Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wet Nursing

Would you nurse another woman's baby? We hear stories of heroic women during disasters breastfeeding two, three or even up to eight babies so they won't starve. Would you do it?

If, for some reason, you could not nurse your own baby, would you hire another woman to do it if you were financially capable of doing so? The benefits of breastfeeding are well known, and it seems that they continue to discover more good things about it every day.

With all the issues surrounding formula feeding like contaminants in the formula, recalls and other problems, wet nursing almost seems like a dream come true. Generations ago, wet nursing was popular. As described in Gabrielle Palmer's "The Politics of Breastfeeding," noblewomen used wet nurses because their families dictated that they must be ready to breed again and produce more heirs. Some women made a good living for their own families by wet nursing.

Judith Waterford, a wet nurse in the early 1800s, was written about by the medical community. She worked as a wet nurse for over 50 years, nursed six children of her own and was still able to produce milk at the ripe old age of 81. At her peak, it is said "she produced two quarts of breastmilk unfailing every day." She was sad to report at the age of 75 that she could not produce enough milk to feed more than one baby at a time. Can you imagine it?

How many of you would sign up to be a wet nurse if you could still nurse your own child at the same time? I freely admit that I would. I've nursed eight children of my own. They are all healthy and have grown well. If I could help support my family by providing the best baby food on earth to someone's child, I'd do it.

Maybe we should form a wet nursing co-op. Those of us who are confident in our nursing abilities could offer to nurse the children of those who for one reason or another cannot. Who benefits the most? The baby! Who suffers? The formula companies! They promise nutrition they cannot deliver, especially to those babies most at risk. If only we could figure out how to be paid for our efforts, everyone would benefit. Our families would have more income. Babies would be fed more nutritious food. Other parents could rest easy knowing their babies were getting the best even though they could not provide it themselves.

I know someone will bring up the problem of contagion. Any woman interested in wet nursing would have to have a health screen, of course. This should be a no-brainer. From what I read, some companies in California that offer nannies are also starting to offer wet nursing services. Is the wet nurse making a comeback?

What do you think? Please post comments below.


Florida Science said...

I would become a wet nurse! I actually thought of it while breastfeeding and researched it a bit. Found out it died out when formula started. I was so disappointed. I could even breastfeed children with allergies! I breastfed my son, whom had extreme food allergies. I would gladly become a wet nurse in less than one heart beat. I dont know if it is coming back, but it should.

Toni said...

I would too, Ashley... especially if it could help me support my family. If it would become a career again, I'd be there in a heartbeat.

Enjoy Birth said...

I would! I actually nursed my nephew once or twice when he was a few days old and his mom wasn't available. I was glad to help out.

I think it would be awesome to be a wet nurse. :)

Sarah said...

Hi, I have given birth to one daughter but I have two more "milk" daughters :) Breastfeeding has been a beautiful gift to me and these three children and has helped our relationships blossom. Not wet nursing, but still of interest :)

I've written about these experiences on my blog:
My 1st Tandem Nursing Experience

Gaining a wife and two milk daughters

Anonymous said...

IS VERY GOOD..............................

Cilla Stevens said...

I have several babies that I have wet nursed on occasion. I have nursed my own six children and their best friends, in some cases at the same time. I was brought up in a communal type atmosphere and wet nursing was very popular. My moms friends would feed my siblings so my mom could go somewhere for a few hours and she would return the favour. This is something that I never thought was weird or wrong. How much better would it be for some babies who are formula fed to have this advantage. I am a doula and childbirth/breastfeeding educator now because of the natural example my mom showed me while growing up.
I can still express a bit of milk after having weaned my youngest 4 years ago, I would donate it to a worthy cause.

LJn said...

I would and I did. One of my best friends couldn't nurse her nearly-newborn baby because she had to be somewhere for a week where her baby was not allowed. I was weaning my son so my milk supply was low. I'd nurse the baby, then give her a bottle to fill her up the rest of the way (had I known I was going to be asked this, I would not have begun weaning my son). My friend pumped enough to keep her own milk going. And when she returned she and her daughter were able to continue their nursing relationship.

I also nursed a breastfed baby that a friend was babysitting (one time only). This baby was old enough to know I was not the mother and I got a bit of a strange look, but the baby took the breast and fell asleep.

After my second baby was born, I had so much milk I could have nursed an extra one or two babies. I wish I'd had the chance.

now a mom of 3 said...

I had never really thought of this topic. I am nursing my 9 month old son right now. I also nursed my other two children. I would like to think that I would do it, but I don't know? It is something to think about.

Unknown said...

I would!

Love Thy Neighbourhood said...

Wow! I found this to be such an interesting post, and have told people about it ever since. I would love to be able to support my family by breastfeeding babies! Money for such a lovely thing.
I have given milk away to a woman who had a low supply when her baby was new (I had more than enough for my young fellow). I donated several times and was so pleased to be able to help. There is a breastmilk 'bank' at a local hospital here, but there are so many hurdles to jump through before you can donate that many women don't. Milk that is donated is reserved for only the most premature and unwell babies. I wish there was more flexibility as there would be so many women willing to help out. Thanks again for this post!

xuechen li said...

Wet nursing was popular in my country too because people in my country are wrong about the quality of the formula feeding; however, they may not consider nursing other babies except themselves’. But I know some people doing wet nursing to other baby for money. No matter for what reason, I consider wet nurses are worthy of respect.

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