'She didn't hesitate': police officer praised for breastfeeding stranger's baby

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

An Argentinian police officer who breastfed a baby after it was brought into a busy children's hospital in the capital Buenos Aires has been hailed a hero in her homeland, even receiving a promotion.

Celeste Ayala, a police officer in Buenos Aires, reportedly fed the hungry baby while she was on duty guarding a children's hospital in the district of La Plata.

The incident came to light after her workmate shared the details in a Facebook post on August 14, which included a photo of Celeste sitting on a chair in the hallway of the hospital in full uniform feeding the baby.

Marcos Heredia wrote: "I want to make public this great gesture of love that you had today with that little baby". He went on to say that despite not knowing the baby, Celeste, who is also known as Cele, "didn't hesitate" to act as if she was the baby's mother and "fulfilled [its] needs".

He added that Celeste "didn't care about filth and smell", unlike the hospital staff, who had reportedly complained about the baby's lack of hygiene.

According to media reports, the baby was about six months old and was the youngest of six siblings brought to the hospital that day by social workers.

Celeste told Argentine news outlet Clarin that the six children had been taken from their parents and were very ill, undernourished and had scabies. She said the parents were unemployed and had addiction problems.

She reportedly told the news outlet that she heard the baby crying and recognised it was hungry as it was putting its fingers in its mouth. She said she told the social worker she had a 16-month-old child at home and could feed the baby, before being given the go ahead.

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"I brought him closer to my breast and then he did not want to leave me," she was reported as saying, adding the baby also enjoyed the comfort of being held and touched.

She said three of the children had now been placed in a home while the remaining three, including the baby, were still in hospital, where she had visited them each day.

The Minister of Security of the province of Buenos Aires, Cristian Ritondo, met with Celeste this week to tell she would be promoted to sergeant.

In a tweet shared on August 18, Mr Ritondo wrote: "Today we received Celeste, the officer who nursed a baby at the children's hospital #LaPlata to notify her of her promotion. We wanted to thank you in person for that gesture of spontaneous love that managed to calm the baby's cry".

The volunteer fire department where Celeste is a cadet also congratulated her on their Facebook page, writing her actions "fill us with pride and force us to redouble our efforts, work and solidarity with our community".

This is not the first case of its kind to gain media attention. In 2016, a police officer in Columbia was hailed a hero after she breastfed a starving baby she found in a forest while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.

Then last year a police officer in China was photographed breastfeeding a plaintiff's baby in court after the mother gave her permission to feed the crying baby.

And in 2009, actress Salma Hayek breastfed a hungry baby while on a humanitarian visit to war-torn African nation Sierra Leone.

But not everyone agrees with the police officer's decision to breastfeed a stranger's baby. When the news was reported elsewhere in the world this week, some commentators were up in arms.

Others mentioned the possible health risks to the baby. A number of serious infections can be passed on to babies via breast milk, including HIV or HTLV-1, infectious tuberculosis, hepatitis B, herpes simplex, chicken pox and CMV.

Feeding a child other than your own is known as wet nursing. It was common practice prior to the introduction of infant formula and still occurs throughout much of the world.

The World Health Organisation's infant feeding recommendation references milk from a wet nurse as an acceptable source of breast milk and a better choice than formula.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association has in the past suggested mothers make an informed decision about using another woman's breastmilk and suggested screening first.

Australian breastfeeding advocate Meg Nagle says on her website The Milk Meg she finds it odd that while some people might find wet nursing gross or weird, they have no problem feeding babies milk from a cow.

"There is no question that in many cases it would have been a necessity for the baby to live. Yet what is hardly mentioned (if at all) in documents, research papers and articles is that wet-nursing someone else's baby often just feels like the right thing to do," she writes.

Ms Nagle had admitted feeding other women's babies and has allowed another woman to breastfeed her child.

Her decision to breastfeed her nephew while her sister was at work two years ago sparked huge debate.