Milk kinship

An article on stem cells in breast milk in the New Scientist made me to reconsider to concept of milk kinship. Milk kinship is the idea that if two person have been breast-fed by the same woman, usually a wet-nurse, those two person are like family to each other. This concept of kinship can be found in different societies around the world and both in Christianity and Islam we can even find prohibition against marriage between milk siblings.

We modern people use to believe that milk kinship is a type of artificial kinship, but perhaps the ancients were right after all, at least to some extent. Scientists have discovered that breast milk contains stem cells and according to the NS article mentioned above, those cell are actually incorporated into the body. Though this is the case in mice, there is little reason to believe it is not the case in humans.

So if a baby is breast-fed by a wet-nurse he or she might absorb her stem cells in his or body and hence contain her genes. And perhaps discouraging sexual relations between milk siblings is not a bad idea at all. How can we be certain those milk stem cells find their way into the infant’s reproductive organs? Of course, I know this is pure speculation, but you never know…

 

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