So what’s the deal with this?
When I first came across this term (years ago) I guessed what it meant but it seemed so unbelievable that I didn’t trust my guess. But, according to Webster, it is “one that cares for and suckles young not her own”.
Now I think breastfeeding is wonderful, and my wife has, on rare occasions, while simultaneously lactating and babysitting, given a friend’s baby a snack. But I get the impression that wet nursing was a more or less professional arrangement in bygone days, and that the nurse was of a lower social class, a servant. Which leads to two questions:
What kind of parents would do this? I can see the servants tucking the kid into bed at night or changing a diaper but this seems a little extreme. I would have major questions about hygiene, for starters, and what about the nurse’s diet? A lot of foods go right into the breast milk. What if the nurse (being poor) subsists on rutabagas or something? Is that what you’d want for your “little precious”? Recycled peasant food?
What kind of person would take this job? For starters she would have to have children of her own – would she take on her employer’s child in addition? Would she wean her child to take on the newcomer? How would you get into this field?
Is there anyone with a relevant knowledge of culture and history that can give me some insight?
Does this still go on?
p.s. How would you conduct the job interview? (“Candidate #1! Strip to the waist, please. Well! You seem to be qualified!! Let’s have a taste! … Have you been eating pickles?”)
“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”
– William of Ockham