Nowadays he have human milk banks. In the olden days, however, it was not unusual to see a woman nurse the child of another mother who couldn't produce her own milk. Is there a word or phrase for a woman who did it and was not biologically related to the child?

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    It wasn't only in "olden days". My friend is a programmer and was born in Silicon Valley. His mother died in childbirth, so he and his twin brother had a wet nurse. Commented May 13, 2015 at 16:48

3 Answers 3


They're called wet nurses. Wikipedia

  • A wet nurse is a woman who breast feeds and cares for another's child. Wet nurses are employed when the mother is unable or chooses not to nurse the child herself.

  • Wet-nursed children may be known as "milk-siblings", and in some cultures the families are linked by a special relationship of milk kinship. Mothers who nurse each other's babies are engaging in a reciprocal act known as cross-nursing or co-nursing.

    • For years it was a really good job for a woman. In 17th- and 18th-century Britain a woman would earn more money as a wet nurse than her husband could as a laborer. And if you were a royal wet nurse you would be honored for life.
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    Okay got it. Will do, moving forward. Tnx
    – Quillmondo
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 15:02
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    There are three correct answers but I'll accept this one because it was posted first.
    – Centaurus
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 15:39
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    Thank you @Little Eva. But Josh61 should take more credit. I'm only still learning the ropes. Seems that experience on the site is the best teacher of why answers should follow a certain format.
    – Quillmondo
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 22:46
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    Testing @LittleEva --- learned just now, too, that it matters to mind spaces when writing out user handles.
    – Quillmondo
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 23:04
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    So, a good answer here, one which will please the cognoscenti, one which elicits positive votes, usually contains a personal or subjective component, linked definitions, usage examples, and supporting data in block quotes, with citations to authority in plain text (somewhere in the answer).
    – user98990
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 0:33

That would be a nurse or a wet nurse:

nurse: 1 (a) a woman who suckles an infant not her own : wet nurse

wet nurse: a woman who cares for and suckles children not her own

Both definitions from Merriam-Webster Online.

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    In addition, it was formerly not unusual, I believe, for upper-class women to hire a wet nurse because it was unseemly to be seen nursing - or, one presumes, taking care of one's own children. But I'm not sure where I got this piece of information from. Commented May 13, 2015 at 14:54
  • In past centuries, the majority of royal babies were handed to a wet nurse soon after their arrival. Royal women were often little more than symbolic figures, delivering child after child to secure a dynasty.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/jul/10/…
    – user66974
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 15:10
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    It is interesting that in the OED there are no examples of the term breast feeding until the 20th century. Previously it would have been known as nursing. It was only after it became fashionable to bottle-feed children (on cow's milk in some form) that it seems the term breast feeding arises.
    – WS2
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 15:47
  • @WS2 Or suckling referring to the physical action. Commented May 13, 2015 at 15:49
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    @MattGutting Yes. I should think suckling probably disappeared among the genteel middle classes in an earlier wave of what we would call political correctness.
    – WS2
    Commented May 13, 2015 at 15:55

Oxford Shorter (1933 edition)

Wet nurse, wet-nurse sb 1620 A woman who is hired to suckle and nurse another woman's child.

Wet-nurse verb transitive, to serve as a wet nurse.

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