More from: cows milk vs breast milk

That’s just not riiiiight…

Warning: linked articles contain disturbing photos.

Encouraging and enabling women to breastfeed their babies is all well and good, but when we read in the news of women breastfeeding animals, even in so called “emergency situations”, it just is really unsettling. Besides the obvious shock value, it’s not necessarily good for the animal.

A year or two ago, we learned of a woman in India breastfeeding an abandoned baby monkey. Last fall, we learned of a woman in Norway who breastfed a litter of puppies when the puppies’ mother died. Most recently we’ve been hearing about two rare tiger cubs, who have been breastfed over the last six weeks by a woman in Myanmar, who was recruited by the zoo because the mother tiger had rejected them.

We don’t know whatever became of the monkey. We’d like to think the it grew up and went on to live a happy monkey life. But we’ll never know. The puppies were breastfed only for the duration of a weekend, until a lactating dog could be found to take over. The tigers, well, they were breastfed for a matter of 6 weeks, and finally died because their tiger livers just could not handle all the human milk. That, I think, is the saddest part. The zoo staff were aware that these cubs were just wasting away, but they somehow concluded that just turning up the air conditioning would help. Why they didn’t contact other zoos worldwide for a recipe for a formula that more closely approximated tiger-milk, I just don’t understand. I’m sure these were not the first motherless tiger cubs in captivity.

Well, they died. What do we learn from that?

I am surprised the media that took such an interest in these odd cases did not turn it around and begin to question the practice of giving cow’s milk to human babies and children. Granted, for babies, the formula industry has gone to great lengths to doctor up the cow’s milk to try to mimic human breastmilk as closely as possible. But even so, there are still some babies who just cannot thrive on cow’s milk, who cry and are sickly until they are switched to something else. In fact, there are some babies who cannot even tolerate cow’s milk second-hand through their mother’s diet.

Mother nature really did design each milk specific to each species, and feeding the milk of one species to the babies of another species has very real risks for those babies. Even within species, the milk of each mother is tailored specifically to each baby as the baby’s needs change over time.

No one else in the world can give a baby what his own mother can give him. No one else can give your baby what you can. The importance of that cannot be overstated.