Zookeeper Teaches Orangutan to Nurse by Breastfeeding Her Own Baby

After an orangutan mom struggled to nurse her newborn, one new mom stepped in to save the day by showing her how she breastfed her own baby.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Assistant Editor
Updated April 3, 2023
Orang-Utan Dunja breastfeeds her month-old female baby 08 January 2008 at Leipzig's zoo
Image: JENS SCHLUETER/DDP/AFP | Getty Images

New moms know better than anyone that breastfeeding isn’t always easy. Getting a proper latch can take time and practice, and sometimes babies need a little extra help. That’s why when a baby orangutan at the Metro Richmond Zoo was having trouble nursing from her mother Zoe, the staff members turned to zookeeper and new mom, Whitlee Turner, for assistance.

Turner, who was still breastfeeding her own child, stepped up to help Zoe. As a parent who "had a really hard time in the beginning” with her breastfeeding journey and “required a lot of guidance and help,” Turner was thrilled to share her knowledge. “Whether it was an orangutan or a human, I just want to be able to help any new mom,” Turner said in a press release. Just outside of the enclosure, Turner breastfed her own baby Caleb in front of Zoe in hopes that Zoe would learn from a live demonstration.

“I was very exaggerated when I put him on so that [Zoe] could see that the baby goes here. The whole time I was talking to her and pointing at her, pointing at the baby, pointing at her breasts. And when Caleb was latched I was showing it to her, making sure that she saw the important part,” she said. “The whole time she just kept watching me curiously. She didn’t immediately breastfeed her baby, but she was definitely watching the whole time.”

Less than 24 hours later, Zoe nursed her baby for the first time. The demonstration had worked! According to the zoo, Zoe and her unnamed baby boy are healthy and bonding well. They can be seen at the zoo daily from the Safari Train Ride.

If your breastfeeding journey has been difficult or you simply want to prepare ahead of time, consider reaching out to a lactation consultant near you. Lactation consultants can assist you in troubleshooting breastfeeding issues and are covered by insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Learn more about how lactation consultants and how you can find the right one for you here.

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