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Outsourcing Breastfeeding on the Today Show

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.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

I posted earlier this week looking for some moms that had cross nursed or wet nursed. Thankfully, many of you wrote to help me track down some women for a spot on national TV.

The spot aired this morning on the Today Show on NBC and should be available online shortly.

It started with a quick scene of Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette just after she'd had a baby. She says (as they are taking the baby away) "I'd like to feed him." The woman taking the baby responds "But madam, we have a nurse for that," as the baby is whisked away.

Next we cut to Janet Shamlian of NBC Chicago reporting on mothers. They speak with Tabitha Trotter who says she often breastfeeds someone else's baby. She states that she has nursed the children of gay men, of moms that have multiples, moms that are on medications, etc. She estimates that she's nursed more than 40 infants over the last decade. She's never charged for her services though, she does it, because she wants to help.

They then cut to Gretchen Flatau, the Executive Director of the Mother's Milk Bank of Austin, Texas. She mentions that there's a risk of direct cross nursing or wet nursing because of the potential to spread viruses. She talks about the screening process and the pasteurization process of the HMBANA milk banks.

They cut back to Trotter, who explains that the pasteurization process destroys some of the benefits of the breast milk and that she feels that the milk has the most impact when it comes straight from the source.

Shamlian then mentions a service in California that wet nurses can be hired through. They stated that the going rate for a wet nurse starts at $1000 a week. (Though I think what they meant was that it ADDED $1000 a week to the typical nanny fee, as from what I understand, the wet nurses of this variety also serve as nannies.)

Shamlian also mentioned that while wet nursing and cross nursing are happening, many women fear being judged when they talk about it publicly, so it still mostly goes on quietly and behind closed doors.

With that segment wrapped up, they shift to Merideth Viara in the NBC Studios. With her are:

Jacqueline Wolf, Department of Social Medicine, Ohio University
Jeanne Rosser, from La Leche League International

On the topic of professional wet nursing, neither one is in favor. They both point out that there's a concern about the potential of exploitation for the mother's of poor children. (A concern I've noted in the past as well...) Wolf points out that paid wet nursing is a situation "frought with peril" due to the potential for jealousy between the mother and the wet nurse since nursing creates such an intense physical bond.

When it comes to cross nursing, where mothers aren't paid, both women support the idea. They explain that it takes so much time, so much concentration and so much focus to have that breastfeeding relationship and with more than half of mothers with children under a year old working, it's a time issue. They talk about a mom's need to focus on work, to focus on nursing the baby to focus on older children and basically point out that many moms are "too busy" to be able to fully nurse their own children.

Rosser explains that mothers need to know that there are risks involved in cross nursing, and states that LLL likes to support the mother/baby nursing relationship. She states that La Leache League does support milk banking because milk banking is screened to rigorous standards and is pasteurized for extra protection.

Wolf explains that if you are going to cross nurse or have a wet nurse, you need to know "as much about that mother as you would know about a sexual partner."

Viera asks about bonding between mother and child. "If you are't feeding, do you break that bond?"

Wolf states that that is her primary concern about wet nursing, that a paid nurse is nursing th baby all the time. That means that a strong bond is going to form between wet nurse and baby rather than mother and baby. She goes on to explain that with informal cross nursing, it's an occasional thing and it's very unlikely that you'll risk breaking that mother/child bond.

Viera asks about what a mom that is interested in doing this should ask.

Wolf (I think) replies that you need to know the woman's health history and situation and that she should go through a health screening similar to what she would if she was going to give blood. She went on to point out that this practice is more common than people realize, but they ran out of time and the segment actually cut Viera off in closing to go to local news.

Overall, I think it was a very good, very positive piece, far better than I had hoped for. Hopefully the the transcript and video will go up later today so that I can link to that.

ETA: The Today Show has the story up online now.

