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wet nurse

(22 Posts)
ninathenana Thu 22-Dec-11 16:58:00

I have just read an article in a national newspaper, about the fact that some women still have "wet nurses" for their babies. Largely so that they can return to work. I was very surprized by this. Although I know it was common practice a century or so ago.

Not something I would ever have contemplated, even though I had no milk for either of my two.

What do we think grans ???

nanachrissy Thu 22-Dec-11 17:07:18

I would have felt devastated if someone else had breast fed my baby, unless it was a matter of life or death.

tanith Thu 22-Dec-11 17:30:23

I did read an article about women who donate milk for prem babies so I suppose that's a form of wet nursing.. I don't see anything wrong with it but wouldn't do it myself unless maybe I'd been unable to feed my own.

ninathenana Thu 22-Dec-11 18:02:48


I think donating expressed milk for prem babies is a lovely thing to do. Just not sure about having my baby suckle from another womans brest.

jingl Thu 22-Dec-11 18:36:29

Agree with tanith.

MrsJamJam Thu 22-Dec-11 18:42:49

Sounds to me like a journalist playing fast and loose with a few 'facts' and trying to generate a head of steam.

Donating milk for prem babies is a wonderful thing to do if you've got some to spare.

Mamie Thu 22-Dec-11 19:13:47

I am reading a book about women in the eighteenth century in Europe by Margaret Hunt and it is really interesting about how many, many women farmed their babies out with wet nurses. It seems that lots of women had nothing to do with their children as babies and of course the wet nurses' babies often died. Eventually people realised that if you breast fed then you were less likely to conceive quickly and you and the subsequent babies were healthier and breast feeding your own children became fashionable. She actually says that it was rare in all classes for children to be reared just by their parents which casts an interesting light on attitudes of today towards care outside of the home. She also says that the vast majority of mothers worked, many in subsistance agriculture, but also in things like lace-making. There is a u shaped curve of womens' work with the bottom representing about a century from the mid-Victorian age to after World War 2 when fewer women worked.

JessM Thu 22-Dec-11 19:24:46

Royalty etc had wet nurses for centuries. Made wives more rapidly accessible to their husbands for re-impregnation. They went for quantity not quality in those days.
David Copperfield was "brought up by hand" i.e. without the benefit of breast (is my interpretation) A tricky business to say the least in the 19th C.
My grandfather was bottle fed - the bottle rested on the sideboard and there was a long tube with a teat on the end dangling down into the baby's crib or whatever.
No wonder infant mortality was high.
Truby King did a lot to promote Bf. In NZ there were ladies rest rooms set up where this could take place.

bagitha Thu 22-Dec-11 19:28:22

Extra nanny duties. When I first read the OP, my immediate thought was why not? I wondered if the women who employ wet nurses carry on breast feeding as well, part-time. That way, their baby gets breast milk all the time but they are able to go back to work too. So long as the mum is happy about it, I see nothing wrong with it. It's just another way to feed a baby. Hard to put myself or rather, my baby, in the imaginary position of actually doing it, but there's no real reason I can see why someone shouldn't if it suits them.

Carol Thu 22-Dec-11 20:21:17

I think it depends on the circumstances. I donated expressed breast milk as my twins were dropping feeds, and felt I had done something useful. It was only recently when my daughter was struggling to increase her milk supply in the SCBU that the supplementary donated breast milk given to the babies took on such significance, and we really appreciated it being available to them. Some women would be glad of having a wet nurse. Personally, I would appreciate the donation of expressed milk, but not having another woman suckling my children. However, if we were living in a third world country where new mothers were dying, and their babies were at high risk of dying without available breast milk, I would not hesitate to allow another woman to do so.

em Thu 22-Dec-11 20:33:36

There is less of an emotional issue if the breast milk is expressed and then fed to the baby by bottle. Many mums returning to work manage to leave the supplies in the fridge. Given that a year's maternity leave seems to be the norm these days, it's not that hard to imagine completing the weaning process before returning to work.

JessM Thu 22-Dec-11 20:48:11

I suspect the human race might not have survived the last ice age if women had not helped each other out with breastfeeding and adopting and feeding motherless ones. And while thinking about evolution - maybe all this wetnursing etc in previous generations is partly why so many women struggle to establish breastfeeding today. All the other mammals seem to manage so much better.

bagitha Thu 22-Dec-11 20:55:01

I could have been a wet nurse. Didn't 'dry up' completely for about two years after finishing breast-feeding number two. It was only colostrum but a sucking baby would soon have sorted that out. Gave me quite a nice feeling that if I'd found an abandoned baby I could have fed it. It's probably quite a common phenomenon.

Re difficulties of breast-feeding, I do wonder if the proportion of difficulties increases as other options do. If the only options are mum feeds baby or a wet nurse feeds baby or it dies, I guess you put up with a lot of what would be difficulties somewhere else.

Carol Thu 22-Dec-11 21:03:14

That happened to me, too, bagitha. The health visitor said I could supply the neighbourhood with enough milk for a rice pudding each, every time my babies dropped a feed! The longer babies continue to feed, the longer a small milk supply will continue to be available, and many grandmothers have also been known to restart their milk supply after a gap of several years.

Faye Thu 22-Dec-11 22:47:41

D2 recently told me that a woman who lives nearby was successfully breasteeding her adopted baby. I don't know all the details but presume it is her only baby. I have heard of women breastfeeding their adopted babies before.

JessM Thu 22-Dec-11 22:53:38

Yes it can be done if someone is incredibly determined (and thick - or rather tough - skinned) Normally the hormone upheaval after birth kicks off lactation. But apparently if you can get the baby to suck enough it will convince the pituitary that it needs to kick the hormones out. Someone invented a device that you could use to feed formula from a tube while baby is also sucking the nipple. I don't know whether it is really really true that someone who has never been pregnant would achieve a full lactation. But lactation can be restarted like this after a long gap.
Yes all good milk producers in our family smile

grannyactivist Fri 23-Dec-11 00:18:01

I have breastfed another woman's child alongside my own. A dear teacher friend and I had our children six months apart, then she was unexpectedly asked to return to her school to cover for illness for two days a week during her maternity leave. She had had a very difficult time establishing feeding and was afraid that the introduction of bottle feeds would cause problems. I suggested that, as I had plenty of milk I should take care of him and feed him on the two days she was working. It was only for a period of six weeks or so (can't quite remember exactly) but it worked very well. I must admit that the very first time felt a bit odd, but we soon settled and I suppose it was a bit like having twins.
And yes, it is possible to breastfeed an adopted baby even when the mother has never given birth.

Carol Fri 23-Dec-11 00:51:09

Respect ga! What a compassionate thing to do for your friend thanks

JessM Fri 23-Dec-11 08:02:16

agreed. Funny things social norms.

em Fri 23-Dec-11 08:28:55

When I was about to adopt DD2 I had become confident enough as a mum to consider the breastfeeding option. I'd read that it was possible and asked the social worker if I could bring the baby straight from hospital to try it. I was told that wasn't an option as legally the adoption process couldn't start until she was 6 weeks old. By 6 weeks of course, bottle feeding was established so I gave up the idea. (8 years later successfully fed GS - the 'miracle baby').

JessM Fri 23-Dec-11 09:18:07

You breastfed your GS!? fascinting em do tell us more.

em Fri 23-Dec-11 09:30:41

OOPS! Made a better job of feeding than abbreviating! Should have read DS!