Regulated wet nursing: managed care or organized crime?

Neonatology. 2012;102(3):222-8. doi: 10.1159/000339732. Epub 2012 Jul 20.


Wet nursing was widely practiced from antiquity. For the wealthy, it was a way to overcome the burdens of breastfeeding and increase the number of offspring. For the poor, it was an organized industry ensuring regular payment, and in some parishes the major source of income. The abuse of wet nursing, especially the taking in of several nurslings, prompted legislation which became the basis of public health laws in the second half of the 19th century. The qualifications demanded from a mercenary nurse codified by Soran in the 2nd century CE remained unchanged for 1,700 years. When artificial feeding lost its threat thanks to sewage disposal, improved plumbing, the introduction of rubber teats, cooling facilities and commercial formula, wet nursing declined towards the end of the 19th century.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Breast Feeding / ethics*
  • Breast Feeding / history
  • Breast Feeding / methods
  • Crime / ethics
  • Crime / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Ethics, Nursing
  • Female
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Infant Care* / ethics
  • Infant Care* / history
  • Infant Care* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Infant Care* / methods
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Managed Care Programs / ethics
  • Managed Care Programs / history
  • Managed Care Programs / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Nurses / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Pregnancy