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Wet Nursing

  • By: Sonja Boon
  • In: Encyclopedia of Motherhood
  • Edited by: Andrea O'Reilly
  • Subject:Sociology of Gender, Parenting, Maternal Health

Wet nursing is a practice of surrogate infant feeding, whereby a lactating woman who is not the biological mother takes on the role of feeding the infant or child. While this relationship has historically been negotiated as a financial contract, the more recent expansion of the definition to include the mediating role of milk banks in facilitating relationships between lactating women and those seeking breast-milk for their infants and children has emphasized the idea of wet nursing as a “gift” relationship.

Wet nurses were engaged for a variety of reasons, but generally because mothers could not or would not breastfeed their own children. Many mothers experienced physical difficulties, suffering from insufficient milk production or from a variety of illnesses that made maternal nursing difficult. In other ...

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