Whose breast is best? Wet nursing in nineteenth century Australia

Lisa Featherstone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper will explore wet nursing in Australia at the turn of the century. At a time when maternal breastfeeding was 'problematised', and bottle feeding led to alarming death rates of infants, wet nursing was believed to be a sound option for the rearing of children. While the wet nurse is a shadowy figure, a reading of contemporary medical texts and journals uncovers some of the requirements and demands of her employment, and some of the belief systems that sustained it. Throughout, the surveillance of the medical profession over breastfeeding and wet nursing is clear, and the mother-child bond denigrated in favour of a scientific and medicalised feeding. Through an examination of feeding and the wet nurse, the changing social relationship between the mother and child can be considered, in a period when the health and survival of the child was increasingly prioritised over the well being and desires of the mother.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-46
Number of pages6
JournalBirth issues
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - 2002


  • wet nursing
  • breastfeeding
  • history
  • Australia


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