A Pennsylvania mother sparked a fiery debate online recently after she shared a photo of herself nursing her son and her best friend's child on Facebook.
Jessica Anne Colletti, 27, has been babysitting her friend Charlie Interrante's 18-month-old son, Mateo, and feeding him for about a year, she explained in a photo caption on the Mama Bean Parenting Facebook page. When Mateo gets hungry, she allows him to breastfeed alongside her own 16-month-old, Lucian.
"So much love between these milk siblings, it's a special bond between us all," Colletti said.
The photo quickly collected a slew of comments, ranging from "Wish I had a nursing babysitter!" to "Don't breastfeed someone else's child. That's just wrong."
Plenty found the photo "amazing" and "beautiful" and came to the young mom's defense by offering their own anecdotes about breastfeeding another mother's child. But some critics questioned whether Colletti was interfering with the bond between Mateo and his biological mother, while still others argued the boys were just too old to be breastfeeding.
Regardless of the public attention, Colletti stands by her and her friend's breastfeeding arrangement, telling People she thinks "people are misinformed."
"They think it's gross bodily fluid that shouldn't be shared or transferred in any way. And I can understand, if people are receiving donated breast milk, they want to have it tested," she explained. "But if you know the mother directly and she's healthy, and you know everything about her, it's a perfectly healthy relationship to have."
And in fact, the expert guidelines back her up. For one thing, the boys aren't too old: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least 12 months, and continuing as long as mother and baby want to thereafter. (The World Health Organization recommends continuing until the child is at least 2.)
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is little risk to a child who is given breast milk from a woman who's not his mother as long as the donor does not have any serious infectious diseases (such as HIV). "Before the invention of bottles and formula, wet nursing was the safest and most common alternative to breastfeeding by the natural mother," concluded a 2009 paper in the Journal of Perinatal Education.
Colletti began breastfeeding her friend's son because he was not responding well to formula and his mom was unable to pump at work. The arrangement has worked out so well for the pair of moms that the two families moved in together last month, Colletti explained to People. "It's a lot easier for us to all live under the same roof. It develops a routine for the babies together," she said. "This works really well for us."