Friday, September 7, 2007

The Wet-Nurse

Some British working mothers are hiring wet-nurses for their children. Some people find this to be outrageous. But having a wet-nurse suckle a baby if the mother could not (or would not) is an old custom. St. Therese of Lisieux's mother was unable to nurse her and so the future saint spent the first year of her life with a peasant woman in the country. Marie-Antoinette also spent a large part of her infancy at the home of her wet-nurse Frau Weber, so that she regarded the Webers as a second family and referred to Joseph Weber as her "foster brother." In the past having a good wet-nurse often determined whether a child would live or die, if the mother was unable to feed her own baby. Share


Anonymous said...


From a purely cool-headed point of view, it should be interesting to watch how this turns out. I've seen children become more attached to their nannies than to their mothers. Will their wet nurses continue to care for them after they have been weaned?

Also, how much do wet nurses charge? It seems to me that their willingness to tenderly minister to the babies, to the point of giving milk, when the mothers won't, must be a priceless gift to the child.

Anonymous said...

Many women are selling their breast milk to "banks" for premature infants whose mothers were unable to produce. This is just one step removed, that is all.

My mother left me with a close friend who was also nursing for a few weeks while she was traveling. I wasn't scarred for life. ;)


elena maria vidal said...

Interesting points, ladies. All I know that the Empress Maria Theresa was so grateful to Frau Weber she provided for the entire family for the rest of her life.

Anonymous said...


I can understand turning to a wet nurse or to a milk bank when you can't breastfeed . . . but I confess that I don't like the commercial aspect--the idea that we can put a price on what is best for our children and make it subject to the cold laws of supply and demand. I'm sure that in the cases of St. Therese, Marie-Antoinette, and even Anna, the women who provided milk for the infants really cared for the babies they nursed. However, if turning to "milk banks" becomes just another business transaction (or worse, a lifestyle choice!), I'm sure it is the children who will suffer first.

Anonymous said...

If a mother cannot nurse the baby because she cannot provide milk herself it is a blessing when another mother can. I think during slavery in the Southern States of the USA there were many cases when the black 'Mammy' nursed the Mistress's child along with her own. But I question a mother who turns her child over to a wet nurse because she wants to go back to work....I can't put my finger on it but somehow that doesn't sound right. However, far be it from me to make a moral judgement.

Unknown said...

Just so you all know, women in this country do not *sell* their breast milk to milk banks. It is given by donation only and not sold by the donor. I have been a surrogate mother and have donated milk to banks just for the knowledge that I am contributing to the health of someone's precious little one.