Wet-Nursing: Breastfeeding Another Woman's Child

What Is Wet-Nursing and Is it safe?
What is cross-nursing?. Image Source/Getty Images

What Is Wet-Nursing?

Wet-nursing or cross-nursing is the act of breastfeeding someone's else's child. A wet nurse may have a healthy breast milk supply from breastfeeding her own child, or she may stimulate a supply of breast milk specifically for another woman's child. 

Wet-nursing is also used by women who are attempting to create a strong breast milk supply when their own babies can't nurse because they are premature or sick.

Having a healthy baby nursing at the breast will do just that. Also, women who wish to breastfeed an adopted child may cross-nurse to stimulate their breast milk supply. As long as proper infection precautions are observed, this is an excellent option. The cross-nursing mom should be healthy and well-nourished. She should not have any infections, she should not take any medications, and she should not smoke.

A Short History Of Wet-Nursing

Before there were other ways to provide nutrition to babies, breastfeeding was the only source of food. If a mother was not able to breastfeed her child, the child would not survive. One way that women would get around this is by helping each other.  Mother's who had enough breast milk would breastfeed their own children as well as other children who needed to be nursed. While women would often nurse the children of family and friends for no charge, many women were hired to breastfeed other children.


Wet-nursing is still very much alive in many cultures throughout the world. However, in Western cultures, it has been fairly uncommon since the early 1900s. Before the early 1900s, there was not a safe alternative to breast milk. Babies were not able to digest and tolerate what was available at that time.

But, in the early 1900's, safer infant feedings were developed and, over the next few decades, became increasingly popular.  

Wet-Nursing And Infectious Disease

In the past, breastfeeding someone else's baby simply required that the nursing woman was healthy, had no infections, and wasn't taking any medications. But, with the advent of HIV, things have changed dramatically. Women are still wet-nursing, but HIV testing for both the wet-nursing mom and the other woman's baby have become essential. This testing is set up by private arrangement. Hospitals and doctors do not take on this task.

The Dangers of Wet-Nursing

So, are there dangers to wet or cross-nursing? As with any intense decision like this, the following should be considered:

  • There is always the potential for infection (mom or baby).
  • There may be an interruption of the breast milk supply for the mother's own baby.
  • The composition of breast milk will be different if the babies are different ages or at different stages of development.
  • The wet-nursing mom may have problems with the let--down reflex.
  • The other woman's baby may refuse to nurse (if older than four months).
  • Wet-nursing can have a negative impact on siblings and the household.

Alternatives To Wet-Nursing

If you are unable to breastfeed, or you cannot make enough breast milk for your child, there are other alternative methods of feeding your baby.


Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

Edited By Donna Murray

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