Triumphant Tuesday: Wet Nursing My Niece


The act of wet nursing is as old as time itself. Yet surprisingly La Leache League are against it. They cite infection risk, miss-matched milk composition and psychological maladjustment as justification for their stance (LLL 2010). On the other hand, Unicef (2009) and the National Childbirth Trust (2011) fully support wet nursing.

If pro-breastfeeding organisations can’t agree on whether wet nursing is acceptable, it is hardly surprising that society is torn on the topic. It seems that feeding another woman’s baby is the last parenting taboo. This week’s triumphant mom hadn’t planned on wet nursing, until her niece decided to take matters into her own hands…

“Here in the US, although breastfeeding knowledge is taking the new moms by storm, it seems people who had kids 20+ years ago are still in the dark. When I had my daughter, I lived with my aunt, uncle, and cousin. Breastfeeding was something I had failed at with my son, so I was determined to nurse my daughter. If I could get over 1 month, I’d be happy.

Formula pushing

Even before I left the hospital, I was told I had to supplement her with formula. I must have waited too long to feed Kye, and every time I put her to my breast it only frustrated her, which frustrated me even more. It felt like she didn’t know how to suckle. With a screaming baby, I pushed the call nurse button. Since I was determined to continue feeding her the way God intended, I opted for a syringe to administer the supplements. However I didn’t know that when supplementing, that there’s a limit to how much you’re supposed to allow your baby to have – I simply got her belly full enough for us to rest. Come next meal time, I successfully nursed her then supplemented. This scenario happened a few times in the early months, but we never became dependent on formula.

Early introduction of solids

As I learned more, I became purposed in my heart to allow my little girl to self-wean. My family intervened and gave her apple juice and baby food at 4 months – without asking me. My daughter wasn’t starving. She hadn’t lost weight. Kye just wasn’t chubby like my aunt and uncle remembered their babies being. Just because they gave their boys food at 3 months and “they were just fine”. Every time I opposed them, I was met with the antagonizing “why?!” not the “Oh, I’ve never heard of that. Can you tell me more about it? Do you really believe that’s best? Ok, you’re her mom.”

Of course, once she had tasted food, I couldn’t go back – so I fed her purees until she wouldn’t eat them anymore. At this point, I started with the Baby Led Weaning I’d heard so much about – giving big, soft, easy to chew and swallow chunks of food to her. She was 7 months old. It worked fabulously!

‘Clingy’ baby

By this point my daughter was what you could describe as ‘very clingy’ (after all, she was breastfed AND she hardly saw others) plus very stranger aware. So, even people at church were coming down on me about how “often” I held her. They also commented that she’d never be independent. Nursing on demand, for comfort as well as nutrition, to get her to sleep, and after she woke up meant I held her a lot – especially since she could often take an hour or two to nurse.

In the past I had transferred my son from my bed to his crib starting when he turned one. At first, I had planned on doing this with my daughter. Yet the more I learned, the more my mind changed. She can leave my bed/room when she wants.

Pressure to wean

When my aunt began asking me when I wanted to wean her from my breast, I replied, “When she wants to.” Her reply: “But she’ll never want to.” My family has a history of not wanting to listen to me when I diverge from their thoughts on what is best/right, so why open my mouth and invite scepticism and comments on top of what I was already dealing with? I didn’t have the scientific proof in front of me. I couldn’t have convinced her without showing her things on my computer. Every time the topic of weaning my daughter came up (by the end, it didn’t even have to be MY daughter being talked about!), I was ridiculed in some way for wanting to nurse Kye past a year. My aunt pressured me for an age limit. Off the top of my head, I said 5. I then changed it to three when the entire family was in the kitchen and it was brought up. When my aunt finally researched extended bfing, she started saying I could be thrown in jail for nursing her in public after the age of two.

It felt like I was constantly under attack. Not once did any of them ask me in a way that showed they truly wanted to know my reasoning. If I held her too much, not enough, nursed her too long or too often, didn’t give her enough solids, didn’t give her the right kind of solids, gave a truthful answer to a breastfeeding or cosleeping question (such as when I planned to stop), I got blasted with opinions. Not facts. Not studies. Just opinions. Ignorant ones at that. (I don’t mean this as an insult; they are truly not informed about any of the benefits.)

A chance to escape

One day, my bestie (who happens to be my sister’s ex) called me up and asked me if I could move in with him, his roommate (who left with no notice just before I got here), and my 2 year old niece. I started planning right away. I got a car (an itty-bitty car – about twice the size of a Mini Coop), and had barely (!) learned how to drive it before making the trip halfway across the country to become my niece’s acting mom. My 9 month old daughter didn’t exactly appreciate the lack of closeness or the near constant feeling of the carseat. We were on limited time. Mountains. Snow. Semis! The wind tried more than once to take control of my car or sweep us off the road or into another car! I was white-knuckled the entire time. I stopped often to nurse her (these sessions could still last up to an hour and a half) and tried to make it as easy as possible for us both.

We finally arrived while my bestie was at work and his dad was babysitting my niece. Seeing my niece for the first time in months was great! The girls started getting acquainted. I nursed Kye to sleep that night. My best friend and I had a nice reunion the next morning.

“Can I nurse too?”

My niece, Ivry, when she saw how I fed Kye, started wanting to nurse as well. Keep in mind, she was only breastfed a short while before her mom switched to formula. Since she showed interest, even after being told no three times, I called her mom, who lives in Virginia. She said she had no problem with it. Once that was done, I asked her dad (my best friend & roommate). “You sure her mom doesn’t care?” he asked. Once he was assured, I had the green light.

At first, Ivry would pretend to nurse. She didn’t know how to latch or that in order to get milk, she’d have to suckle. It took months of me being a pillow and toy before she ever got the hang of it! Then one night, she did, and got a real good taste of “bobo milk.” She loved it!

I wish I could say she consistently remembered how it worked after that, but sometimes she went right back to her pillow and toy version of getting bobo. However, when she nursed properly, she was almost a natural. I had to teach her that gentleness was key – Ivry has a tendency to be rough.

Tandem wet nursing

Once Kye learned to share her bobos, things got along pretty smoothly. The girls nursed together (in fact, the only time Ivry was nice to Kye for months after we moved in was after a nursing session), laughed and giggled during their bobo time, and gave each other nice touches (pats on heads, arms, shoulders, backs, legs).

Nursing isn’t just about bonding between mom and baby. The girls have bonded much quicker due to nursing together from the same source. And my bond with my niece has solidified faster since my return into her life because of it.

Instead of nursing every day, now, Ivry just nurses when the mood strikes her and I’m up for it as well. Mostly, it’s at the same time Kye’s nursing to sleep before bed, so there are many times I tell her not tonight. It doesn’t stop her from asking the next time.

Her dad still thinks it’s strange, and I was also uncomfortable with the newness of the situation at first. But now I’m so glad we embarked on this journey. Ivry’s no less independent for the bobo feedings she gets. She’s still rough and tumble; a girlish tomboy. Her development hasn’t been hindered or slowed or thwarted in any way.

All three of us girls have a bond that, otherwise, would have been impossible. If it weren’t for nursing, Kye and Ivry might still be fighting like cats and dogs. Ivry may still think of me as someone who can only be trusted because she has to be while Daddy’s not home. Instead, the cousins act like sisters and Ivry has allowed me into her inner heart.

No one outside of our mismatched family knows what I’m doing, and I bet Ivry’s mom (one of my many sisters) has forgotten about it. However, that makes it all the more special to me – it’s a secret of sorts that only the people in our house share.”

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