Posted by: brambledoula | September 7, 2007

Interesting article

but I have a few bones to pick. For one, formula feeding is NOT perfectly safe and it irritates me to see articles publicly say so without being able to back up that statement. Secondly, what’s so unsafe about wet nursing? If you’re concerned about transmittable diseases, get your nurse tested (drug and disease). Pretty simple solution if you ask  me. Unless the wet nurse does have a deadly disease or is on drugs that transmit through breastmilk, I can’t even begin to imagine how this practice could be more dangerous than formula. Concerning African women and HIV, it’s actually still encouraged for wome in third world countries to nurse. The odds of transmitting HIV through breastmilk is roughly 3%. The odds of a baby dying from drinking formula made with tainted water, or using watered down formula due to the expense, is far higher. In America if you have HIV it is not recommended to breastfeed because these odds switch places since we do usually have clean water and free formula programs. As for the milk being suitable only for that woman’s baby and no other- that is the beautiful thing about breastmilk. It has been shown on ultrasound that breastfeeding babies actually backwash into the breast while nursing, and the milk almost instantly will adapt itself. It’s one of the ways we are able to pass on immunities. If baby is sick, it will pass the germs into the milk, which will adapt, and pass back immunities. It is truly magical, almost unreal sounding, in the way that this stuff works. I also find it ironic that it can say that formula is perfectly safe, and that it is suitable for all babies, when it DOESN’T adapt at all. That like saying one pair of pants is suitable for all women. Do you all wear a size 6 pants? I sure don’t.

Other than these few issues I take with it, I found it interesting and know women even within my own group, myself included, who have occasionally traded off nursing for a night out, or pumping for working mothers who are trying desperately not to formula feed. I have also met adoptive mothers who lactate for their adopted infants, and grandmothers who re-lactate to nurse their grandmothers if mom needs to go back to work or is out of the picture.

Most of my information was gathered from the WIC breastfeeding training class I took. I would love to see some resources for where this article got some of it’s facts.

The return of the wet-nurse

By DIANA APPLEYARD – More by this author » Last updated at 01:04am on 7th September 2007 Comments Comments (26)

Breastfeeding someone else’s baby has been unthinkable for mothers for over a century. Incredibly, despite the health risks, it’s making a comeback in modern Britain When Sarah Hastings walked into her sitting room and saw her childminder breastfeeding Sarah’s baby daughter, she was, not surprisingly, utterly astonished.

Many women might well be horrified at such an intrusion on the sacred bond between mother and child.

Sarah, the 42-year-old director of a communications business from Notting Hill in West London, was speechless.

“I was just stunned because I had not thought about this at all. We’d never discussed it,” she recalls.

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Despite the health risks, Breastfeeding is making a comeback in Britain

“Then I actually smiled. It was, to my mind, the perfect solution and I had no reservations about it whatsoever.

“In fact, it confirmed in my mind that Mary was the perfect childminder for my daughter, because Zoe had started crying, been upset, and Mary had calmly decided this was the best thing for everyone.

“She had the milk because she was breastfeeding her own child, Zoe needed the milk and the comfort, so why not? And Zoe didn’t seem to have a problem coming back onto my breast later on.”

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Arrangement: Sarah Hastings and childminder Mary, who both breastfed Zoe

While Sarah insists she was pleased to see another woman suckling her child, for most women, the ancient art of wet nursing remains the last taboo of modern motherhood.

Wet nursing, cross-nursing, shared feeding, call it what you like – the idea of allowing another woman to breast-feed your baby leaves the uncomfortable feeling of boundaries being overstepped, of someone trespassing on a unique relationship.

For centuries, the British aristocracy employed wet nurses to feed their babies because breast-feeding was seen as ruining a woman’s figure, and, at that time, wealthy women were far more removed from their own offspring.

The practice was commonplace, even among middle- class women, until the middle of the 19th century, when doctors realised that wet nurses might be passing on infections such as syphilis, cholera and TB.

Artificial milk began to be developed as an alternative to mothers who did not want to breast-feed themselves.

Yet a steadily growing minority of mothers now believe that wet-nursing is the answer to the eternal dilemma of women who want to go back to work but also want their babies to enjoy the benefits of breast-milk.

In the U.S., the Beverly Hills agency Certified Household Staffing reports an increasing number of wealthy Californian mothers, many of whom have had breast implants, who want wet nurses for their babies.

In the UK, things have not progressed quite so far.

