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Is Breast Always Best

Sheri Sullivan




            It is a well known fact that breast milk is important for newborns and early year toddlers because of the irreplaceable natural nutrients and antibodies it provides for the baby. According to the FDA, the use of breast milk also helps to stimulate brain development, growth, and gives the baby an overall stronger immune system ( Furthermore there is a unique emotional attachment that occurs with the baby and the mother that cannot be simply replaced by baby formula. Recently many women have newly rediscovered the importance of breast milk and are concerned with getting it to their babies, no matter what method they use. Why has this faded trend regained its power among many women today? As of 2001, 70% of all women breast fed in their postpartum state, a significant increase from 1996 (FDA). Although breast feeding was a declining trend in the 20th century, it is making a striking comeback, even creating a breast milk trade market.  


The Lucrative Trade Market of Breast Milk

As stated previously, breast milk is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society. Many women are increasingly choosing to breast feed their babies, some so desperate for their baby to obtain breast milk they are willing to do almost anything to get it like hiring a wet nurse, buying, or even getting human milk from milk banks.


Brief History and Return of “wet” nurses

            Because breast milk is in such a high demand now, many women today are starting to hire “wet” nurses, a phenomenon that was used throughout the 18th and 19th century (Richter). In these centuries many babies were not fed by their mothers, but often times fed by other women instead. This was especially popular in America, where house slave women nursed the masters’ and their own children throughout the day.

            Today many women choose to let other women feed their baby for many reasons. Some women are unable to feed their babies due to health complications, breast implants, or for their own convenience factors. For example, in Appleyard’s story, the woman, Sarah Hastings, decided to hire a wet nurse so that she could return to work without having to complicate her work schedule. Whether widely used or not, the fact is that wet nurses are returning and are becoming somewhat high demand.


Milk Banks

            Adding to the lucrative trade of breast milk and among the return of wet nurses, is the emergence of milk banks throughout the world. The purpose of these banks is to provide substantial nutrients to premature and ill babies, especially in third world countries. These babies are in desperate need of the nutrients and antibodies that are found solely in a mother’s breast milk in order to survive. These banks are becoming more and more prevalent throughout our society.


The Risk and Benefits of human milk

            Although it is important for babies to receive the special nutrients and antibodies that are specifically found in breast milk, sometime it may not be the wisest choice. There are both risks and benefits to using human milk, depending upon the situation. Obtaining human milk via the internet or from a milk bank is very beneficial in helping other women; especially those who cannot breast feed themselves because of health reasons. It is also helpful to have an outlet like another woman’s milk when the baby refuses to latch on to the mother for whatever reason, which is somewhat common. Furthermore by using another woman’s milk, the mother can benefit because it can be easier on her, especially those wanting to return to the work sooner. Because they can hire a wet nurse, or provide another woman’s milk for their baby, they won’t have to rearrange their work schedule or have to work around it. They can simply let the caretaker of the baby feed him by using the milk provided.  Research also suggest that the mother can attain just as many benefits as the child if she decides to breast feed for at least six months to one year after the delivery ( feeding_ in _quran.html). First, statistics show that women who breast feed for one to two years after their pregnancies show a significantly reduced risk of developing breast cancer than those who choose not breast feed. Secondly, women who breast feed have a better hormonal balance due to the chemical exchanges that occur in the pituitary gland during this time. Because of this exchange that takes place, the hormonal balance provides rest for the womb and ovaries by balancing them out also.

There are also risks to the practice of using other women’s milk albeit wet nurses or milk banks. For example, when using another’s milk, the special bond that occurs between a mother and child is taken away. It is emotionally important for both parties to bond; by using another’s milk there is a loss of intimacy and connection to the baby in this manner. Also, although rare, it is possible for the passage of disease to occur between the child and the milk, especially if the mother decides to buy the milk online, which is also an increasing practice. Moreover, what if the donor was a smoker or an alcoholic? Would this affect whether or not you use milk from another woman?


Overall Conclusion and Summary of Data

            The use of human milk via milk banks, the internet, or wet nurses is becoming more customary in today’s society than ever before. Many women have the desire to provide such a nutrient-filled substance to their newborn, but lack the resources to do so. Is it possibly that the return of wet nurses will become more prevalent? Or is it possible that milk banks and the online business of human milk is the new contemporary wet nurses? Only time will tell whether these practices are just a fad or will continue to be here to stay.



Literature Cited

Appleyard, Diana. (2007, October 8). The Return of the Wet Nurse. Daily Mail, P.1.


Krantz, Judith. (1981, May 5). Cross-nursing: Wet-nursing in a Contemporary Context.


Pediatrics Vol. 67 No. 5, P. 715-117.


Richter, Simon. (1996, July). Wet-nursing, Onanism and the Breast in Eighteenth-


Century Germany. Journal of the History of Sexuality Vol. 7, No.1, P. 1-22.



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