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Bizarre new breastfeeding trend

We're constantly being reminded that "breast is best" but how would you feel if it was someone else's nipple being proffered to your baby? 

The practice of wet-nursing is undergoing a revival among women who can't breastfeed their children, either for medical, physical or vanity reasons. 

Before the development of infant formula, it was common for mothers who were unable to breastfeed to hire a "wet nurse" to do it for her. But the practice fell out of favour in the mid-1950s as the popularity of formula grew.

Fast forward to the new millenium and a Los Angeles employment agency called Certified Household Staffing, which has added wet-nursing to its roster of services. It reports an increasing number of wealthy mothers, many of whom have breast implants, who want wet nurses for their babies. These specialist staffers live with the family for around a year and are paid an average of $1000 a week for their services.

Celebrity mothers are reportedly among those embracing the trend.

When you see a woman out with a celebrity and her children, many times that's not [just] a nanny," says Robert Feinstock, the managing director of Certified Household Staffing. "We're in Hollywood, we deal with a lot of people who are known throughout the world."

But not Salma Hayek! In 2009, the actress was touring a hospital in war-torn Sierra Leone when she came across a mother who was unable to provide milk for her malnourished one-week-old son.

She later explained: "The baby was perfectly healthy, but the mother did not have any milk. He was very hungry – I was weaning my daughter Valentina, but I still had a lot of milk, so I breastfed the baby."

Salma Hayek breastfeeding an infant in Sierra Leone

OK, that's Hollywood. What about Australia?

In 2011, when Mamamia asked the questions: "How would you handle it if someone breastfed your child? Would you ever breastfeed someone else’s baby if you could?" numerous commenters admittted they'd feed another woman's bub.

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Holly explained: "What’s the big deal? I fed my sisters baby the other day when she was overtime at the doctors. I did jokingly say to her not to worry about being late as I could feed her. She was crying and tired so I fed her.

Helen wrote: "It happened to me over 25 years ago when a friend offered to look after baby so hubby and I could go for a walk in the rain forest near her house. We were exhausted by sleepless nights and welcomed the chance for timeout Same scenario. 30 minutes. Returned. Baby sleeping. Delight turned to shock when she said she had breastfed him, but I put it into perspective. She was a good healthy earthy mother and my baby was sleeping at last. the weirdness passed (mostlyy) and I felt deep appreciation for a good woman..who had calmed my baby and given me some space. In fact many years later I fed another woman’s baby (at her request) when she was in the throes of dealing with an older child with cancer."

And Proud Mama complained: "This actually happened to me. But I was only gone for a maximum of 15 minutes and I also had my expressed breast milk available to use. She knew I was at a shop only a couple hundred meters away (She gave me directions to where it was!). When I got home the woman who breastfed my child without my consent said “the baby woke, so I fed him” and it would have taken TOO long to heat up my expressed milk! I didn’t say anything to her at the time because I was grateful that she and another woman looked after my newborn for an hour earlier on that same day, but a couple of months later I gently mentioned that I was a bit hurt that she didn’t ask for my opinion via a phone call. She wrote me an abusive letter calling me names and telling me that “If I didn’t want another woman breastfeeding my child I should have said so beforehand” and “if she had the chance, she would do it again”!!

However, it seems the job description "wet nurse" hasn't quite hit seek.com.au yet. On the other hand, there is one controversial way of sharing breastmilk sans boob that's proving increasingly popular: online communities that allow women with excess breast milk to donate it to others.

Human Milk 4 Human Babies (HM4HB), for example, is a Facebook milk-sharing network with 4000 Australian members. Its page is filled with appreciative commenters, such as Susie who posts "Milk donors are without doubt the most amazing women around! Without the wonderful women who take the time out of their day to express for us, my sweet baby would have needed to be fed formula in order to survive. I can't thank those selfless mamas enough for saving him!"

But not everyone is singing the praises of wet-nursing, whether through a milk bank of direct from the breast.

The Age has reported: "Health authorities have warned of the risk of transmitting infectious diseases, such as hepatitis or HIV, from sharing unscreened breast milk."

How would you feel about another woman providing breast milk to your baby?

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