Usually, wetnursing involves an informal arrangement between friends – or a working mother and her childminder.

Sarah Hasting’s daughter, Zoe, was just two weeks old when she started working for a few hours each day at her communications consultancy.

She employed 36-year-old Mary, a registered childminder.

“In the first few weeks after I had given birth I left Zoe with Mary only for a couple of hours at a time,” she says.

“The first time Mary breast-fed my daughter I was literally in the next room, dealing with clients on the phone.

“Mary was in my living room, looking after both Zoe, then six months old, and her own 18-monthold daughter Nicola.

“I walked back into the room having been longer on the phone than I intended to, and I was really worried that Zoe might be crying because it was time for her feed.

“But then I looked across and there was Mary, suckling not just her child but also my daughter too, on the other breast.”

Despite the fact that they had never had any discussion about Mary breastfeeding Zoe, Sarah, who also breastfed her daughter, professes to have been happy with the arrangement.

Her 39-year-old husband, Michael, who runs his own pharmacy business, was fully in support of the idea.

And he is not alone.

Jessica Wintrip, a 43-year- old teacher from Taunton, breastfed her friend’s three-month-old baby son after noticing he wasn’t putting on weight. She was still feeding her own one-year-old daughter at the time.

She recalls: “I just blurted out ‘Do you want me to feed him?’ It was one of those things you say and then you think, ‘Have I overstepped the mark?’ ”

In fact her friend was happy to hand over her son to Jessica and for the next three months, she fed the baby three times a day.

Another woman who readily breastfed another woman’s child is Melanie Skipton, from Halifax in Yorkshire, who offered her own milk after the mother was seriously injured in a car accident.

Thirty-six-year-old Melanie – a housewife and mother of three who is married to Simon, an IT consultant – had given birth to her own daughter, Molly, a few weeks earlier.

She was contacted through her local breast-feeding support network, who were seeking a mother to wet nurse the baby girl because she had refused to take formula milk from a bottle, and her mother was desperate for her to be fed, even if that meant breast milk from another woman.

“Originally the plan was for me to take some milk which I had expressed from my breasts down to the hospital where her mother was being treated for her injuries, to see if the baby would take it, but when I arrived I thought ‘This is ridiculous, I may as well feed the baby myself’ “.

“The baby’s father agreed because by now the poor child was starving and traumatised.

“She latched on straight away, and it felt perfectly normal, and I was so glad that I could help.

“Obviously in that kind of situation, you can’t make all kinds of health checks, but my support group knew me well and knew that I was perfectly healthy. In the end, five members of our group, all of whom had breastfeeding children, helped the baby out in turns, with her parents’ blessing.

“It does feel very intimate to be feeding another woman’s baby, almost like a betrayal of your own child, but then logic takes over – why shouldn’t you do this? Here was a child in dire need, who required not only feeding but cuddling as well.

“I’m not surprised at all that this is a growing trend. Anything which promotes the cause of breast-feeding is a good thing in my eyes.”

But not surprisingly, the resurgence of wet-nursing – more commonly known today as cross-feeding or shared feeding – is also causing a groundswell of concern and unease.

Even the breast-feeding advocacy group, La Leche League, says it doesn’t encourage the practice.

Spokeswoman, Anna Burbidge, says: “There are very strong reservations against it, both medically and psychologically.

“There are potential hazards. The biggest risk is that of infection being passed from the mother to the child.

“Breast-milk is a living substance expressly designed by your body for your baby, not someone else’s.

“By breast-feeding, you are passing on specific enzymes and antibodies designed to protect your child and the nutrients in your breast-milk change as your baby grows.

“Your milk will not have the makeup which will necessarily suit another child and it also worries me that it might affect the baby psychologically to be fed so intimately by another woman, or even more than one.

“If you speak to the baby when you are breast-feeding them then, of course, your voice will be very different, and that could upset the child.”

In Africa, where wet nursing is commonplace, mothers are actively being discouraged from the practice because HIV can be transmitted via breast-milk.

Anna Burbidge says that anyone considering using cross-nursing should make sure the other mother is screened for TB, hepatitis, HIV, herpes and syphilis, all of which could be carried in breast-milk. But she adds: “Overall, we simply do not think it is a good idea, keen as we are to promote breast-feeding across the UK.”

Breast-feeding expert Clare Byam-Cook agrees: “I personally do not think it has a place in the 21st century. I have spoken to paediatricians about this and they think the risk of infection is too great.”

