Every breastfeeding working mother knows the struggle involved with going back to work and pumping. What if your child doesn’t take a bottle? You could feel afraid that your baby will favor the bottle more than the breast.
That’s where we ended up.
Wet nurse: a woman who breastfeeds and cares for another woman’s child.
In our case, our wet nurse was a friend of mine who was watching my son while I went to work. She breastfed her own daughter, and had an oversupply of milk. When she offered to nurse my son, I wasn’t too sure. But what do we think women did before the 20th century?
Before the times of formula and pumping, women were nursing other women’s babies.
It was a fairly common thing, especially with those in the upper class. Upper class women considered breastfeeding “unfashionable” because sometimes, the clothing wasn’t breastfeeding friendly. Ain’t that the truth – we go through that now! Other reasons many women relied on a wet nurse- if a mother couldn’t produce, wet nursing was a great option. But once pumps and formulas became available, a lot of doors began to open to mothers. Especially for those of us who were going to work.
I returned to work at about eight weeks post partum, and that’s when I started pumping. I didn’t pump a large stash before going back to work. Unfortunately, even though I pumped every 2 hours and nursed my son at lunch, but we found out he wouldn’t take a bottle. For a little while we made do because he would end up nursing the entire night and sleep all day. Team no sleep for mama. But he needed more than that.
That’s when my friend offered to help wet nurse.
As weird as it was for me (at first) I was so grateful for the help. It made life easier on me and less stressful. It made life easier on my husband because I no longer freaked out all the time. I could go to work and not worry about the pumping, the clean up, or that my son wouldn’t take a bottle. It was easy on my friend too because she could nurse both her daughter and wet nurse my son at the same time!
A lot of people thought it was weird. They would say, “Why don’t you just give him formula.” Clearly, they didn’t get the issue here.
We made it work. Always do what’s best for your family- which is what we did. I nursed my son at drop off, my lunch break, and when I picked him up. My friend would text me to see when I was coming to make sure she didn’t wet nurse him, in case I was on my way. Once he started eating solids, he needed her less, but the option remained available to him. It felt so wonderful, knowing that he was still getting the breast-milk that I wanted him to get, even if it wasn’t coming from me 100% of the time.
This was all fine, dandy, and pretty wonderful until little man got older.
As he approached his first birthday, we noticed some changes. By all means, a lot of these changes were likely because of development and naturally…growing up. Things like tantrums and not listening to me. But we also noticed that he was becoming more attached to his sitter. She noticed it too- she probably noticed how it made me feel before I did.
When I would go to pick him up after work, he didn’t want to come to me.
He would cry when I would pick him up and when he wanted to nurse, he no longer wanted me to nurse him.
That hurt like hell.
Seeing my own child reach for another woman as if she was his mother broke my heart
I went home on many occasions – crying, telling my husband that I am a horrible mother. I asked him if I made the wrong decision. It’s not a fun place to be in. He constantly reminded me that it is a good thing that our son cared for his sitter. She took care of our baby as if he were her own. He felt safe with her, and could find comfort when I wasn’t around. Yes, that’s all fantastic- but it still hurt me. I’m his mother.
Like I said, my friend noticed how it was making me feel and it took awhile before we finally sat and talked about it. A few tears (okay, a lot) and a glass or two of wine later, we figured some things out. During my lunch breaks, she left with her daughter to the park, or took her upstairs just to do something away from us. She gave us time to just be together. That was actually one of the best things we did. My son and I could re-bond with each other in those 45-60 minute sessions. Even if we weren’t nursing the entire time, it was just him and I, together. Once we were about a month or two away from him turning one, we slowly weaned him from her. We didn’t wean him from breastfeeding completely (he’s still nursing today at two).
We decided that he was mostly eating solids and nursing only in the evenings anyway, that he didn’t need to nurse from my friend anymore. He still got breastmilk in the mornings at drop off, lunch, and at pick up from me, then all evening. He was still getting the milk and he wanted me. I became his comfort and his safe place again.
Would I use a wet nurse again?
The answer to that is: yes. As I sit here writing this post, I am preparing to go back to work again after having my daughter. She will be a little over four months when I go back and she is also not a fan of the bottle. I am not too worried about her favoring the bottle more than the breast anymore. I know what it’s like to not be able to give my baby a bottle at all. But at the same time, I am not stressing out about whether or not my baby will eat. We did a lot of learning the first time and not all babies are the same, even if they are brother and sister. So, who knows what’s going to happen. But we have a better idea and understanding of what could happen and how to help.
The bottom line is: I am incredibly thankful for a friend that was kind enough to offer to help us out. That’s a lot of dedication and strength on her part to nurse two babies at once, one not even being hers. And I am thankful for the fact that my husband and I were both open enough to the idea of using a wet nurse.
You have to do what’s best for you- and for your baby.
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