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  1. Anonymous Brenda Zizolfo | 7:04 AM |  

    I was very excited to see this piece- and the thing that I was dreading would happen and didn't was that I was waiting for someone to say "Well if you can't breastfeed, why don't you just use formula" and that issue never even came up which i thought was exciting.
    I personally would only nurse another baby or have someone else I trusted nurse mine only in an emergency or near emergency type of situation, and not on a regular basis. But I think that there definitely can be a place for this- I think it's all about weighing the benefits and risks, so if you cannot know (and how much can we ever REALLY know) if a person is disease free and "worthy" of nursing your child- for me it would have to be in a case where there woudl be greater harm to my baby for him not to be nursed by someone else. For example, if he was younger and was exclusively nursing and would not take a bottle (which my kids never would) and I was in a car accident or something like that, I have some close friends whom I would be comfortable with them nursing my baby. But that's just my personal view on it- for me.
    I'm curious to chat w/ anyone who has regularly cross nursed and what kind of "screening" process you go through for this, or if it's solely with those you trust enough by their word (sisters, best friends).
    All in all- I thought a very good segment on the today show though- though I thought it would have been more interesting if Matt Laurer did the interview:-)

  2. Blogger Naki | 8:07 AM |  

    Yes it is encouraging to see Breastfeeding on tv. My husband even wanted to watch...(ps I think I'm turning him into a lactivist too..) And if one of my friends/family asked me to nurse I would, I don't think I would ever charge for nursing. But that's just my own personal thought. My grandmother also told me about many women doing this during the Great Depression because of the lack of money/food. This also brings encouragement to mothers/fathers who are not able to nurse- by opening up other options besides formula feeding. ;)

  3. Anonymous radical mama | 8:15 AM |  

    Not sure I am too concerned that low-income women would be taken advantage of. If you look at the numbers, and break down breastfeeding rates by income, it seems to be a pretty elitist and white activity. If there was such a thing as paid wet nurses, breasfeeding in low income demographics would have to seriously increase to meet demand before this would be a real concern. And I am also not sure how it being hired as a wet nurse is being "taken advantage of." I think this argument is valid in many instances like surrogacy (which is potentially life threatening with a long recovery period), blood & organ donations, prostitution etc. but breastfeeding? I could think of worse jobs. But it's definitly a touchy subject with most folks so I don't think we'll be seeing this trend increase much anytime soon.

  4. Blogger Jennifer | 8:19 AM |  

    Radical Mama, I think the concern is when the mothers of very young children take jobs as wet nurses.

    Usually, when that is the case, those mothers are leaving their own children in the care of another while going off to work for the wealthy. One could argue fairly easily that this "takes advantage" of the poor by robbing the child of the mother and milk that it needs so that the mother can earn money while caring for someone else's child.

    Now in some instances, wet nurses are women that have grown children, but that have continued to lactate. In this case, they might go from one child to the next, keeping a milk supply for a decade or longer.

    I have far less issue with that than I would with say, myself going off and working full time as a wet nurse while leaving Emmitt to be cared for (and fed) by someone else.

    Make more sense?

  5. Anonymous katie | 9:48 AM |  

    My only problem with this piece was that the idea of breastfeeding being oh-so-time-consuming was reinforced. before i breastfed my first son i was worried about how much time it would take...to my surprise my baby was always done within 15 mins and went 4 hrs apart from birth. i was horrified and thought i was doing it wrong, but it turned out he was super healthy and that was just how he ate. my second son was very similar. i know this is not the same for everyone but i do know many moms whose babies nurse quite quickly like this. i always tell new moms now that the "hours" of nursing is not necessarily going to happen to them. and even if they do get a baby that takes a long time to nurse, don't ever forget that formula prep and cleaning takes a long time too!!

  6. Anonymous Crystal | 9:54 AM |  

    I feel very encouraged that this is being talked about. I have been donating milk for the last 6 months or so to a local mama who doesn't produce enough. She nurses with an SNS, gets donor milk from a few mamas in the community, and also gets milk from the milkbank. I really admire her for taking the extra time to get her child the good stuff. It takes a lot of dedication and coordination on her part because the milk donations are not always steady. I know it takes a lot of trust, as well, since she is unable to monitor what might be getting into the milk. Her son is thriving, though, and I am so glad I can help. (I have crazy oversupply, so it's pretty easy.) Anyway, I think cross nursing and wet nursing is great, but I do also appreciate the concerns with taking the lactating mother away from her own children. Thanks for sharing this!

