Friday, April 27, 2007

Are wet nurses really back?

So now everybody's discussing whether it's moral/sanitary/yucky to have a woman other than the mother breastfeed a baby. As someone who has personally breastfed her own babies (no outsourcing here!) I have a pretty clear opinion about this.

I don't find it yucky, either in the for-pay or in the for-free version. It has been done for centuries. In an ideal world, all mothers would be able to nurse their own kids all the time, but there are many reasons why this is not the case and outside help is required. I find somebody else's breast milk less yucky than formula.

The sanitary reasons seem bogus. Most women don't have any condition that can be transmitted via breast milk, and most of those who do either know that or can easily find it out: for instance, in my country every pregnant woman is routinely HIV-screened, and a woman who hasn't been pregnant can't breastfeed.

Also, I think a lot of what we hear about having kids grow up in a sterile environment seems grossly exaggerated. Newborns, especially preemies or kids who already have health problems, must of course be sheltered, and for them a milk bank offering pasteurized breast milk seems a very good option; but elder kids aren't that delicate.

At age 7 months my daughter would happily crawl on all fours on the playground, where older kids were or had been running together with their parents; when she was tired, she would sit up and suck her unwashed thumb. She didn't get any disease at all. And she kept being nursed for many months after that; I don't see how sucking another (averagely healthy) woman's breast would have been worse for her.

To this must be added that I loved breastfeeding, and never had problems with it. Had I been born a few centuries earlier than I was, I would have been a partial invalid due to my poor eyesight. Also I am not good at most physical work, which is what my (largely illiterate) ancestors did until the generation before mine. But there is one job that I could have done with pleasure and success: the wet nurse!

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