Wet nursing: The modern woman’s option?
Posted Friday, September 7 2012 at 18:19
- Work, stress and breastfeeding often do not mix. However, with all the benefits that breast milk offers newborns, is wet nursing worth considering?
Wet nursing is not a new phenomenon in Kenya, but if you were to ask many pregnant or nursing women if they would hand their child over to another woman to breastfeed, the answer would be an emphatic ‘No!’
And this is even before you consider how much sense it makes: breast milk is the perfect food for baby’s mind and body, but many busy, working women are unable to breastfeed because of work constraints and the subsequent reduced milk production.
Lifestyle and health conditions might also impact a woman’s ability to nurse her child, which is where a wet nurse – a woman who breastfeeds your baby on a permanent basis – steps in.
Linda Oyier is a Nairobi mother whose children have always been breastfed by her younger sister. When she delivered her first child six years ago, for some reason, her breasts could not produce milk.
“I always knew that breast milk was the best for my child, but then I could not produce any. At first I turned to formula milk, but it didn’t work well because my daughter ended up having constipation”.
Coincidentally, when Linda’s first child was a few months old, her younger sister, whom she was living with, also had a baby.
“I gave her my child to breastfeed alongside hers,” she recalls.
By the time Linda was giving birth to her second child, her sister’s firstborn was still breastfeeding, so she nursed them both.
“My sister is currently expecting her second child. I plan to have my third child when my niece or nephew is one year old, so that my sister can nurse my baby, too,” she says.
It is thought that wet nursing started in ancient times when a mother died during child birth and another woman breastfed and raised the baby. This was especially so in some African cultures where maternal and child mortality was high.
“Most African families were polygamous, and if one of the mothers in the family fell ill or died during childbirth, it was the duty of her co-wives to nurse and bring up the child,” notes Judy Nyonje, a historian.
In some countries like China and the Philippines, and amongst European royal families, giving your baby to a wet nurse was a sign of wealth and social status.
These days, wet nursing is becoming something that high-powered, working mothers on a tight schedule do. Mothers who want to get pregnant soon after delivery have also been seeking the services of wet nurses, as breastfeeding prevents ovulation.
A mother taking drugs (prescription or illegal) may require the services of a wet nurse if the drug changes the content of her breast milk. Breast implants and surgery, in some instances, may also lead to non-production of milk. And finally, multiple births may also necessitate a wet nurse to ensure the babies are sufficiently fed.
In developed countries, agencies that supply wet nurses have reported an increase in the practice which has been highly commercialised. For her trouble, a live in nurse can earn up to $1 000 (Sh84 000) per week.
Experts argue that there is no reason why women should not lactate indefinitely or feed more than one child simultaneously.
“Even women who are not lactating or do not have children can still breastfeed,” says Dr Francis Nyamiobo, a physician with the Kenya Aids Control Project. “Regular breast suckling can elicit milk production through a neural reflex action.”