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Wet Nursing Back in the News

Looking for The Lactivist? She's retired. But you CAN still find Jen blogging. These days, she's runs A Flexible Life. Join her for life, recipes, projects and the occasional rant.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

There's been a lot of talk about milk sharing and wet nursing in the news lately. In fact, I've spoken to two reporters in the last two weeks about the subject. Most of the talk stems from Australian author Rhonda Shaw's latest article "The virtues of cross-nursing and the 'yuk factor'."

Ruth Hill of the Sunday Sun Times down in New Zealand covers the story today.

Sisters and close friends are more likely to spontaneously feed each other's children while babysitting but some women have more formal arrangements.

Two single working mothers Shaw interviewed had agreed to share childcare and cross-nurse each other's babies to accommodate work schedules.

"There was an economic driver in that case, because the women felt pressured to get off the DPB and back to work, which is actually quite sad."

In another case, a woman having cancer treatment begged a sister to feed her baby. Another mother agreed to feed her sister's newborn while the new mother was unconscious after a caesarean section delivery under general anaesthetic.

Many of the articles that I've read have mentioned the fact that there is now a company in Hollywood that hires out nanny/wet nurses. Why? Because there are some members of the Hollywood elite who have had breast surgery that has left them unable to lactate. These moms, realizing the importance of breast milk for their babies, are looking to find it elsewhere.

Now, I have no issue with casual sharing or cross-nursing under certain conditions. (More on this tomorrow) However, I have a great deal of concern over the idea of wet nursing and it stems from the concerns I've shared in the past about for-profit milk banking.

As soon as women begin wet nursing or "sharing" their milk for money, their own babies get put at risk.

For example, it's not uncommon in China for the very well to do to hire wet nurses from the countryside to come and suckle their infants. These moms are extremely well paid (often making more in a month than the average Chinese worker makes in a year) but they must leave their own infants behind to take these jobs. That leaves their babies to either be wet nursed by someone else in the village, or to be fed formula.

Here in the United States I've expressed similar concerns over for profit milk banks like Prolacta. Currently, Prolacta will pay hospitals and localized "independent" milk banks roughly $1 an ounce for the breast milk that they can convince women to "donate." They call it a "processing fee." (I call it a kick back.) Prolacta then processes the milk and sells it to hospitals for $35-$45 an ounce. The non-profit HMBANA milk banks sell processed milk for roughly the cost that it takes to cover the processing, or about $4 an ounce.

That means that if this all moves forward, we could see mothers being paid anywhere from $1 to $5 an ounce for their milk.

Now can you seriously tell me that some mothers out there won't sell ALL of their milk and simply use the money to buy formula before pocketing the rest of the profits? Associating profit with breast milk whether it comes straight from the tap or from a bottle gets VERY dangerous.

I'll write more about "casual sharing" and "casual cross-nursing" tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm curious to hear your thoughts.

Does the demand for wet nurses signal that we're making progress in the breastfeeding movement? Or, does it simply signify a problem in that some women see breast milk as a commodity that they can buy if they have enough money. Would you sell your breast milk? Would you buy breast milk from someone else? Where does the line get drawn for you?

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  1. Blogger Heather | 11:23 PM |  

    I'm so thrilled to have found this blog. I'm a fellow lactivist myself, currently nursing a 14 month old baby girl.

    However, I'm noticing some pretty heinous layout problems... your entire content part is jumping all the way down past the menu, and some of the lettering is getting cut off on the left side (mainly titles)

  2. Anonymous d. feldman | 6:11 AM |  

    There are people desperate enough to sell kidneys and daughters, why would milk be any different? For a mindblowing historical perspective on class, market forces and wet-nursing, I recommend certain chapters of Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's "Mother Nature".

    Then again, I often recommend the whole thing; she blew the doors off my brain in a good way.

    The availability of formula as a viable option drastically changes some of the consequences of wet-nursing, but I think Blaffer Hrdy's work is still very useful in this modern context.

  3. Blogger Jennifer | 6:20 AM |  

    Can you let me know what browser and what version of that browser you are on? I know there's a small spacing issue on the latest IE, but I haven't seen or heard what you're describing,

    It's likely an Ajax issue, but I'll have to reproduce it to know for sure.


