Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week’s chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence email@example.com.)
What would you do if you caught your mother in law breastfeeding your newborn?
A Breast Too Far
In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman who discovered her mother-in-law suckling her newborn son.
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. And if I suddenly go silent it's not because a question was shocking, but because Pepco is my electricity provider. (We lost power four times yesterday.)
Q. Breast-Feeding Mother-in-Law: I had a baby two months ago. About two weeks ago, my husband had to go out of town for a few days, so his mother came to stay with the baby and me. One night I heard the baby crying, and heard my MIL go to him. I thought she was going to bring him to me to nurse so I stayed in bed for a while. When she didn't bring him, I figured she was just rocking him back to sleep and went to see if she needed anything, like a bottle from the fridge. When I entered the room I saw her holding my son to her breast, letting him suckle. I was (and am) livid. I took my son back to my room and told her she had to leave first thing in the morning. I want to call the police, but my husband thinks that would be taking things too far. We're at an impasse. Should we call the police? I'm hesitant to let her near my son again.
A: Seeing your mother-in-law turn herself into a human pacifier must have been quite a shock. Your poor infant son also must have been wondering why mom's abundant supply was now Sahara-dry. At least you don't say that your mother-in-law gave some cockamamie excuse that she was just trying to protect your son from the bisphenol A in his baby-bottle nipple. But the fact that this letter is about your mother-in-law's nipple is enough to give anyone feelings of morning sickness. New parents get into all sorts of hassles with the grandparents over different styles of raising the kids. But this is the first time I've ever heard of a young mother having to say to her mother-in-law, "And I'd prefer you didn't put your breast in little Jason's mouth." I completely understand your need to ask her to leave. But though your complaint would be a classic on the police blotter, it is not a matter for law enforcement. Your husband needs to have a very serious talk with his mother about boundaries—emotional and physical. He needs to explain that if she can't respect and understand them, she will not have access to her grandchild. I'm also wondering if she might possibly need a mental health work-up because her behavior was just bizarre. In any case, if she keeps buttoned up, she should be allowed to have access to your son, but I understand if it's a long time before she makes it onto the baby-sitting roster.