Why would my mother-in-law breastfeed my newborn?

What you need to know:

I caught my mother-in-law breastfeeding my newborn while I was away taking a bath

I caught my mother-in-law breastfeeding my newborn while I was away taking a bath. I was truly shocked but she said my baby was crying so to soothe him she made him take her breasts. It sounds so abnormal. I told my husband and he says I should ignore the episode. I do not want it to happen again. How do I approach the topic with my mother in law?


Dear Anonymous,

This is a significant challenge that can act as an example for others in a similar situation. The relationship between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law is a complex one. While it is a natural feeling for a mother-in-law to relate with her son, it is not always the same for a daughter-in-law.

 This might be due to the misconception that this relationship rarely works out well. Also, the bond between a mother and son is strong since it starts before birth and continues through adulthood while the relationship between the mother and daughter-in-law depends a lot on mutual respect and acceptance between the two.

 In this case, where a mother-in-law goes ahead to breastfeed a grandchild without prior discussion or emergency that necessitates it, is unusual and has a lot to do with dynamics in culture. Your husband is key here and I ask that you take a keen interest in how he relates with his mother.

 If she is the overbearing type, he might be reserved when it comes to speaking about issues such as the one at hand. Try to be polite while seeking support from your husband.

Emphasise how what she did makes you feel, explain your fears and be clear about them. Forcing him to confront his mother might not end well, bearing in mind that her behaviour might not be as shocking to him as it is to you.

 Try to also understand why she thinks this is okay and normal. Could it be that she is still holding on to a certain tradition where then, it was okay for grandparents to breastfeed their grandchildren, especially when there was a problem at birth?  Or maybe it is something different that you know will cause a discussion to enable you to express your concerns about the issue.

 There are many reasons why this could be happening, sometimes it has to do with overstepping boundaries.

Communication gaps in the family can also lead to such huge surprises. Finding ways of letting your mother-in-law know how you feel about the whole experience will let her know her limits while taking care of her grandchild.

  There is no easy way to deal with this as it might provoke your emotions. It is, therefore, essential to practice calming exercises such as taking a deep breath and dealing with your anger first before you bring up such a discussion.

Being in charge of your emotions will enable you to express your concerns appropriately.

Reader advice

Set boundaries

Jane Mukisa. While most mothers are not dealing with a mother-in-law who is eagerly hoping to wet nurse her grandchild, this out-there situation is a reminder that it is essential to set and hold boundaries with extended family. The more and earlier on parents are able to do this, the healthier and happier they will be.

It was innocent

Kindred Heart. My dear grandmother has always done this for her grandchildren. I think it is normal and you should not really blow it out of proportion. Would you react the same if your mother did this?

 There are other ways

Sarah K Frankie. It is the dismissive comments that I do not understand; she should plan her baths when the baby is asleep or she is overreacting. It is unusual and she is not overreacting; she is concerned. It is a question of boundaries. There are other ways of soothing the baby.

She was buying time

Nazil Amutuhaire. If you grew up in an urban setting, then you are right to wonder but for people who grew up in the village like me, it is common. She was just buying time for you to have a bath and then come to breastfeed the baby.


Ivan Waswa. I think she did it in good faith and did not mean any harm. She also did not try to hide the fact even when she heard you coming out of the bathroom. Sometimes grandparents just want to help. Her method may be unconventional but she was just trying to help.

It is acceptable

Nipra Mubiru. I was told that my mother had to leave me as a baby and go start another chapter of her life in a foreign country. My grandmother took over my care and I am told she would breastfeed me since I refused any other type of feeding. To me, it is okay and an acceptable way of soothing the baby.

Not right

Joanne Cullen. I am a grandmother and would not dream of doing this, especially without the parents’ permission.

It was unavoidable

Noelina Nabukalu. My sister breastfed my baby. I had no breastmilk at all and the baby was over crying out of hunger yet we were travelling and held in terrible jam. I was glad she helped and besides, my baby is healthy and well.

Parents must say yes

Sharifah Riley. It is a double-edged sword. I want to say it is okay but what if she has say an infection that she can pass on to the baby? I think this should only be done if the parents say it is okay.

Evelyn Kharono Lufafa is a counselling psychologist with Sermotherapy Counselling Foundation