Breastfeeding Medicine

Physicians blogging about breastfeeding

Breastfeeding Backlash

with 10 comments

Many of you may be familiar with Salma Hayek’s work: movies, television, humanitarian work.  To be honest, aside from seeing some of her films, I wasn’t really familiar with her work.  Then I began to hear her very distinctive voice in commercials. As a UNICEF spokesperson, Ms. Hayek was promoting Tetanus awareness in Sierra Leone with corporate partner, Pampers.  As part of the campaign, Ms. Hayek went to Sierra Leone in February 2009. While she was there, she was being filmed by ABC news. Then something completely unplanned, unscripted happened:  Ms. Hayek nursed a starving baby.

At first, when I read about it, I couldn’t believe it. Then, once I watched the news footage, I was moved, in awe, and speechless.  Needless to say, Ms. Hayek became much more than a ‘Hollywood actress’ to me. At the time, Ms. Hayek was nursing her then one-year old baby; ironically, the African baby she nursed was born on the same day as her daughter.  During the interview, she explained her reasons for nursing a baby she just encountered: with permission from her mother, who was so malnutritioned that she didn’t have enough milk, she wanted to help nourish a starving baby.  She explained that her great-grandmother nursed another child in Mexico (wet-nurse or cross-nurse) under similar circumstances.  Initially, she felt as though she was betraying her own child by nursing another baby, however, she realized that her daughter would be happy with her decision to help this baby.

You don’t have to be a lactation consultant or breastfeeding advocate to acknowledge and appreciate the complete selflessness and beauty of Ms. Hayek’s gesture.  I’m sure many of you, if faced with similar circumstances, would do the same.

Then a couple of weeks ago, Selma Hayek was in the news again.  In this month’s In Style Magazine, when asked about her breastfeeding the baby in Sierra Leone, Ms. Hayek revealed that not only was she shocked with all the attention her act received, but surprisingly, she received a great deal of hate mail.  Many people were offended that she breast-fed a black child.

WHAT??!!  I had the same questions many of you may already be asking: How can a beautiful, maternal, selfless act of feeding a starving child garner such hatred and racist remarks?! To be honest, after my disbelief, I was moved to tears…first happiness by her selfless act, but then sadness to the backlash she faced.  Maybe I’m nieve, but to make this act into a political, racial, or any polarizing issue completely baffles me.  Whether or not people support breastfeeding, others shouldn’t judge. Ms. Hayek not only gave a baby life-saving nutrition, but also gave the mother a much-needed respite to heal her own body, so that she could eventually make enough milk for her own baby.

Although such a simple gesture, it spoke volumes.  It demonstrated how empathy can transcend social, political, and racial boundaries.  Her gesture was 100% genuine, done only with the best intentions.  It was not a photo-op or media stunt–it was just Ms. Hayek’s maternal instincts shining through.

All I can say to those people who were offended and worse, put a racial tilt on the whole scenario, my guess is, these people have never been faced with nor experienced that kind of immense poverty faced by so many in Third World Countries. Kudos to Salma Hayek…for your act of kindness and being an inspiration to so many of us.

Natasha K. Sriraman is a general pediatrician and a professor of Pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters/Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, VA.

Posts on this blog reflect the opinions of individual ABM members, not the organization as a whole.

Written by NKSriraman

June 10, 2010 at 6:22 pm

10 Responses

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  1. I think that there are so few instances of selflessness that people cannot believe it and have to tarnish an innocent gesture.

    so sad.

    What class and generosity she has! so rare in Hollywood…

    aravinda ayyagari

    June 11, 2010 at 3:31 am

  2. *standing ovation to blogger & Ms. Hayak*

    I’d do the same thing. I’m currently pumping milk for a friend of mine with an adopted child with serious health problems, around breastfeeding my 3rd healthy son. It’s a small way I express my gratitude for the blessings I have received in this life.


    June 11, 2010 at 9:50 am

  3. Selma is my hero. The mainstream public needs more role models like her.


    June 11, 2010 at 1:50 pm

  4. This is outstanding! I give her a round of a plause. I wish I could do something like this. It is simply amazing. I’m sure it was weird at first, but like she and you said, her baby will be so proud of her for what she did for this young life. Great post!


    June 11, 2010 at 2:57 pm

  5. Thank you so much for raising the issue of breastfeeding here. I breastfed my 2 boys until they were each 14 months old. I got pregnant with my second when my first was 10 months old and I continued breastfeeding for 4 months.

    While I was breastfeeding both of my babies, since I was a heavy producer, I shared my milk with other babies, first twins and then one single baby. It’s a great pleasure to know that I helped my own babies thrive, but also 3 others when their moms were struggling with breastfeeding. There’s nothing terrible about sharing your milk with other moms’ babies. Our society has forgotten that we’re mammals and that’s what breasts do.

    98% of all moms out there are physically and mentally able to breastfeed, and start their newborn’s life by doing it. There is no good reason to explain why so many stop, except the fact that they experience lack of support and societal pressure. It’s time to enpower women to make breastfeeding a first step in their baby’s life. Breastfeeding moms rule!
    Read the 10 things people don’t tell you about breastfeeding on my post at:

    Perfecting Motherhood

    June 11, 2010 at 3:39 pm

  6. You are CRAZY cool and so intelligent!! I’m so proud to be your friend!!!


    June 11, 2010 at 4:05 pm

  7. I enjoyed reading your article, Natasha. I commend Salma Hayek for giving of her time and energy for some very worthwhile causes.

    I have, however, always been perplexed about what I see as a lack of consistency to her views. For example, she saves a child from hunger and possible starvation with breastfeeding, and yet she consistently promotes “pro-choice” rallies and marches. If a child has a right to be free from hunger, doesn’t a child also have a right to life?

    Elizabeth Munshi

    June 14, 2010 at 2:52 pm

  8. So Elizabeth, let me get this strait…….
    You’re in favor of a child being condemned to a slow, agonizing death because it fits your moral view as opposed to a STARVING women having the right to terminate a pregnancy because birth control probably isn’t available? Also she knows she will be putting any resulting baby into a tortured situation with no good outcome.
    Tell you what, why don’t you head over to a 3rd world country and explain your view to them? Bring a lot of groceries while you’re at it. Tell those kids who are on their deathbeds “But honey, you’re ENTITLED to what you went thru! Aren’t you glad?”

    Salma, great job. I would have done the same.


    June 17, 2010 at 1:36 pm

  9. I wish John Steinbeck were alive to read this piece. He’d feel totally at home with it. Remember how “Grapes of Wrath” ends? A mother who lost her own child breastfeeds a starving old man. Similar circumstances, different country – our own country, at another time, when widespread poverty and starvation were so familiar to us. Too bad our collective memory is so short. We’d be less inclined to sneer.

    Jerry Calnen

    Jerry Calnen

    June 26, 2010 at 1:39 pm

  10. Salma Hayek is a great personality and i like her attitude about breastfeeding.She showed her kindness by nursing the unknown baby.

    health pharmacy

    October 14, 2010 at 6:17 am

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