Thursday, February 7, 2008

Wet nursing is fashionable again

Apparently, wet nursing is in vogue again, particularly amongst the rich in the USA.

My only experience of wet nursing was in Maori family. The new mother was unable to feed her baby because she was very sore. So her sister, who had a 3 - 4 month old baby, fed the new baby until the mother was able to resume again. She went on the successfully breastfeed for many months.

I was challenged there for a while but the experience was a great learning opportunity for me; to really question myself about my values and beliefs about breastfeeding.

How do you feel about wet nursing - would you be a wet nurse or use a wet nurse's services? Is it a good thing or just down right perverted?

ibu menyusui
Image: 'Terlena dalam Susuan Mamin'


Carolyn said...

I can't imagine why anyone would think that breast feeding another's baby was perverted. I just can't see that. I believe that many family members do this for one another if they are both breast feeding at the same time.I think our perceptions of this have changed so much in recent years. I do believe that this was considered a much less unusual occurrence 20 odd years ago. I have breast fed a baby that was not my own and did not feel it was a strange or unusual thing to do. It seems much more natural to me than putting a rubber teat in a babies mouth.

kenanddot said...

I've thought about this because I've wondered if it would be possible to arrange reciprocal babysitting with another breastfeeding mum. The last few times my husband has tried to give our baby expressed milk in a bottle he has refused it. But I haven't dared broach it because there isn't a fellow mum to whom I am quite that close. The idea of feeding someone else's baby doesn't shock me, but it does seem an extremely intimate thing to do. After all, breastfeeding isn't just functionally about food but about loving, nurturing and bonding. Wet nursing doesn't strike me as perverted, but I am troubled by the concept of wet nursing as an arrangement of convenience for the rich rather than a reinforcement of existing ties of loyalty, love and shared responsibility, as in the Maori family you mention.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thank you for your comments, Dot and Carlyn. My concern, if I was going to have a wet nurse, would be health issues. What of the wet nurse passed on a virus or something?

Anonymous said...

I don't see it as perverted. No idea what the link is there?
I would hate to have a baby that was not my own breastfeed from me. I wonder why? It just feels like a mother child intimacy to me. I would not like another woman to feed my baby - and can't think when this would be necessary. I imagine I would manage to feed my babyorchild even if I was quite sick - unless I was unconscious - but thats not too likely so not giving it much thought.
I share the concerns raised by kenanddot re a convenient service for the wealthy. I also wonder what payment and working conditions would be offered to this group of women workers? I have huge concerns about "status of women" issues in this area really. I think there are links to ethical issues around selling of body parts....especially in a contemporary western capitalist context.

Anonymous said...

Hello Sarah, the interesting thing is this. I thought of the same thing; would I want someone else breastfeeding my child? I wouldn't have a problem feeding another woman's child, but that is because I know that I am healthy and I take my vitamins. I want the best for my child and want the best for any child. I think that if you are going to have someone else breastfeed your child, they need to be screened. Make sure they aren't smoking, drinking alcohol, doing drugs. Also they need to stay away from caffeine, etc. The more I think about it, the more I think I would like to lend my services (for a fee) to a mother who either could not breastfeed her own child or one who would like a night out. As for viruses, I don't know. I think the child can get sick from some. I got strep about three weeks ago, and my baby's pediatrician told me to keep breastfeeding. As long as I was taking my antibiotics my baby would be fine. She never got sick. I would ask your doctor about the virus issue, he/she should know best. I hope this helped.

Sarah Stewart said...

Tanks for your comments, Rae and anonymous.

@Rae: I put the reference to 'perverted' because I can just imagine some people getting totally grossed out by the thought of wet nursing in a western context. Let's face it, there are people that think women breastfeeding in public is offensive. So I was trying to be provocative.

@Anonymous: Sadly, breastfeeding is an activity I'll never engage in again. I do agree that if I was going to accept another woman's milk for my baby, I would want it screened. After all, HIV can be passed on in breast milk.

Idesire said...

After having premature twins 13 years ago I realized just how important breastfeeding is. Since then I have went on to breastfeed my now 8 year daughter as well. Sense my body is still producing milk I have considered being a wet nurse, I just have not researched the how's and where's. I feel that being a wet nurse is not only a blessing to the mother who can't do it, but also to the baby.
As a mother I would agree that a wet nurse should be tested for anything that may be of harm to the baby or that would concern the parents.

Sarah Stewart said...

@idesire I have to say that breastfeeding is the only thing I miss about having small children so I could see how wet nursing would help meet that need without having to have more children.

What interested me was to hear that you still produce milk, 8 years after having your baby - isn't the body a wonderful thing?!

Thanks for dropping by.

Jana said...

Although I have to echo Dot and others' concerns about the potential for abuse in this culture, I'm excited to hear so much acceptance about this. I very much agree that this way for mothers to help each other out can serve as an invaluable "reinforcement of existing ties of loyalty, love and shared responsibility, as in the Maori family". I can't ignore, either, the intimacy of the nursing relationship, and I feel like its best place is within the context of family and close friends, where there's no need for an anonymous "screening"--you know each other, your values, and how you're taking care of yourselves. Perhaps some of our culture's squeamishness about nursing others' babies comes from the rampant mixing up of intimate parts of our lives with anonymous relationships--we've come to expect that so many of our intimate experiences will be with hired strangers--teachers we barely know teaching our kids, doctors we wouldn't invite to dinner at our house examining our bodies, psychologists hearing our deepest fears and feelings without participating in our lives, etc. As much as I enjoy nursing, and wish it for every baby, the idea of hiring myself out to feed a stranger's baby definitely goes past my boundaries.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thanks Jana....what we haven't talked about yet is that wet-nursing used to be a common practice many years ago...although, again, it was a service for rich women.