Samantha Gadsden is a mother who breastfeeds other people’s babies – more of them than she can remember.
Over the past ten years, Samantha, a mother of four, has donated countless hours of time and plenty of breastmilk to other people’s babies.
Wet nursing was once a common practice; many women who were unable to feed their own babies would turn to wet nurses instead.
Wet nurses were women employed for the sole purpose of breastfeeding another person’s baby.
Historically, royal babies were given to wet nurses for feeding and this meant the practice remained popular amongst the upper classes.
You can read more about human donor milk sharing in Human Milk Banks – If They Save So Many Lives, Why Aren’t There More?
Meet The Mother Who Breastfeeds Other People’s Babies
Since the introduction of infant formula, however, wet nursing has almost died out in most Western cultures.
Most modern mothers opt for infant formula if breastfeeding doesn’t work out. Some choose to use milk donated by other breastfeeding mothers, but very few women have the option, or the inclination, to use a wet nurse.
But you might be surprised to discover it still happens.
There are no official figures on the number of babies fed by wet nurses, though it is possible some parents rely on wet nurses but don’t discuss it publicly. Unfortunately, as with natural term breastfeeding and breastfeeding in public, unnecessary social stigma might be keeping the ancient practice of wet nursing as a ‘taboo’.
Samantha didn’t set out to become a wet nurse. In fact it was something she stumbled into almost by chance.
Her friend had to stay in hospital overnight with her toddler and needed somebody to look after her baby. Samantha didn’t think twice before agreeing to help out. She has since written about the experience on her blog.
Writing about the first feed, Samantha said:
‘He had a few test suckles and then settled down for a good long feed; my little one (aged nine months) wasn’t having that, so I had one on each breast – booby brothers. This brought back many happy memories of tandem feeding my three and five year olds. Having fed, he happily settled down and slept, waking only once for a feed and settling back off again.
‘Late afternoon he went home to his mummy, who had missed him so – but he was happy and he was content. I would have him again in a heartbeat. I couldn’t bear to think of a baby sad and missing the usual comfort of the breast, when I was so easily able to provide that for him and lessen the worry for his already worried mum.
‘There is no ‘out there’ or ‘controversy’ for me. My friend and her baby needed me and, what is more, I enjoyed the time I spent with him; it was a pleasure for me. You forget so quickly how tiny they are and it was a privilege to be trusted with my friend’s most precious possession – her perfectly perfect baby boy’.
Samantha has since breastfed other babies in need. She wet nursed and donated milk to a friend, Gill, who had been diagnosed with cancer and was unable to continue breastfeeding.
Gill explained: “I badly wanted him to stay on breastmilk. He was wet nursed by Sam (and another lovely friend) and then we began the next six month journey of collecting stashes of donated milk from so many delightful mothers keen to help”.
To mothers in need, wet nursing can be invaluable. It’s often mothers who find themselves in unexpected situations who turn to wet nurses or milk donors for help. One such mother, Kayleigh, posted online when she was desperate for help after being rushed to hospital. Luckily for her, Samantha offered to help out.
Kayleigh said: “Elliot was formula intolerant and became quite ill, and Oliver was refusing anything that wasn’t from the breast. Sam turned up, and the babies latched on and fed well whilst their dad was out collecting breastmilk from milk donors. She even sent me a picture of them – happy and content, feeding away – to set my mind at ease during a difficult time … Samantha is an incredibly remarkable and selfless woman who continues to inspire me”.
Samantha works as a doula, providing prenatal, birth and postnatal support to families. The wet nursing isn’t part of her work, but rather an unpaid service she offers to those in need. She told BellyBelly all about her wet nursing adventures.
“I found the babies did this really cute thing generally of taking a nipple, looking totally confused and almost shrugging their shoulders and realising it was all that was on offer and then just latching and suckling.
“I have also wet nursed once or twice just as a babysitter – never paid, although I don’t have an issue with people being paid, why not? The breastfeeding babysitting service might make things easier for new breastfeeding mums to catch a break, after their supply is established”.
If breast is best, then donor milk or wet nursing, as a brilliant second option for women unable to breastfeed, makes perfect sense.
Samantha told BellyBelly: “I do believe there is a need for more women to know they have options other than breast, expressing and formula. Even World Health Education guidelines put donor milk above formula”.