Wet Nurse

Cross Nurse and Wet Nurse

What is the difference between wet nurse and cross nurse?

Cross Nursing
is when someone else breastfeeds your baby on a temporary basis. For example, the mother has gone for a walk and is delayed; her baby is crying with hunger and will not take a bottle; another lactating mother breastfeeds her baby just until the biological mother returns home.

Cross nursing usually occurs between women who are very close: like two sisters or cousins. Sometimes, close friends who have children of the same age may cross nurse. It is very rare that complete strangers will breastfeed your baby without your permission.

Wet Nursing
is when someone else breastfeeds your baby on a permanent basis. There is a long and complicated history regarding wet nursing: it probably started in ancient times when a mother died during child birth and another woman breastfed & raise the motherless baby.

Group nursing is when a baby is passed around and breastfed by many woman (very rare in modern times, but happened all the time in the past).

By the 16th to 18 century, it became unfashionable to breastfeed your baby. Some of this came from the fact that Royalty wanted large families with 10+ children. The birth mother would hire one or more wet nurses to feed the newborn so she herself could regain fertility and get pregnant again. Since royalty didn’t breastfeed their own, other women of wealth did the same. This led to the attitude that breastfeeding was only done by the poor & lower class.

When baby formulas were commercially available, wet nurses were needed less and less. In the 1980’s, it was discovered that AIDS and other viruses could be transferred in breast milk: the use of wet nurses was even less. [This is true in United States, but in developing countries, wet nurses are still very common].

Surprisingly, wet nursing is making a come back. People are aware that breast milk has many benefits that cannot be duplicated in infant formulas. So more and more families want to feed their babies breast milk. Here is a list of reasons why a woman may choose to hire a wet nurse instead of breastfeeding herself:

  1. Mother is dead or is extremely ill/weak and cannot breastfeed.
  2. Mother does not make any breast milk (for example, if she has had breast implants or breast surgery).
  3. Mother has an illness such as tuberculosis, hepatitis, or AIDS.
  4. Mother is taking certain drugs / medications.
  5. Mother wants to get pregnant again. (Breastfeeding prevents ovulation).
  6. High powered, working mother’s schedule does not allow for breastfeeding.
  7. Mother with multiple births may hire a wet nurse to help feed the babies.

The public is divided when it comes to wet nursing. Some people think that it is wonderful. What better thing to give a baby than breast milk? If the birth mother cannot supply the milk then another willing mother should. It’s no different than offering milk from a cow’s udder – except that the breast milk is infinitely better.

Others feel that breastfeeding should be between mother & child only. This sacred relationship should not be “out sourced” to another woman. Still, other people feel that wet nursing and cross nursing is indecent and weird. Sociologists believe that some people object to wet nursing because they have mistakenly equated breastfeeding with sexuality and eroticism.

Currently, the La Leche League discourages wet nursing and cross nursing because
  • There is a chance of transmitting disease in the breast milk
  • The composition of breast milk is different depending on the age of the baby. Thus a wet nurse with a 6 month old child will have milk that is best for a 6 month old. This milk would not be optimal for a newborn.
  • The birth-mother’s milk-supply will decrease if she gives the baby to someone else to breast feed. This is especially true in the case of multiple births.
  • The mother and baby will not experience the special mother to child bonding that occurs during breastfeeding.

Despite all this, if you still wish to hire someone to breastfeed your baby, consider these safety precautions:

  • She should be healthy, well-nourished and taking no medication. Ideally, her baby is the same age as your baby.
  • She should be screened for tuberculosis, syphilis, hepatitis-associated antigen, cytomegalovirus, herpes virus, HIV and other infectious agents.
  • She should not smoke, drink alcohol, or consume large amounts of caffeine or artificial sweetener.
  • Her baby should be healthy, gaining well, and free of all infections.
Because babies need to eat at all hours of the day, some affluent women will hire the wet nurse as a live-in nanny so that she is always available for breastfeeding.

Find out more: