We don’t hear so much about wet nursing these days — but it’s happening around the world, and this week many women have been sharing their own experiences of breastfeeding another woman’s child.
Wet nursing (or milk sharing) became a talking point after a Queensland mum posted a photo of herself breastfeeding her nephew on the Facebook page for her blog, The Milk Meg.
“My gorgeous little nephew!” wrote mum-of-three Meg Nagle, who is a lactation consultant. “While my sister was at work today I tried to give him a bottle of her expressed milk a few times (which he wouldn’t take). I could see he was tired so I popped him on the boob and voila, he was asleep in minutes.”
Her post triggered a discussion about breastfeeding someone else’s baby, and the response was overwhelmingly positive, with many women sharing their own wet nursing stories.
“My sister gave birth to my beautiful nephew nearly 4 years ago now! She was exhausted in hospital and he wasn’t quite latching, and she actually asked me ‘PLEASE! JUST FEED HIM!!!'” wrote Courtney Chameleon. “I felt so honoured to give him his first decent feed as a freshy and to help my poor sister get some much needed rest! Will never forget it! Bonding through boob juice!”
“I’ve nursed 4 of my sister’s kids (we were pregnant at the same time 3 times, twins for her the last time),” commented Nicole Elizabeth Hughes-Miller. “Milk’s milk! They don’t care… why should we?”
While wet nursing was once a common practice (it’s how many kings, queens, princes and princesses throughout history were fed as babies), it has divided opinion in recent years.
In 2009, actress Salma Hayek caused controversy when she nursed a newborn baby during a charity visit to Sierra Leone.
“The baby was perfectly healthy, but the mother didn’t have milk,” she said afterwards. “He was very hungry. I was weaning my daughter Valentina, but I still had a lot of milk that I was pumping, so I breastfed the baby.”
In August 2015, an American woman shared a photo of herself feeding her 16-month-old son and her friend’s 18-month-old son simultaneously on a pro-breastfeeding page.
Former nanny Lacey Dangerstone has breastfed 14 babies — only two were her own. Dangerstone was wet-nursed herself, so for her it’s a “really natural feeding experience.”
“My view of wet nursing is that it feels right and is a natural important thing for the child,” the 27-year-old said. “I could express milk into a bottle, the mother could express milk into the bottle, but that is a lot of fuss when you have a breast available and milk literally at the ready. I cannot imagine having to force my children to wean, and I don’t want any other mother to feel under pressure to do that. That is why I will always help out where I can as a wet nurse.”
Two young mums from Connecticut, Stefani Tatavitto and Chrystal Klein, both 23, regularly breastfeed each other’s children and want to encourage other mums to share their milk.
Tatavitto feeds Klein’s daughter at the same time as her own 2-year-old son when her friend is working the night shift — up to six times a week — and Klein repays the favour whenever Tatavitto wants to go out for the night.
Wet nursing may not be a common baby group discussion topic, but it seems the practice is gaining popularity. In the U.K., a NetMums survey in 2015 found that one in 25 British mums are already wet nursing a friend or relative’s baby, and that two in five mums would be happy to breastfeed a stranger’s child.
However you feel about wet nursing, it’s difficult to argue against the benefits of feeding an infant in the most natural way possible — whatever the source. Milk is milk, indeed.
For information on the benefits and risks of milk sharing, visit the Resource for Informed Breastmilk Sharing.