In olden days the breasts and their shape signified the beauty of women. The upper-class women as usual conscious of their beauty and shape did not like to breastfeed their babies. The option left was to give newly born babies to some other ladies for breastfeeding for money. The practice of Breast feeding in lieu of remuneration is wet nursing.
Employing wet nurses was a customary practice in the ancient societies like Mesopotamia, Egypt, Europe (medieval and renaissance) America and Europe including some parts of Asia or other under developed countries.
In the 16th and 17th century the breasts and their shape signified the beauty of women.
During the Renaissance period, the nude paintings of ladies adored the walls of Art Museums in Europe. Breasts and beauty became the focal point of painters and poets. Even, ladies adored the sexual secret of their breasts.
Most of the affluent class women of Europe employed wet nurses for their children. They did this as a status symbol. The controlling husbands did not like breast feeding of kids by their mothers as it affected their sex life.
Just like modern women, ladies of that period also held that breastfeeding defaced their beautiful breasts. The affluent class women were submissive to the romanticized superlative of keeping sexy breasts and chose not to breast-feed their babies.
The other reason was the high mortality rate among children. The wealthy families were happy to have as many children as they could to ensure a legal heir.
Third reason was that in that period breastfeeding was the only way for birth control and early pregnancies.
New babies were usually sent out with the wet nurses for eighteen to twenty-four months. They were responsible for breast-feeding many other kids including her own.
A few of wet-nurses were not paid but most of them earned more than their husbands. Few rich families could afford to keep a wet nurse in their homes.
It was the period of Renaissance that witnessed the movement of words accusing wet nursing on medical and moral grounds. They started advocating through written material that wet nursing was a dangerous replacement for the biological mother.
The Elizabethan era saw most British babies being breastfed by their birth mothers, although some wealthy women still adopted wet nursing method.
But the 17th century brought much awakening on the issue and some women started campaign against breastfeeding by wet nurses. They started encouraging all biological mothers to breastfeed their own borne on the religious grounds. They pleaded that biblical mothers breastfed their children.
Again, they pleaded that babies would take on the physiognomies of the lower-class lady who nursed them.
The advocates of maternal nursing among others were Dutch medical, religious and moral agencies.
A wicked mother who declined to nurse her own biological child was a disgrace in the eyes of the Lord and the Breastfeeding was the trait of a virtuous mother dear to God.
In the 1800′s the number of babies who were being breast-fed and nursed by their biological mothers skyrocketed due to an outcry against high infant mortality rates. The trend of sending babies in the lap of wet-nurses began to decline.
They earned the name of Baby Farmers. In most of the cases biological fathers were made to ensure their wives nursed and breast-fed their babies.
The wet nursing was not as popular in America as it was in Europe, but it certainly existed. Newly arriving immigrants or black slaves were engaged for this job.
By the eighteenth century the practice of sending out babies away to be wet-nursed had gone high. The main reason was that the economic conditions compelled even the urban working class to keep their babies with country side peasant families for up to four years.
With the passage of laws regulating the sale and purchase of cow milk, wet nursing practice disappeared by 1920 s in the U.S.
The practice was so common that cities like Lyon and Paris factually had no babies. During the second half of the eighteenth century, there was a universal demand for the service.
But the great infant mortality made wet-nursing organized venture.
The authorities moved in to form a single Municipal Bureau of Wet Nurses, which pledged a minimum living wage to wet nursing women. This Institution survived the French Revolution.
The Roussel Law of 1874 made the regulation of wet-nursed infants a national, rather than a municipal duty.
A decline in working mothers after World War I came in the wake of the passage of a law granting fifteen francs as an incentive per month to working women if they nursed their babies for twelve months.
The practice of wet-nursing was not as common in other western European countries as it was in France, but it was indeed a major cultural practice. In England, it was usual for upper-class women to employ wet nurses whereas working-class mothers breast-fed their own babies.
Parish records exhibit that upper-class women usually gave birth annually whereas working-class women gave birth at longer intervals, about every three years gap.
In Germany infant feeding customs did differ in different regions. In some areas almost all infants were breast fed by their biological mothers, whereas in other areas the custom was deep-rooted.
In the late nineteenth century, German government started an infant welfare movement advocating the benefits of breastfeeding the risks of wet-nursing babies. By 1937 the regional variances in infant feeding had vanished and breast-feeding was common.
Wet-nursing possibly caused more ill health and death among mothers and babies. And the practice gradually vanished.