their experience. Even the grannies breastfeed the babies. I do think it is a bit condescending and ignorant to compare community nursing with shitting in your yard, though. And wetnursing was done worldwide until this past century, a small blip in human history. And I do agree that the MIL needs to behave and respect the LW’s boundaries, and the revulsion that I am reading does take me aback and makes me think that some of the DW readers need to travel outside their little suburban bubbles and open their minds just a bit… That’s all!

      3. the difference in your examples and what happened here is that they were ASKING her to do this. there was no asking in this situation. also, the grandmother was not a wet nurse. how can you even compare these situations? and all that really matters is that the mother in the situation was not ok. i don’t think she should call the police that is taking it too far, BUT she is perfectly in her right to be upset about what happened.

      4. I’ve actually never lived in the suburbs. In all honesty, I loathe the suburbs. I live in NYC, and before that Chicago. I spent my childhood in four different countries, and have travelled around the world as an adult. I am not sheltered, and, yet, I am appalled by this granny’s actions. I’m not a prude. It’s a condescending argument that someone must be a prude or live in a suburban bubble if she finds it highly inappropriate for a non-nursing grandmother to pop her boob into her grandbaby’s mouth. You keep talking about what is done in other parts of the world or what was done a century ago, but that argument is also a strange one. There were a LOT of things we westerners practiced a century ago that would be highly, highly inappropriate if practiced now. There are many things that are currently practiced in other parts of the world that would raise eyebrows if practiced in western cultures. And you know what, I don’t even think it’s crazy if a group of nursing women want to nurse each other’s babies. I definitely don’t have an issue with sharing breast milk. But I do think there is something downright wrong about a non-nursing woman or a nursing woman who is not integrated in a culture of shared nursing to pop her boob in someone else’s baby’s mouth.

  27. I wonder what happened AFTER the LW walked into the room and said “What are you doing?!?” Did the MIL realize LW wasn’t ok with this and apologize? Or did she get defensive and say “What’s the big deal?” It’s definitely unusual, but before the LW suggests calling the cops we need to know what else happened AFTER the incident.

    And not that it makes it ok, but I wonder if the MIL was fully awake – after 9 months of waking up 2 or more times in the night to nurse, I can stumble across the room and latch on my crying baby without even opening my eyes. People do other strange things in their sleep (remember the sex while asleep thread?), seems like nursing could be one of them. Don’t think I’ll be trying this theory out on other people’s infants though.

  28. 1. Nobody else will say it, so I’ll say it. calling the cops is a MASSIVE over-reaction. Everyones like, “oh, I don’t really think that’s quite necessary.” Yeah, no shit, it’s not necessary. Anyone who calls the cops over this needs to get a head check.

    2. “creepy” is not an argument. if I hear that word one more time at Dear Wendy… actually I already hit my quota a long time ago. Just, how about you don’t be such judgemental prudes, please.

    3. Wet nursing once was very commonplace. Think back to a time when there was no such thing as formula, or supermarket milk, and if the mother was incapable of breastfeeding then the baby could die. Many, many babies have died throughout the centuries because of this. The fact that it’s no longer commonplace doesn’t mean that we persecute those who still think it’s okay.

    1. ele4phant says:

      3. This argument gets me (See another comment upstream). You know, pretty much all culture practices were born out of necessity. They were developed and accepted in order to address some sort of need. In the past, and in many countries that still commonly use wet nurses, breast milk is pretty much the only way to feed an infant. There are no other options. So if a mother can’t breastfeed herself, her only other option is to have someone else do it.

      Today, with our current situation, these circumstances have changed. Formula is pretty good (I don’t want to start an formula war, but no one can dispute that plenty of happy, healthy kids have been exclusively formula feed). Technological changes such as breast pumps and refrigeration (as well as a level affluence that allows individual families to have access to these technologies) make it possible to store breastmilk for longer periods of time, allowing someone who doesn’t lactate at all to feed the baby when the mother is unavailable. As a result of changes in circumstances, customs have also changed.

      I’m not one of the commenters who’s been saying wet nursing is objectively wrong or icky, but I am saying its no longer part of our culture. To those who say “But it happens elsewhere and its fine!” all I can say is, congrats on passing Anthro 101 in college. You are correct, its happened in the past, and it happens elsewhere.

