Wet Nursing: When to Take, Risks & Alternatives

Wet Nursing – When a Baby is Breastfed by Another Woman

Wet nursing is the term given to the act of breastfeeding another woman’s baby. There are several reasons why women resort to wet nursing and it’s a practice that is not as uncommon as you may think. It was popular before the 1900s and still continues today. Continue reading for all you need to know about wet nursing babies.

Wet Nursing

What is Wet Nursing?

Technically wet nursing is when a baby is entirely fed by another woman who is not her biological mother. The term is often used to mean cross nursing as well in recent times. Cross nursing occurs when the baby is sometimes nursed by another woman who is not his biological mother. The woman who breastfeeds another mother’s baby is called a wet nurse. The answer to whether wet nursing is safe is yes. Wet nursing has been around for thousands of years and is an excellent way to nurse a baby as long as proper precautions are observed. A wet nurse should be well-nourished and healthy with ample supply of breast milk to feed a baby.

History of Wet Nursing

Going by historical records, wet nursing has been around for a very long time. Some of the earliest civilizations such as the Egyptians had wet nursing practices and codes established for the regulation of it. Before the 17th century, many of the upper-class women had the practice of sending their babies to rural peasants or wet nurses from the lower class for the first two or three years of their life. It was done to avoid inconvenience to wealthy women and to ensure their babies were nourished with wholesome breast milk. In England, wet nurses were highly valued and respected during the 18th century. Other parts of the world also had wet nursing as the only way to nourish a child if the biological mother was incapable of producing her own breast milk. Mothers who had excess milk often cross nursed other children who were in need. In fact, until the 1900s there were no widespread alternatives to breast milk for babies that were safe. And babies born to mother who couldn’t breastfeed would almost surely die. Wet nursing in India is still common in rural areas and gaining popularity in urban centres.

When Can You Go for Wet Nursing?

There are many circumstances that call for the help of a wet nurse, they include:

  • Working mothers who are too busy to spend time feeding their babies as they are devoted to building their careers. When such women want their babies breastfed with natural human milk and not formula milk.
  • Mothers who are unable to nurse their child as they are on medications which could harm the baby when transferred through breast milk.
  • Wet nursing is also a good idea for mothers who are having a difficult time producing their own breast milk to satisfy their baby’s growing appetite.
  • Adoptive mothers or same-sex couples who are unable to breastfeed their baby, but also don’t want to raise the baby on formula can hire the services of a wet nurse.

When Can You Go for Wet Nursing

Are There Any Dangers of Wet Nursing?

Wet nursing also has some drawbacks that should be considered.

  • A mother who is wet nursing another baby might risk interruption of breast milk for her own child.
  • Infections are a potential possibility for both the mother and the baby.
  • Breastmilk composition varies as the baby grows. This can lead to a difference in the nourishment a baby can get if the wet nurse has her own baby who is of a different age.
  • Wet nurses often have plenty of breastmilk which can lead to the let-down reflex.
  • Sometimes babies that are older than four months refuse to feed from a wet nurse.
  • Sometimes wet nursing can have unwelcome impacts on the baby’s siblings or the household.

How to Hire a Wet Nurse for Your Baby?

You can either have a private arrangement with a lactating mother who is healthy and has a baby close to the age of your own. The age difference matters as the composition of the breastmilk changes as the baby gets older. For full nourishment, your baby requires milk that is produced for his age or state of development. You may also opt for the services of a professional wet nurse through local resources or an online agency. There are a couple of things you need to keep in mind before hiring a wet nurse:

  • Do not be fooled by the chubby appearance of a wet nurse’s baby and assume the quality of her milk or services. Do thorough background checks and screen her for diseases even if you know her personally.
  • Ensure the wet nurse is enjoying excellent health. She shouldn’t be on any prescriptive or OTC medication and must have a clean medical history. Herbal supplements must also be accounted for.
  • Wet nurses must be screened for STDs and other common diseases such as hepatitis and tuberculosis. Preferably undergo tests that are done for both wet nursing mothers and biological mothers to ensure there are no risks. The testing needs to be set up as a private arrangement since hospitals do not do this.
  • Wet nurses should have a lifestyle that reflects that of biological mothers. They shouldn’t smoke, drink alcohol or use other substances. If you have restrictions such as eating only organic foods and have limited intake of coffee or tea, you should look for someone who adheres to the same.

Alternatives to Wet Nursing

When you are unable to breastfeed your baby for any reason, there are other options for nourishment.

  • Mothers struggling to produce enough breastmilk can benefit greatly from cross-nursing. A cross- nursing arrangement with a known breastfeeding mother or a professional can fulfil all the baby’s nutritional needs.
  • If breastfeeding is not possible, breast pumps can be used to save milk which can be bottle fed later.
  • Low breastmilk can be supplemented with infant formula partially or you can choose to feed infant formula only.
  •  Breastmilk is available from breastmilk banks which can be bought on the prescription of a doctor.

Wet nursing is a wonderful option for women who are unable to meet the nutritional demands of their babies on their own. It is important to set up an arrangement with a thorough understanding of the process and the risks involved.

Also Read:

Low Carb Diet While Breastfeeding
Foods That Increase Production of Breast Milk
Fruits to Eat and Avoid during Breastfeeding

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