He looked at me puzzled, as if to say: ‘You’re not my mum!’ But realising milk was on offer, he quickly latched on.
It might sound strange, but I’ve always been fascinated by breastfeeding and the fact that a mother’s milk is all a baby needs during its first six months. But when I had my first baby in 1995, I was only able to breastfeed for six weeks as I had to return to my job as an accountant. It was incredibly hard, but I had bills to pay.
When I had my son Elliott in 2008, however, I cut down my hours and breastfed him until he was five and naturally wanted to stop. It was the same with my daughter Cara, who was born in 2010, and my youngest son Trystan, who’s five and starting to tail off now.
As the years went by, I became increasingly interested in birth as well as breastfeeding, so in 2013 I decided to leave my accountancy job and become a doula, helping other mums during pregnancy, birth and afterwards.
That September, my friend Kelly, 26, got in touch. Her eldest child was in hospital, and she wasn’t able to keep her 13-week-old son with her. He’d never had formula or a bottle before, so she asked if I could look after him for a few days – and breastfeed him. Although it was out of the blue, I wasn’t shocked, and it felt natural to agree to help. When I took him home, he had a few test suckles before settling in for a good feed. It was such a lovely experience.
A year later, I saw a post on a Facebook group called Human Milk 4 Human Babies from a mum who had been hospitalised. The milk she’d expressed for her twin babies had run out, but they couldn’t keep formula down. She was stuck in hospital taking medication that she was told didn’t allow her to breastfeed, and was desperate for a donation of expressed milk.
I sent a message to say I didn’t have any, but I was happy to breastfeed her babies instead. She was delighted, and I arrived at her home to find the babies with their grandmother. She was expecting me to come armed with bottles of milk, so I had to tell her it was in my boobs! She was rather surprised, but also very grateful given she had two crying, hungry babies on her hands. Luckily, they latched on straightaway and I fed them at the same time, taking a photo to send to their mother. Later, she sent me some chocolates to say thank you.
She was expecting me to come armed with bottles of milk, so I had to tell her it was in my boobs! She was rather surprised, but also very grateful given she had two crying, hungry babies on her hands.
Wet nursing is not a service I offer as a doula, but in July 2016 I ended up feeding another set of twins.
I was their mum’s doula and she was unable to feed both of them immediately after birth, so she asked me to step in to help. I have lovely memories of her sitting there feeding one twin as I fed the other.
Over the years, I’ve mostly breastfed for friends and people I know – but I’ll also get messages from strangers asking for help at all hours of the day and night, too. Most of the time it’s an emergency, though once I agreed to help out so a couple could have a rare and much-needed night off.
In total, I’ve breastfed around 10 babies other than my own, but I’ve never been paid for it – though I don’t think there is anything wrong with taking money for wet nursing, I wouldn’t feel comfortable charging.
My husband Ed and my friends are very supportive, and although some family members thought it was weird to begin with, they don’t bat an eyelid now. Of course, I’ve had a lot of criticism for what I do, but I couldn’t care less. I did an interview for our local news and afterwards I was trolled on the internet by people saying I should be hung for my attitude towards feeding. I’ve also had breastfeeding fetishists message me, but I just block them.
As my youngest is almost finished nursing, my supply is slowing so I don’t think I’ll be able to feed any more newborns as I don’t produce enough milk for them.
And since I’ve been breastfeeding for nearly a decade now, I’m almost ready to give up. I don’t feel sad about it – I’m just happy that I’ve been able to help so many mums and babies in their hour of need.
Until the 19th century, most wet-nursed babies lived with their wet nurse for up to the first three years of their life.
One in 25 women say they’ve breastfed another mum’s baby.
- Sources: Encyclopedia Of Children And Childhood In History And Society and NetMums
- Visit Caerphillydoula.co.uk for more information on the work carried out by doulas.
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