      But cultures differ, our circumstances differ, and we all develop different subjective opinions about how we will go about raising children, and what we are comfortable and uncomfortable with. Cultural practices and preferences are so deeply ingrained in us, its not as though you can easily “Oh, get over it. Its done elsewhere. Stop being a prude.” That’s incredibly naive to assume we can just “get over” something that has been collectively beaten into us since birth.

      Point of this is: whether or not its a cultural thing, most American women are uncomfortable with this practice. It isn’t necessary the way its been necessary in the past, or is necessary elsewhere. And if an American woman doesn’t want such a practice conducted with her child, well, that’s her call to make. Not yours, not mine, not her MILs.

  29. The fact is, if she’d whipped a bottle of baby milk or formula from the fridge, nobody would care. It’s the ick factor, pure and simple. There’s no moral issue here at all.

    1. Avatar photo call-me-hobo says:

      It’s not a moral issue- but the MIL isn’t a wet nurse. She’s not giving the baby any milk because she isn’t lactating.

      1. i don’t understand why so many people can’t see the difference between that. also wouldn’t a wet nurse ASK before attempting to nurse someone else’s child? i would still be pissed even if she was producing milk!

      2. Sue Jones says:

        I agree with the asking part.

    2. ele4phant says:

      You know what? If she’d whipped out a bottle of formula after the mother decided she wanted to breastfeed the kid exclusively, it would be the same deal. It would be the MIL making a unilateral decision to care for the child a way in which the baby’s mother wasn’t cool with. And that’s wrong

      Look, we can have the argument all day long about the morality of the practice, but having a conversation as a society is different than unilaterally deciding you’re going to go over a parent’s head and practice whatever custom you want on their kid. Its not okay.

      If its not your kid, it doesn’t matter what YOU feel about a certain practice. It doesn’t matter if you feel the parent is being prudish, or is wrong. You don’t do it to SOMEONE ELSE’S kid.

    3. If I was trying to breastfeed my 2 month old and someone without my permission introduced a bottle – which as I referenced above can make breastfeeding much more challenging – yes I would be just as livid. This isn’t about an ick factor and being afraid of boobs… I’ve had them my whole life and they really aren’t that exciting ;(

      I don’t care if it’s a tit, or a toy, or a whatever – I get to decide what’s right for my child with my husband and the grandparents on both sides need to respect that. To not even ask permission first shows such an appaling lack of respect and boundaries for her DIL… who presumably she is visiting to help and see her grandchild… let’s not get distracted from the real issue here.

      1. exactly MMcG!
        My husband and MIL kept trying to “help” me by offering to give the baby a bottle so I could sleep. They never seemed to get that due to my new-mom-supersonic-can-hear-my-baby-cry-a-block-away senses:
        1) If the baby cried, I was going to be awake immediately, and unable to go back to sleep
        2) If I missed a feeding I was going to be engorged and uncomfortable and possibly have a decrease in my milk supply.

        Unless the LW specifically said “do whatever it takes so I can sleep for the next x hours”, MIL was in the wrong not to bring the baby to her right away for a feeding – the fact that she was trying to nurse the baby herself is actually LESS of an issue to me – I don’t care if she was giving the baby a bottle, a pacifier or her boob, when a breastfed baby cries for mom they need to be taken to the mother ASAP or the mom has a right to be pissed off.

    4. A wet nurse is hired for the purpose. The mother knows someone else will be breastfeeding the baby. No walking in on surpriseboob. There was no permission given.

  30. Avatar photo call-me-hobo says:

    The mother in this scenario is definitely producing milk, and the issue here is not whether wet nursing is ok or acceptable or not because the MIL isn’t a wet nurse (Also- is there such a thing as a wet nurse who you don’t give permission to feed the baby? Like a stealth nurse?). She isn’t lactating and she decided to pacify the baby in a way that the DIL found offensive.

    I really see it as a parallel to spanking. The mother is not ok with spanking the child as a form of punishment, and the MIL is. MIL spanks the kid while she believes mom is still asleep. The MIL decided to do something that goes against the mother’s parenting style in her own home, disrespecting the mother. It’s not an issue of whether or not spanking is ok or damaging or whatever- The issue is that MIL took over an intimate parenting decision without her DIL’s approval.

