A review of wet nursing experiences, motivations, facilitators and barriers


When breastfeeding becomes marginalized in a culture, maternal behavior that was considered normal in times when people grew up seeing breastfeeding women around them comes to be viewed as socially unacceptable. Shared nursing and wet-nursing are examples of behaviors that have been common all over the world in nonurbanized societies. Unfortunately, when bottle-feeding of artificial milks becomes the primary mode of infant feeding, how people used to relate to one another can rather quickly be forgotten, and many begin to think that breastfeeding is—and should remain—an essentially private experience between each mother and her baby. The first summer we settled on our land in Tennessee, we were presented with our first nursing challenge: One hundred of the three hundred of us came down with hepatitis A—probably from eating uncooked watercress that had been put in the store. Two pregnant women, Linda and Lisa, had their babies prematurely because of contracting the disease. Both babies were too small to maintain their body temperature, even in the August heat, so each spent some weeks in incubators at our local hospital. Breast-pump technology was in its infancy in the early s; we had some manual pumps of the old bicycle-horn type, but nothing like the electric pumps of today. Although Linda and Lisa had some degree of success pumping manually, it was obvious that stronger measures would be necessary for them to maintain good milk production. At my suggestion, some of the other mothers of young babies in our community worked out schedules among themselves and helped Linda and Lisa keep their milk supply abundant by bringing their own babies to their homes to be nursed by them. This arrangement certainly helped Linda and Lisa keep their milk flowing, emptying their breasts far better than they could achieve with the manual pumps.


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This paper presents the extant evidence for nurses in papyri of Ptolemaic date and indicates the ways in which the hiring of wet nurses in Roman Egypt is.

Gender, Empire, and Postcolony pp Cite as. The experience has united what are otherwise ethnically, racially, and religiously diverse individuals in European, Latin American, and Asian countries, among other areas. In Brazil, the practice of wet nursing originated in the sixteenth century and lasted into the twentieth. Upper-class white families commonly used enslaved African women as amas de leite wet nurses before the abolition of slavery in and later hired free women to breastfeed their infants.

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A History of Infant Feeding

I don’t like the use of “suitable one” in the line “Furthermore, a wet nurse often completes the duties of the midwife, if a suitable one is not found. I’d really like to see a source on this statement: “Through frequent stimulation of the areolae and nipples, a woman may begin lactating and, therefore, be able to nurse. Hi, I changed the end of a sentence from ‘insure an heir’ to ‘ensure an heir’.

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Berthe Morisot’s Wet Nurse and Julie [ 1 I of date. Wet-nursing was frequently the subject of humorous caricatures right down to the beginning.

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In the days before baby formula, new mothers had far fewer options for food for their babies. Because of rampant childhood diseases and absence of many other options of sustenance for infants, breastmilk played a vitally important role in the development of society and families. Many slaveholding women designated enslaved women to be wet nurses for the newly born white children.

As Robert Mallard describes in his memoir, As a babe, I drew a part at least of my nourishment from the generous breasts of a colored foster mother. Growing up on a plantation in Georgia, Mallard was certainly one of many young children who were cared for primarily by slaves instead of his own parents. This use of enslaved women as wet nurses caused a great deal of debate among Southerners.

Many slave holding women did not even see nursing their children as part of their normal responsibilities as mothers. Other women however did look upon this practice with a skeptical and critical eye. In one woman’s judgment, ‘that woman is but half a mother who does not suckle her own children’.

10 Extinct Job Titles

It was popular before the s and still continues today. Continue reading for all you need to know about wet nursing babies. 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 first records of wet nursing date back thousands of years to ancient Israel, Egypt and Greece. Wet nurses were needed when a mother.

In certain periods of history and among some social levels, wet-nursing was a paid profession. The history of wet-nursing is ancient dating to perhaps bce and widespread. It continued as a practice into the 21st century, though in many parts of the world knowledge of its potential dangers has made it more of a practice of necessity than of convenience or prestige. Reasons for employing a wet nurse have not varied over the millennia.

Until the improvement of infant bottles and their sterilization and the production of infant formula, it was the safest, simplest, and best option for keeping infants, who require the nutrients found in breast milk, alive. If, because of her own illness, death, or inadequate or failed lactation , a mother was unable to feed her newborn infant, a wet nurse would be employed. As childbirth, motherhood, and child rearing became medicalized, the once-common practice of wet-nursing began to decline.

In most developed countries—because drugs , alcohol , and viruses such as HIV and other potentially damaging matter can be passed to an infant through breast milk—the practice of wet-nursing has been largely replaced by the use of infant formula. In regions where other alternatives are scarce, wet-nursing continues to be common. The practice of cross-nursing, where a woman breast-feeds both her child and another, is sometimes employed, most commonly for purposes of child care or babysitting.

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Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

It emphasises that feeding In South Sudan, many women report not being able to breastfeed. Whilst in some cases this is about traditional beliefs and practices around infant feeding, maternal nutrition I am looking for existing guidance on wet nursing, ideally in the context of emergencies but also for non-emergency settings that could be adapted.

Wet nursing existed for many centuries dating as far back as the biblical days. However, in history, only slave mothers were forced into the act.

A new study examines the history and resurgence of milk sharing. Wet nursing was considered the safest and most popular alternative form of nutrition until further options were invented, leading to the eventual decline in the profession. Now, society is seeing a resurgence in milk sharing practices through women with an oversupply who are storing extra breast milk and selling it.

Unlike wet nursing, however, these interactions often take place away from the regulations and medical examinations that once kept this practice relatively safe. Practices of milk sharing can be traced to B. At this time, wet nurses played a vital, lifesaving role in feeding infants who had no alternative form of nutrition if their mother could not provide enough breastmilk herself. Wet nursing evolved into a well-regulated profession, with laws and contracts that governed its practice, including a requirement for completion of a medical examination before being registered.

Though commonplace, wet nursing did also face widespread criticism from those concerned about its effect on the mother-infant bond as well as the risk of disease transmission exacerbated by the low socioeconomic status of many wet nurses. Despite these objections, the lack of hygienic bottles, suitable infant formula, and proper food sterilization techniques to allow for storage of breastmilk left feeding via wet nurse as the only safe alternative to a mother’s own breastmilk for centuries.

It was not until these inventions in the 18th and 19th century — combined with society’s historical distrust of wet nurses — that wet nursing fell out of popularity.

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