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by Helen Rosengren Freedman


   Why do I cringe when I hear the term ‘wet nurse’?

   They're making a comeback, it seems, according to a recent Today show report and coverage  in Time magazine — women who help out moms who can't breastfeed.  Wet nurses — strangers generally — nurse the infant, providing the nutrients mom, for whatever reason, can't.

   It’s an age-old concept.  Throughout the centuries, wet nurses — generally women who had also recently given birth — helped out poor women voluntarily.  Among the aristocracy, wet nurses were employed to do the job.

   I guess it’s reading all those 19th century novels set in England that set me against the occupation long ago.  Spoiled rich women who would pass off their newborns because the job of breastfeeding was somehow beneath them. Or baby would be whisked away to the wet nurse immediately after birth because even though the new mom had survived the rigors of childbirth and managed to come through alive, her handlers believed that she now needed to restore her strength to get back to her needlework.  A few chapters later, upper-crust mom would be shipping her youngster off to boarding school because she also didn't want to dirty her hands with the numerous challenges of child raising.

   Now, wet nursing goes by a whole new name: “breast sharing”.  La Leche’s against it because they’re concerned about possible health risks: How do you know the mom who’s helping doesn’t have health problems that could be transferred to baby?  If you’re going to consider breast sharing, you need to check out the helper the way you'd screen a potential sex partner, it was suggested on the Today show report. Good God!

  But what gets me upset is the reason some new moms are turning to “breast sharers”.  With work commitments, some modern moms apparently feel they’re too busy to devote the time to nursing.  (And we’re not talking poor moms holding down two, even three jobs to feed their families).

   I can see that a new mom may be too sick to breastfeed, or must take medications that contraindicate.  Gay or adoptive parents might consider breast sharing in order to give their babies the best possible start.  I can see all that.

   But a mom who is “too busy” to breastfeed?  What’s going on here?  What kind of modern life low point is that? 

   Perhaps these moms need another kind of helper instead — someone who can help them reorganize their priorities.

   We’d love to hear your thoughts!  Email us at [email protected]

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