  4. Blogger Leah | 7:03 PM |  

    I'm not convinced that paying women for the work they do donating breastmilk is really opening up as large of a can of worms as most people think. It reminds me of some interesting writing about how paying people for organ donation would lead to far fewer people dying on the waiting list. I don't have time to write it all up right now (it's been one of those weekends!), but read these links for background.
    (for background on why the author knows what she's talking about) and
    (for the actual content)

  5. Blogger Celticdragonfly | 8:04 AM |  

    I've been a milk donor after each of my three kids - informally the first time, formally the last two. Never been paid. I am pregnant again, and planning to be a donor again - thinking of buying one of the new whisperwear pumps to make it more feasible with the kids at home.

    I think it could be nice to be paid - but I'd never let it risk the milk that goes to my own baby. That would always come first. Then again, we're economically well off enough that we can afford me to be a stay at home mom with the kids - so I may not be a good test case.

    By the way, do you know anything abut the whisperwear pump? Seen any reviews of it?

  6. Anonymous Anonymous | 12:17 PM |  

    One possibel positive benefit for being paid for breastmilk is the ability to make some income without needing to work outside the home. Since you can successfully breastfeed twins (my sister has), you can make enough milk for your own baby and another. As long as you put the needs of your baby first, you could supply a needy baby and make some money without hurting your family. Or, once your baby begins to loose interest in nursing (sadly, they usually do at some point) you could just pump at the dropped feedings and save that milk without denying your child milk. Needless to say, I would donate milk for free also if I knew how to get started with that. When I went to the hospital to have my second baby (repeat c-section for medical reasons) I knew that I might have some nursing issues post surgery and my sister pumped some extra milk for me to take, just in case they forced me to supplement my baby as they did when I has complications with my first child. I ended up not needing it this time, but I really felt better having some breast milk on-hand so I wouldn't be forced into formula even for a day or 2.

  7. Blogger Jennifer | 12:22 PM |  

    I've heard of the whisperwear, but don't know anything else about it. Never seen or tried one.

    Maybe I'll drop them an email and see if I can snag one to review. I'm goign to put a review up of the Medela PISA in the next few weeks, but I'm hoping to get a hold of the Ameda Purely Yours, the Avent hand held one (I hear great things about it) and the Whisperwear.

    If anyone from those companies happens to be reading this blog, please send me an email. ;)

  8. Blogger Jennifer | 12:34 PM |  

    Re: getting started with donating milk...you can check with HMBANA to see if they have a bank near you.

    They are the only non-profit milk banks in North America. You can find the locations here:


  9. Blogger Heather | 1:03 PM |  

    IE6. (I've so got to get Firefox.) I took a couple of screenshots so you can see what I'm talking about. The main problem seems to be the front page. I've got a pretty big monitor on a high resolution.

    http://pics.livejournal.com/pernwebgoddess/pic/000pyx95 - front page spacing problem... not exactly small. ;)

    http://pics.livejournal.com/pernwebgoddess/pic/000pzqt2 - better view of what headings are doing.

  10. Blogger Jennifer | 1:18 PM |  

    Thanks!! I'll see if I can get my husband on it tonight, he's the CSS whiz. ;)

  11. Anonymous Anonymous | 12:48 PM |  

    I think more should be done to make young women aware of the risks of breast surgery (which in the case of Hollywood probably means augmentation). A study done in the 1990s found that women who had breast implants were much more likely than those without them to fail to produce enough milk for their children. However, many materials on breast surgery don't mention anything about its possible effect on breastfeeding.

    Emilia Liz (emilia_e_murphy@yahoo.ca)

  12. Anonymous Anonymous | 9:19 AM |  

    I am a milk donor for prolacta and an RN in the NICU. My baby has never tasted formula and she is healthy.
    I wanted to comment on the fact that while prolacta is "for profit" there were the first company to make milk fortifiers out of breast milk rather than formula which led to a huge decrease in necrotizing entercolitis which is a big danger for preemies especially after they have been started on fortifier to add extra calories.
    Prolacta spends a huge amount of their money on research and development of new ways to help preemies have readily available breast milk. Also, you get a free pump from the milk bank which allows women to breastfeed longer.
    If you have a more than adequate supply (I sometimes pump 14 oz in one pumping and my daughter eats 4-6) you should be able to make some money and stay at home with your babe.
    As lactivists you should be ashamed that you failed to notice all of the HUGE benefits this could have for babies (especially preemies)

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