Game of Thrones and the Modern Wet Nurse?

Spoiler Alert for those who’ve not read A Feast for Crows or A Dance with Dragons 

I think wet nursing is fascinating. I think about it a lot when I’m reading (or watching) the Game of Thrones series.

Sort of related aside: I also debate with my husband about the implications of Dany nursing baby dragons–I say they’re reptiles and wouldn’t need to nurse, especially from another species. My husband argues that A) I’m missing the point and B) shouldn’t the dragons get to nurse if they want to, for comfort, etc.?

This plot aspect reminds me of an instance at our local zoo, where the mother of a litter of spotted dogs passed away and the zoo brought in a lactating dog from another species who nursed the zoo dogs!

Anyway, up north, on the Wall, there is a wet nurse situation. Gilly plays wet nurse to Mance’s baby in addition to nursing her own son. When she leaves, there is brief mention in the text of bringing in a wet nurse for Mance Rayder’s child, but it’s never really re-visited in the plot. That’s where I get interested!

I mean, in order for a woman to work as a wet nurse she must have been lactating. Where is the wet nurse’s baby while she is up at the Wall? Or are her babies long grown and she just keeps lactating as she moves from one wet nurse gig to another? What are the logistics here? 

The very idea of nursing another baby is so interesting to me. My sister and I used to joke about it a bit when my oldest son and her youngest son were nurslings together. Wouldn’t it be great to have a pinch hitter for a night waking? Just every now and again? But I don’t think we were ever serious about nursing each other’s children. I can’t imagine what it must be like to depend entirely on another woman to feed my theoretical baby. Or to provide this service for another family!

Would it feel the same for another child to latch on? Would I fall helplessly in love with the other child if I nursed him?

I have a friend who babysits while she is home with her young children. Since she had a nursling and was lactating anyway, some of the kids she cared for nursed from her breasts if they wouldn’t take a bottle. I’m not sure whether this was ongoing or just occasional, but wouldn’t that be a service to advertise? My youngest won’t take a bottle…I’d be able to work a lot more if I could drop him off at her house and know he could just nurse when he felt hungry.

But would he nurse from her?

All these questions fascinate me. One minute, I’m reading a fantasy novel about war and dragons and the next, I’m in a question spiral about wet nursing. My husband says I should just enjoy the book I’m reading and not think about it so hard.

What about you–have you ever nursed a baby who was not yours? Has your baby ever nursed from another woman? Leave us a comment and tell your story!

1 comment to Game of Thrones and the Modern Wet Nurse?

  • I just read a fantastic novel called The Midwife of Hope River by Patricia Harman. The main character is a midwife who was a wet nurse in her youth. Without giving away any spoilers – she talks about her fellow wet nurses (I think they worked in a hospital or women’s shelter of some sort, can’t exactly remember). Some had lost babies, others were unwed mothers who gave up their babies. My understanding is that they would just keep working until their milk dried up, so one wet nurse could theoretically work for a few years after one pregnancy.

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