Wet Nurses Have Been Around for Hundreds of Years, So Why Is There Still Such a Stigma?

Stock photo of mother nursing baby
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A recent Craigslist ad (which has been flagged for removal and is no longer available) had a woman in Brunswick, Maine seeking someone with enough time on their hands to “suckle daily, if possible” because she needed to increase her milk supply. The ad also stated that the suckler must be able to host and she would offer no sexual favors or exchanges.

Nursing a friend’s baby is one thing. After all, there have been several stories circulated about the very subject of milk-sharing among friends, known as cross-nursing or co-nursing. But breastfeeding a stranger’s baby and getting paid for it? While the idea may seem newer than new age, it’s actually one of the oldest professions in human history.

While baby formula can be a real lifesaver for moms who are unable or have chosen not to breastfeed, it hasn’t always been that way. The first infant formula developed in 1867 wasn’t fully marketable and embraced by the public until the 1950s. Before that, women turned to wet nurses to satisfy their babies’ nutritional needs. At that time, there was nothing unnatural or culturally unacceptable about a woman feeding another woman’s baby as though it were her own.

Today, however, with milk banks and formula, it seems the practice of wet nursing has fallen mostly by the wayside. If you know where to look though, the wet-nursing culture is still very much alive and thriving.

Breastfeeding other babies has been around for a long time … I don’t understand why more women don’t do it.
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Moms who are unable to produce milk but want their baby breastfed can visit OnlyTheBreast.com and post an ad in their Breast Milk Classifieds to find a wet nurse. Conversely, wet nurses ranging from pregnant women who are lactating early and seeking to increase milk supply before their baby is born to moms who have an extra supply and want to share can place ads offering their services. While most wet nurses charge, some donate freely out of the goodness of their hearts.

Regardless, a scroll through the classifieds shows women who are serious about wet-nursing and are clear about their policies: no adult wet-nursing, no pictures or videos, and no scams. Potential wet nurses clearly state information about their diets (vegan, organic, etc.), living conditions (smoke and alcohol-free), the number of biological children they have, and their clear bill of health since many diseases can be transmitted by human breast milk.

Nallely Garcia, a wet nurse from Chicago, Illinois tells Babble:

“Wet nursing is about helping parents and babies. I say ‘parents’ and not ‘mothers’ because in today’s world, many same-sex couples adopt, leaving a baby in need of breast milk. In other cases, mothers pass away while giving birth or are unable to breastfeed due to health issues.”

Nallely has one baby of her own, a 5-month-old little girl whom she breastfeeds. Because her baby relies on her breast milk, she doesn’t currently sell her “liquid gold,” but looks forward to the time when she can, despite any rude or offensive comments she’s received about wet-nursing. When asked whether she’s ever gotten inappropriate responses to her ads, she said, “Yes! I didn’t expect it. I have been asked to wet nurse adult men. Some have offered to buy lactating pictures.”

She went on to say that she answers all messages, making it very clear that she will not wet nurse adults, send pictures, or change her mind in exchange for hefty compensation. Despite the harassment, Nallely states that the best thing about wet-nursing is the emotional aspect of knowing she’s providing a baby with proper food.

“Breastfeeding other babies has been around for a long time … I don’t understand why more women don’t do it,” she added.

Indeed, there are benefits to using a wet nurse. For instance, if a mother is struggling with breastfeeding on account of physical or psychological conditions, she may choose to use a wet nurse. Alternately, babies who are raised without their biological mothers could benefit greatly from the services of a wet nurse. And for working moms unable to pump, a wet nurse could offer the reassurance that their baby is getting fresh milk from the source.

While the act of wet-nursing may not be widely accepted as part of our cultural norm, it shows that mothers will go to great lengths to secure what they believe to be the best for their child.

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