Feb. 11, 2009— -- Since ABC's "Nightline" aired a story last week about Salma Hayek's goodwill trip to Sierra Leone, there has been a world-wide outpouring of reaction. Newspapers from Europe to Australia have made headlines out of a portion of the story in which Hayek breastfeeds another woman's newborn son on camera.
The clip of Hayek nursing a very hungry baby boy (ironically born on the same day as her own daughter) has surfaced on YouTube as well as on dozens of other web sites, drawing thousands of comments.
The actress and producer was told by doctors in Sierra Leone that many mothers stop breastfeeding their infants within the first few months after birth because of pressure from their husbands. Tradition has it, in some areas, that it is not acceptable to have sexual relations with breast feeding women.
Sierra Leone has the highest infant mortality rate in the world, in part fueled by malnutrition. Physicians there told Hayek they would like to see mothers breastfeed for a full two years but that stigma too often gets in the way.
Hayek said her decision to breastfeed another woman's child was an attempt to diminish the stigma placed on women for breast feeding. At the time she was still breastfeeding her 1-year-old daughter.
She told "Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden that she thought her daughter wouldn't mind sharing her milk. "Am I being disloyal to my child by giving her milk away?" Hayek said. "I actually think my baby would be very proud to share her milk. And when she grows up I'm going to make sure she continues to be a generous, caring person."
Hayek told McFadden that that the idea of helping a child in this way had a long tradition in her family. She related a story about her great-grandmother many years ago in Mexico saving the starving baby of a stranger by breastfeeding the child.
A blogger on EW.com, the web site for Entertainment Weekly, declared the video clip winner of the "biggest eyebrow-raiser award" and called Hayek cool "because her left breast has now done more for humanity in a few minutes than I've done in roughly my life."
People commenting on mom and parenting web sites also had kudos for Hayek. "I got warm fuzzies when I saw this video," wrote Ribbiee78 on iVillage.com. "Awesome, just awesome. Even that little bit will help this baby boy."
Jennifer Perillo, who is the food editor at Working Mother magazine and writes blogs for NYC Moms Blog, The Mama Chronicles and The Daily Juggle, called Hayek's act "one of the greatest gifts you can give...a piece of yourself." Perillo is currently nursing her nine-month old baby.
She's also happy to see the attention shifted away from the octuplets mom. "Here's one person using her body to feed whatever emotional issues she has," Perillo said about Nadya Suleman, who added eight babies to the six she already had. "The flip side is a woman whose body is producing something naturally who is actually using it in such a powerful and positive way."
Dr. Suzanne Gilberg-Lenz, the OB-GYN expert on momlogic.com, finds the whole thing an ironic twist on America's history of breastfeeding, which includes black wet nurses forced to breastfeed the slave owners' children during slavery and Victorian-era women who paid other women to nurse their children so they didn't have to be stuck at home.
"God bless Salma Hayek, who can go stick her boob in some poor African baby's mouth," Dr. Gilberg-Lenz said. "I think it's completely crazy. But I say, 'You go." She made a point and she made it loud and clear. And look, it's started a conversation about how breastfeeding is good and women should have a choice about it and we shouldn't be so afraid of our bodies."
Here's the originial "Nightline" story about Hayek's trip:
When actress and producer Salma Hayek arrived in Sierra Leone in September, she was not whisked off to a movie set.
She was there not as a celebrity, but as a humanitarian, to see firsthand a leading cause of death in the developing world: tetanus.
"Nightline" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden went along to document the journey.
To most people in the United States, tetanus brings to mind rusty nails and a quick trip to the doctor's office for a shot. But in developing countries like Sierra Leone, maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) is a top cause of death among mothers and their babies.
Hayek said that she didn't know what to expect from the trip.
"I was just open to this experience and it's been quite an amazing one," she said.