  7. Anonymous Crystal | 10:00 AM |  

    Oh, and I know I'm not wet nursing or cross nursing, but I think donating is not too far from that tree. I got involved in this when I saw a post on a local LLL message board about the mom needing donor milk. I also got a phone call from my OB's office asking for donation to this same mom (small community). Anyway, I had 130oz in the freezer so I gave it to her. She tried to get her milk supply up with pumping, herbs, and medication and it just didn't work, so I've been donating ever since. I give her 16-20 ounces per week. Not a lot, but with all of the other moms and the milk bank, she's never had to give her son formula.

  8. Anonymous sio | 10:25 AM |  

    There is an excellent book about the social history of wetnursing and the move to bottle/formula feeding in the US. "From breast to bottle, a social history of wet nursing" is the title, I believe.

    In the 17th and 18th century, most wet nurses were married women with multiple children who would take a baby into their home for the first year or two - but this fashion ended with victorian cult of motherhood meaning that it was no longer exceptable for a baby to be "raised" by another woman during its infancy.

    Most wet nurses in the 19th century were unwed mothers (many claimed to be recent widows) and there were very very few employment options for single mothers at the time. Many were required to live in, and as a result had to abandon their own babies, - most of those babies died.

    There was also great concern about the influence of an "immoral" aka poor/unwed/lower class wet nurse on the children in the household, combined with the inability to make sure she was free from disease (syphallis was a big worry) or bad substances (alcohol, etc). That and the fact that most families could not afford a wet nurse created a huge market for formula.

    Interesting how todays' issues mimic those of previous centuries.

  9. Blogger Stacy | 11:22 AM |  

    I was very excited to see this story. I would happily nurse a friend's baby or provide breast milk to a friend who needed it. I am curious if there is a benefit to wet nursing. When I nurse my son he gets the antibodies that my body produces but my body only makes antibodies to the microorganisms that I have been exposed to. If my son was nursed by someone else wouldn't he then have the potential to obtain different antibodies if she has been (in all likelyhood) exposed to different organisms?

  10. Blogger Jonathan & Kaethe | 12:01 PM |  

    Did anyone catch the rest of the program? Meredith had to cut to a commerical rather quickly and it almost sounded like she was going to continue in another segment. Maybe they'll continue it another day if they have enough viewer feedback. I've seen that happen before.

  11. Anonymous Anonymous | 9:52 PM |  

    I wanted to let you know, mostly due to your blog, I've decided to donate milk. I live in Nevada and the closest milk bank is in San Jose. The bank sent me paperwork that my pediatrician and OB needed to fill out and when I gave it to my ped, he said, "What is this milk banking? I've never heard of this." And, when I gave it to my OB, he said, "You're donating what??" Sad...

  12. Blogger Jennifer | 5:29 AM |  

    Wow, thanks for letting me know that! And kudos to you for deciding to donate!

    Can't say it surprises me on the OB and Ped though, especially if there is no milk bank in your area. Remember that this is still a pretty new thing in the U.S. It's part of why I started this site, so that I could help spread the word about milk banking.

    Heck, we have our own bank right here in Columbus and yet two of the major NICU hospitals refuse to use donor milk for patients. You actually have to transfer your baby to one of the milk bank friendly hospitals to be able to use it.


  13. Blogger Analisa | 7:15 PM |  

    Interesting. I had a friend offer me her freezer stash when I had my twins and was pumping and supplementing early on. I told her it was the most precious gift anyone had given us (fortunately, we didn't need it and she gave it to a bank). I have another friend who has three children close in age to my four, and we have said to each other that we would nurse each other's babies in an emergency.

  14. Anonymous An | 1:26 PM |  

    I am a wet nurse and I can say that it is a happy solution for all involved. I nursed a child after I lost my own. The pain when his meal time came around just shocked me back into his loss. If not for nursing I would have lost the healing that came from being able to nurse. Even though it was another baby I felt better. It can work the other way too. A nursing child can loose a mother. To be able to have someone she can hold and be close to can help the transition. a_mothers_milk@yahoo.com

  15. Anonymous Anonymous | 11:49 AM |  

    I am nursing my third (and last) child and just don't want to give up nursing! The only reason I weaned my first two was to be able to get pregnant again. I'd love to set up an informal wet-nursing arrangement (ie not a full-time nanny job) but have no idea where to start. It seems like a very awkward thing to do. Any ideas? (pauching_tiger@hotmail.com)

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