Historical Alternatives to
A wet nurse is a woman who breastfeeds another woman’s child.
It started as early as 2000 BC to provide nutrition for babies who were
unable to be fed by their mother due to lactation issues or death
during childbirth. It was considered the best alternative to the baby’s
biological mother’s milk.
It continued as the preferred alternative method of infant feeding
until the turn of the century. However, some women could not
breastfeed or simply favored hiring a wet nurse. Unfortunately, wet
nurses were poor black or immigrant women who were not allowed to
bring their children into their employer’s households. Often wet
nurses’ babies suffered from malnutrition and neglect, and many even
died while their mothers nourished others children. This continued
until the 1920s when many wet nurses were able to sell their milk to
Ultimately, society’s negative views surrounding wet nursing led
to the substitution of formula and bottle-feeding. In 1910, formula
bottle-feeding rose in popularity and by the 1950s, eighty percent of
women bottle-fed. It was considered fashionable and modern. While breastfeeding has regained popularity, bottle-feeding retains its role as
a viable and healthy option for babies.