It's a practice of days gone by, but in some circles the job is making a comeback. A wet nurse is a woman who breastfeeds someone else's baby. Could it be this bonding time between mom and baby is being increasingly outsourced? A Los Angeles area staffing agency says yes. Certified Household Staffing reports an increase in requests for wet nurses, despite a price tag that starts at a $1,000 a week.
So why are more women turning to another woman to supply their babies with what's best from the breast? With its benefits well documented, breastfeeding is on the rise in the U.S. But so are the factors that could prevent a woman from nursing her own newborn, including jobs and being on medication. Even implants can be a barrier. And it's not just women. Men who adopt babies also seek out wet nurses for their newborns.
Any issue involving breastfeeding tends to ignite strong feelings, and the practice of nursing another woman's baby is no exception. Many see it as a cultural taboo. Others, like Gretchen Flatau, oppose it for safety reasons. Flatau runs a breast milk bank in Texas which collects donated breast milk from pre-screened donors, then pasteurizes it and sells it for about $3 an ounce. Flatau says breast milk trumps formula, but is convinced the risk of using a wet nurse outweighs the rewards. She says viruses like HIV can be spread through milk expressed straight from the breast.
Tabitha Trotter estimates she's been a wet nurse to more than 40 babies over the past decade. She doesn't do it for the money. In fact, she's only occasionally paid. Many of the babies she's nursed have been the children of friends. This type of sharing is increasingly common among friends or sisters. Trotter understands that some people are uncomfortable with what she does.
Advocates of sharing breast milk say it's no different than donating blood. Still, people who hire wet nurses aren't always anxious to talk about it publicly. Many feel others will judge them when the most intimate of domestic duties is sourced out.