Wet-nursing is an old, alternative feeding practice where a mother breastfeeds a baby other than her own. Although it is also called cross-nursing, both are different. Wet-nursing is full-time breastfeeding of an infant other than one’s own, usually for money. On the other hand, cross-nursing is done occasionally by a family member or friend while the biological mother also breastfeeds regularly (1).
A healthy, well-nourished mother can usually wet-nurse more than one baby. One may opt to get their baby wet-nursed, or they may wet-nurse someone else’s baby for various reasons. In either case, wet-nursing is an effective technique to ensure every baby gets breast milk. However, it is essential to note certain considerations to make the process work smoothly and safely.
This post shares the possible reasons, potential risks, and alternatives of wet -nursing.
Reasons To Choose Wet-Nursing
According to experts, wet-nursing is a suitable choice if you cannot breastfeed (2). Here are some situations when a mother may be unable to breastfeed and consider wet-nursing another baby or have her baby wet-nursed (3).
- You cannot breastfeed your baby due to some medical condition.
- Your breast milk supply is insufficient to meet your infant’s nutritional needs.
- You have adopted a baby whose biological mother isn’t available for breastfeeding, and you are not lactating.
- You are a same-gender couple intending to breastfeed the baby.
- You cannot breastfeed your baby because they are ill or born prematurely, but you need to maintain your milk supply and wish to breastfeed.
Potential Risks Of Wet-Nursing
Although wet-nursing is a beneficial practice, it does have potential problems that one must know before opting for it.
- Infection transmission from the wet nurse to the baby or vice-versa. It may happen if the wet-nursing mother and the baby have not been thoroughly tested for infectious diseases.
- Inadequate milk supply to one or both babies may happen when a mother is wet-nursing another baby.
- Imbalanced milk composition inappropriate for a baby’s age as the wet nurse is feeding two or more babies of different age groups.
- Issues with the let-down reflex may crop up due to overproduction and oversupply of breast milk, especially if the mother is wet-nursing multiple babies.
How To Hire A Wet Nurse For Your Baby?
You may hire a professional wet nurse from a reputed agency or make a personal arrangement with a lactating mother whom you know. Prefer a mother who has a baby of your infant’s age. Below are some points to consider before making the final decision.
- Look for a wet nurse with a similar lifestyle as the biological mother. For instance, if you don’t drink caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, it is advisable to find a wet nurse of the same preference. It ensures that the baby comfortably adjusts to the wet nurse.
- Ensure the wet nurse follows healthy lifestyle practices, such as no smoking, no alcohol or drink occasionally, and no use of illicit substances. It is suitable to have a mother who eats a healthy, well-balanced diet and exercises regularly.
- Run a check on the wet nurse’s current health status and medical history. It applies even to a wet nurse who you know personally. Screening is preeminent to detect chronic or long-term diseases. It is vital to run tests on diseases transmitted through breast milk, such as HIV infection. Speak to your doctor to know more about such diseases.
- Enquire if she takes any medications or health supplements. These substances could pass into breast milk and affect a baby’s health eventually. Similarly, inform your wet nurse if your baby is on any medications or supplements for any health conditions.
Additionally, one could discuss personal care practices with the wet nurse to ensure optimum hygiene during feeding.
Alternatives For Wet-Nursing
You may consider the following alternatives to wet-nursing if you cannot breastfeed your baby for some reason.
- Pumped or expressed breast milk: It is a suitable option for mothers who have a sufficient milk supply, but their babies cannot breastfeed temporarily. Observe the standard hygiene principles to express and store breast milk, which you may feed to your baby through a bottle, spoon, or cup. You may also freeze the breast milk below -18°C (0°F) for up to 12 months, although it is best to use it within six months (4).
- Infant formula: It is a useful option when breastfeeding the baby isn’t possible entirely or partially. You may select an age-appropriate, iron-rich formula for your baby after consulting your pediatrician. You may also breastfeed intermittently while the baby is on formula.
- Banked milk: For mothers who don’t have enough milk supply and don’t want to formula-feed, human milk banks could be an alternative. Human milk banks store breast milk expressed by donor mothers (5). One can collect breast milk from a milk bank using a prescription given by the doctor. Speak to your doctor to know more about the best and reliable milk banks in your region.
Wet-nursing is an age-old practice which several people still prefer to follow. One can choose this alternative feeding practice when breastfeeding the baby isn’t possible due to one or more reasons. You may hire a professional wet nurse for your baby or wet-nurse someone else’s baby. In both cases, ensure to follow appropriate measures for safe wet-nursing.
2. Wet-nursing; NCT
3. Emily E Stevens et al.; A History of Infant Feeding; NCBI
4. Human Milk Storage Guidelines; CDC
5. Wet Nursing In Emergencies; World Nutrition Journal