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» The Ornery American Forum » General Comments » Lactating Mothers!

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Author Topic: Lactating Mothers!
OpsanusTau
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I have thought of an interesting subject for discussion. Or at least I think it's interesting, and I bet some interesting discussion will ensue.

The question is, To what extent does a lactating mother have an obligation to feed another person with her milk?

I was thinking about this because of a thing that happened Around These Parts last fall, where a family got their car stuck in the mountains and the mother kept both her infant and young child (above the age of usual breastfeeding) alive in a snowbound car for days with her milk.
So let's posit some sort of hypothetical situation wherein a lactating woman with more-or-less normal bodily reserves is stuck somewhere without food or expectation of food for a while, with another person. Does she have a moral or ethical obligation to feed that other person? What about a legal obligation?
Please consider this with all permutations for the identity of the other person. For instance,
the other person IS the infant whose birth occasioned the lactation;
the other person is an older child of hers and that infant is present;
ditto and her infant is absent;
the other person is an unrelated infant and her infant is present;
ditto and her infant is absent;
the other person is an unrelated older child and her infant is present;
ditto, infant absent;
the other person is an adult...
etc.

In which of these situations is there some sort of obligation?
(I mean, OBVIOUSLY in any situation where her own children are there she almost certainly WILL feed them, regardless of the detriment to herself - take that as given, I think the other situations are more interesting anyway.)
Where's the line?

And I am not going to pretend that I can't see the ways in which this applies to talking about, for instance, abortions. But since I personally think that there should be no situation in which a person can be legally compelled to feed another person out of the substance of her body, I am interested in the the viewpoints of those of you who think otherwise.

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Carlotta
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So are you asking whether thereis a moral obligation, whether there is a legal obligation, or whether there could or should be a legal obligation? They're three separate questions. I want to answer you but need some clarification.
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Zyne
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I can't see past the extraordinary unlikeliness of there being a situation where a woman could lactate while another person nearby starves to death. Humans can survive without nutrition for months, you know.
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DonaldD
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Zyne! You're alive! (and didn't require any breast feeding, I'll guess...)
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hobsen
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Zyne is probably right; the mother's milk would dry up first. But Steinbeck did manage to insert such a scene in The Grapes of Wrath, as I remember. I always thought of that as a gimmick to sell the book, not as anything plausible.
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LoverOfJoy
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quote:
I can't see past the extraordinary unlikeliness of there being a situation where a woman could lactate while another person nearby starves to death. Humans can survive without nutrition for months, you know.
Babies can't. At least not without very serious side effects. Didn't Ops give a real life example that happened in her neck of the woods?

quote:
I was thinking about this because of a thing that happened Around These Parts last fall, where a family got their car stuck in the mountains and the mother kept both her infant and young child (above the age of usual breastfeeding) alive in a snowbound car for days with her milk.
Now I guess you could argue that the kids might have lasted for those days without her milk...but they would have fared far worse than her. What about if there was a catastrophe and limited food supply and dirty water and your neighbor came with his two kids because his wife died in the hurricane/earthquake/whatever. It could be days before relief teams got near you. There could definitely be situations where you may be scared but not likely to die before help comes...but not so sure whether the baby could make it. It is all the more likely if you happen to have SOME food holed up in the attic but nothing that the baby could eat.
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Carlotta
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The amount of breastmilk required to keep a baby alive is much less than the amount required to make any difference in an adult, unless, say, a healthy lactating mother stumbled across a nearly dehydrated and starved person, who might die within the hour if he/she got no food or drink, and the rescue crews couldn't get there for another 6 hours.

I would definitely feed my own baby, and probably any other baby there, provided it wouldn't take away from my own baby's survival. (For example if it was only me and the other baby, my own baby was far away and safe). Sharing breastmilk with a baby has a high probability of increasing chances of survival for both parties involved.

If it was another adult, and we were both on equal footing, not the situation I described earlier, I probably wouldn't, even if it was my own family member, simply because it would be more of a gesture and not really accomplish anything, because the extent that it sustained the other person it would weaken me equally. Or moreso, if the other person was bigger (and had greater nutritional need) than me, which is likely since I am a small person.

If you argue that a lactating woman must in all circumstances feed another adult on equal footing for survival with her, you must also argue that two nonlactating adults, if sanitary vein-opening means are available, must in all circumstances let each other drink a portion of the other's blood. Breastmilk or blood, both deprive the body of water and nutrients required for proper functioning. It's not like breastmilk magically appears, it must be made by the body. Lactating women have much higher needs for both calories and water.

As far as the analogy to abortion goes, I believe that a parent has the first duty to care for their child. If they do not want this duty or cannot care for the child, they have an obligation to find someone else to care for the child. If I have a newborn and I just can't cope, I can leave the baby at a fire station. I can't put it in a dumpster. If I was intending to bring the baby to a fire station, but got stranded in the wilderness on the way there, I still have an obligation to get the baby safely to the fire station even if that means I have to care for the baby a few days longer than I intended to, because of circumstances beyond my control.

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kenmeer livermaile
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I think a lot would depend on the fat resources of the woman and the adult 'suckler', and the amount of water available.

There's a good reason them Neolithics worshipped big-boobed/big-butted wimminz, y'ask me.

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OpsanusTau
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Okay, totally leave aside the adult suckler, that's obviously a distraction of a variety of sorts.
And I think most of us can agree that there is one sort or another of moral obligation, under some or all circumstances, for a lactating woman to feed a hungry child, especially if it is hers.

But what I want to know is, do you think that can or should be legally compelled? In other words, it should be made illegal for a lactating woman to fail to feed her own child with her own breast milk.

If you DO think that this could and should be legally compelled, where do you draw the line about when a woman would cease to be so obligated?

And if you don't, and you DO think that abortion should be made illegal, how do you draw the distinction between these two instances of one person feeding another person out of the substance of her being?

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LoverOfJoy
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OpsanusTau, women are already legally obligated to feed their own children or they risk losing their children and possibly facing jail time. I don't think, "All that was available was breast milk and I wasn't giving that up," would be considered a valid excuse (although it might be taken into consideration for some insanity plea...I'm no lawyer).

If the woman really felt her life or health was in serious danger if she fed the baby, I think a judge should consider making exceptions (or maybe a law should explicitly have a provision for that). I see it similarly to the airplane instructions. You get the oxygen for yourself before your child because if you don't you could very likely both die. A person shouldn't ever be legally obligated to die for another.

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Jesse
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The human body has that covered, for the most part.

A womans milk will dry up long before she dies of hunger or thirst.

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