The Association of Breastfeeding Mothers is more supportive. Spokeswoman Illana King says: “All the cases I know about tend to be an informal arrangement, and I know of several pairs of sisters who feed each other’s children.

“There are counsellors within the ABM who have recently used crossnursing.

“Breast-milk is the optimum food for a baby, and with more mothersgoing back to work so early, this can be the ideal solution if they have a childminder or a maternity nurse who is also breast-feeding their own child.

“In most of the cases I know about, the baby has enjoyed the experience and it has not upset them.

“If you have a crying baby who needs to be fed, and you have the milk, why not take advantage of that?”

Certainly it would seem that a return to wet-nursing could solve the problem faced by those women under pressure to return to work who would like their babies to be breast-fed for longer than their maternity leave will allow.

The health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child have long been established.

It contains antibodies and nutrients not found in formula milk.

Babies who are given formula milk are five times as likely to get infections such as gastroenteritis and problems like ear infections.

And women who breastfeed are far less likely to suffer from breast cancer or osteoporosis.

But 22 percent of women in the UK never breast-feed at all, and by the time a baby is six months old, there are only 2 percent of women still breast-feeding, primarily because the majority have to go back to work.

Clare Byam-Cook says there is too much hysteria and militancy about breast-feeding in the UK.

“If you can breast-feed your child up to six weeks old, and then have to move them on to formula, that is fine,” she says.

“Too many women beat themselves up about it when formula milk is perfectly safe.”

But Robert Feinstock, the owner of the Beverly Hills agency, Certified Household Staffing, believes that by offering wet nurses, he has tapped into a much-needed service for women today.

“The mother recognises the need for her baby to experience the close bond that arises when a baby suckles on a woman’s breast,” he says.

He says the majority of his clients are women who have undergone breast augmentation, which can impair the ability to breastfeed.

So why does the idea of wet nursing arouse such extreme reactions in so many people?

According to sociologist Rhonda Shaw, who has studied the phenomenon in depth: “We perceive feeding another woman’s child to be somehow indecent.

“Adult meanings of eroticism get confused with breast-feeding as a sensual activity.”

She cites a case in Oklahoma where a woman in 2003 was fined £250 and faced a year in jail on a “morals” charge because she breastfed another woman’s child without her consent.

She says: “The exchange of bodily fluids between different women and children and the exposure of intimate bodily parts makes some people uncomfortable.

“It has to do with perceptions of moral decency.” Sarah Hastings, whose daughter Zoe is now seven – and who has a three-year-old son Michael, who was not cross-fed – admits that many other women will be horrified to read about her experiences.

“I know some mothers will think it is weird, or unhygienic, but to me it was the perfect solution.

“At six weeks I had tried to get Zoe to accept my own breast-milk pumped into a bottle, but she couldn’t get her mouth around the teat and it kept falling out.

“Until this point, I’d had to arrange my work between feeds, but with this solution it meant I could get back to work with much less worry and guilt.

“It was all perfectly natural.”

But in the end, of course, there is nothing more natural than a mother feeding her own child.

And this, perhaps, is what many find so troubling about the modern resurgence of wet-nursing.

A woman breastfeeding another woman’s child for health reasons is perfectly understandable.

But the danger is that, as is the case with so much of modern child-rearing, if wet-nursing becomes popular again, it will be not so much because it’s good for the child, but because it’s convenient for the parents.



  1. […] continues at brambledoula brought to you by and […]

  2. Being a mother is the greatest career in the world. In order to born a
    new baby, mother has to sacrifice her own healthy or her figure to
    some extend. And also she have to bear the pain and tiredness.

    Wealthy women are the same as the mothers who do not have much money.
    I posted the question on the Many women said they
    are willing to feed their children by breastfeeding. This has nothing
    to do with money.

  3. Not sure I understand which question you’ve posed? The only time I think I’ve mentioned anything about money and breastfeeding was actually in another article where formula companies have stopped a breastfeeding campaign. That has nothing to do with the wealth status of mothers but of the monetary power of the formula companies. Curious for you to explain your comment? Not offended, just don’t understand what you’re getting at.

  4. […] aiknftcbx967 wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptSecondly, what’s so unsafe about wet nursing? If you’re concerned about transmittable diseases, get your nurse tested (drug and disease). Pretty simple solution if you ask me. Unless the wet nurse does have a deadly disease or is on … […]

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