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Friday, April 27, 2007It's no secret that wet nursing is the topic du jour these days when it comes to the media and breastfeeding related issues. It's been in Time Magazine, and on The Today Show. I even had a call just yesterday about a radio station that was planning on covering the issue.
In general, my view of wet nursing gets laid down something like this...
1.) It's been around since almost the dawn of time, so long as the wet nurse has been tested for milk-born diseases, it's fine by me.
2.) I do worry about the idea of paying women to be wet nurses, especially if those women have children of their own. My biggest concern is obviously...what happens to the children of the wet nurse? Are they being given formula so that mom can nurse the baby that carries a pay check?
3.) I also worry about the bonding. The nursing relationship creates a powerful physical and emotional bond. I guess I don't see how an infant (and even a child) could separate that bond and really fully understand the difference between a wet nurse and a mother.
Now with that in mind, I've seen two things pop up in the last few days that have caused me to have even more concern about the issue.
The first is from the Foreign Policy blog. The author wonders what will happen if human milk becomes part of a global trade.
...if the for-profit breast-milk industry grows (in 2005, demand for breast milk from one nonprofit association of milk banks grew 28 percent), where will companies get all their milk once altruistic donors run dry? If they follow the model of other American businesses, they might turn to the developing world for their raw material—in this case, breast milk.
It would be expensive to ship frozen milk across continents and oceans, but given that Prolacta last year was marketing milk at $35 per ounce, it's possible that paying low amounts to women in the developing world would make importing a viable business strategy.
Clearly, though, there are a lot of sensitive questions to be debated. Is this exploitation of poor women, or is it giving them income for a body fluid they supposedly can't use anyway?
Yikes. That thought had honestly never occurred to me. I've written about my concern on that level for paid milk banking. I've often worried that if milk banks like Prolacta began purchasing milk that they would then process and sell that you'd run into some serious ethical issues.
For instance, you could have moms pumping and selling their milk while formula feeding their own children. After all, if you could sell your breast milk for a few dollars an ounce, you'd have enough money to pay for anything your baby needed, even formula.
Then I spotted another post on the topic that spun the concerns off into a whole other direction.
Jennifer James over at Black Breastfeeding Blog puts the issue of wet nursing into a historical perspective and sheds some light on a history that I'm sure many of us haven't considered.
Forced wet nursing during slavery and then wet nursing for survival post-Civil War caused untold pain in the black community that still resides with us today. In my opinion, wet nursing is the primary contributor to the low breastfeeding rate among black women in America. When breastfeeding rates are as low as is currently evidenced among black women, babies and families alike suffer. Because breastfeeding produces so many health benefits to children and mothers, when breastfeeding is noticeably absent in such high numbers, black babies aren't as healthy as they could be. Today, this may not have been the case had black mothers been able to nurse their own children throughout American history instead of being forced to work the fields or be house slaves.
On the farther end of the spectrum, wet nursing was yet another factor that kept black women from bonding with their children both during slavery and afterward. Black women so often were nursing white children that their own children were not able to benefit from the healing properties of breast milk and the natural bond between mother and child. These reasons alone make wet nursing one of the worst institutions imposed upon black women.
Now I don't know about the rest of you, but I'll be completely honest and say that I read that and went "oh wow." (And not in the happy way, more in the "holy crap, that's horrible and I can't believe I never realized it!" way.)
Talk about adding a whole other level to the debate...
Here I am talking about my own fear of wet nursing being used to exploit low income women without realizing that the exact history of wet nursing in the United States was closely tied to that very thing. (Though obviously far worse than simply exploiting low income women.)
I wonder, do these posts change the debate for you?
I still don't have a problem with wet nursing per say, since in this day and age one would like to think that someone becomes a wet nurse purely by choice...but it does spark in my mind that creeping bit of doubt that says that there's a fine line between "by choice" and "by necessity" and that it's a line we don't want to see crossed.
Labels: Milk Banking and Sharing