    So calling the police is excessive, but I think a frank discussion about your parenting boundaries with your MIL and husband (so everyone is on the same page) is in order.

    1. completely agree with you!

  31. 6napkinburger says:

    Just to play Devil’s advocate a teeny tiny bit, for those people who said that they never ever have had the slightest inkling of this, you’ve never held another person’s baby across your chest (maybe feeding it from a bottle or maybe just holding it) and had it started “rooting” (I believe that is the technical term), aka trying to latch on to your boob? Ive had this happen many many times, and its always kind of cute — the baby knows a breast is nearby and it thinks it’s lunchtime. Usually in that situation, I’ll either give it a finger to suck on, a pacifier, a bottle or give it to its mother. But i’ve definitely been basically bitten by a hungry baby on my breast before (note: not nipple, as i was dressed, like a normal person holding someone else’s baby) and at those times i have wondered what it would be like if I was nursing him/her. So to those people who NEVER contemplated even the idea of it, I find that a little disingenuous, at least from my experience.

    1. this is a valid point. to a baby, a boob is a boob is a boob, for the most part. and yes, when i would hold my friend’s breastfed baby, she would kind of “assume the position” with her body and hands when i would hold and rock her.. she never actually tried to feed, though, lol. that would be an odd experience.

      what was very funny, and i thought very interesting, was the day that i fed her… little ariana’s mom and dad decided to take a nap.. i was holding ariana and we were hanging out in the living room with my other friend (the two of us were visiting). ariana got fussy, and we realized she needed to be changed and fed. well, we decided that mom and dad should get to sleep, and we could handle it. we totally tag-teamed the diaper (it was hilarious), and then we grabbed some of mom’s breast milk out of the fridge and put it in her special bottle and fed her… and ariana was completely aware of the fact that we were NOT her mom. it was so interesting. you could tell that she was hungry, so she would eat, but she was so confused… and me and my friend were standing on either side of her, and she would look from one of us to the other with the strangest look on her face. i mean, she KNEW. she freaking knew we werent mom.. it was weird. lol

  32. She could even call Child Protective Services as just an inquiry as to what their recommendations would be. I would at least recommend her meeting with a counselor with her husband to plan out how to proceed and get some support on how to deal with her MIL in the future.

    1. Sue Jones says:

      One thing about in-laws is that unless it is a major infraction such as abuse, they do not go away. If you stay married to the guy and even if you don’t, those grandparents are going to be in the baby’s life for a very very long time until they die and you have to deal with them. I say pick your battles wisely. Going all “nuclear” by calling CPS on this issue does not bode for a good harmonious long term relationship in my book. Almost reminds me of the opposite situation in a recent Dear Prudence column where granny took the baby, who was vegan to a fast food restuarant and fed her a burger and then Granny, when scolded by the mother, called CPS to report the baby’s veganism and then wondered why the mother didn’t let her see her “Kimmie” anymore. Pick your battles wisely, people!

  33. tbrucemom says:

    I think the MIL was definitely wrong in so many ways for what she did, but I also think the LW overreacted. Calling the cops is ridiculous and demanding the MIL leave in the morning was also uncalled for. She should have taken the baby, told her MIL that it was not acceptable behavior and not let her be alone with the baby again at least until they could figure out why she did this. If she has mental issues they obviously need to be addressed. I’m incinedd to think she does have some mental instability and was probably trying to recreate the closeness she probably felt when she breastfed her own child.

  34. Whether a woman HAS breast milk or not doesn’t matter in this case….you just don’t stick your boob in someone else’s baby’s mouth…related or not. Nursing is an incredibly personal bond between mother and child. You don’t intervene on that and think it’s ok. Not to mention, breasts are considered sexual in many ways and this could warrant molestation. Also, there is nipple confusion in very young infants. Not all women’s nipples are the same. If this went on for any period of time the baby could stop latching onto its mother. Plus, if a baby wakes up hungry you don’t give it a pacifier….you feed it. That grandmother was way out of line no matter what her reasoning was. You should never interfere with that bond.

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