The Virtue of A Godly Wet-Nurse
Breastfeeding, much like agriculture, is a foundational piece of human flourishing and sustenance. Like advances in agriculture, the development of infant formula and its mainstream use is a recent experiment. It is also true that we do not find an exhaustive discourse on such in the Scriptures–in fact, even less so than agriculture; because it is assumed. There were nearly no options to sustain an infant besides feeding from the breast.
This blog seeks to highlight not just agrarianism but all the areas of life that interact with it, the home, modest Christian living, love for neighbor, and hospitality. That is why we are touching on such a taboo subject as wet-nursing, the act of a woman breastfeeding another woman’s baby.
I’m not necessarily interested in arguing extensively for breastfeeding as a virtue or ideal at this time. Please understand that breastfeeding is not just the healthier option (complete micro and macronutrients, immunological assistance supplied by the mother, and other general health benefits). It is natural and rightly ordered for a mother and child. Of course, I cannot imagine that many readers would find themselves disagreeing with these points considering the themes discussed here. If you disagree, welcome. I hope you stick around.
I am writing this now for four reasons instead of any other time.
First, the internet moves quickly. If you're reading this anytime after the ninth week of the year of our lord, 2022, let me briefly remind the reader of how the gospel was proclaimed to over thirty million people by a faithful pastor from Ogden, UT. Brain (or “Dear Brian” as he came to be known) became the hot topic after tweeting something relatively benign and uncontroversial (that’s my opinion). The world, however, took to setting itself ablaze over being called out for their immodesty in dress and spirit. Rather than belabor the point, seek out what The Blaze had to say and consider yourself up-to-speed. The critical takeaway is that he was told to mind himself and not tell women what to do with their bodies. Well, here am I–about to say to women what to do with their bodies. Lord help me.
Secondly, my church has been blessed abundantly in the last eighteen months. If I am counting correctly, our church (of only a dozen or so families, mind you) will have welcomed nine babies by the summer. Our quivers are filling up with arrows, and we are ready for battle. As a result of this, it is common to have a gaggle of mothers feeding babies at any given moment. Truly a blessing.
Thirdly, I recently read an article that counted the costs of inflation. It stated that families feeding an infant on store-bought formula should expect to pay about $500 per month to do so. I can only assume this is a generic or common formulation and nothing on the “healthier” side of the spectrum. I have a newborn at home, and I am doing my best to continue to feed a family of five in light of the new higher cost; II can only imagine the fear many young parents feel facing this massive financial burden.
A Blessing from the Lord
Fourth and finally, my wife has labored with each of our three children to breastfeed. To call it “easy” would surely offend her, but comparatively, it has been easiest with our third child. Breastfeeding has been a significant challenge for her. For our second child, she pumped exclusively due to severe discomfort at the breast due to tongue-ties. But for the first, after failing to successfully breastfeed, losing her supply and being unable to pump, and suffering through multiple formula options that never worked, the Lord gave us a dear sister that pumped and supplied milk for our firstborn for nearly a year. Because of her, we had a healthy baby and now a healthy young man.
Consider again what I said. Someone we barely knew, out of love, continued to use a breast pump for a year to feed our baby.
The Lord blessed us with a wet nurse.
Israel at the Breast
This section alone could be a book. Briefly, I want to bring attention to the rich references of breastfeeding in the Scriptures. There are literal references (Gen 21:7, Job 3:12, Isaiah 49:5, 1 Sam 1:21-24, Luke 11:27), Idiomatic ones (Song 8:1, Isaiah 11:8, Psalm 8:2), and symbolic or metaphorical references (Isaiah 60:16, 66:10-12, 1 Thess 2:7). References may also be of rejoicing, lament, blessings, curses, and simply circumstantial. Much is left to be considered and studied as this list is not exhaustive. I am sure that many faithful scholars have done good work following this theme. I look forward to studying further–for now, let us consider the following within the context of wet-nursing specifically.
The Lord preserved and nourished his people at the breast of their many foreign captors. He gave them to the breast of Jerusalem to be comforted and satisfied by her (Isaiah 66:11). Moses was cared for by a wet nurse (albeit his biological mother, Exodus 2:7). Rebecca’s bond with her nurse was so great that she stayed with her to adolescence, and a place was named for the nurse upon her death (Gen 24:59, 35:8). Obed, the grandfather of David, was nursed (though to say she was a wet nurse is only speculative) by his grandmother Naomi (Ruth 4:16). Jehoshabeath preserved Joash by rescuing him from execution as a babe and putting him away with a wet nurse for six years until he was brought out of hiding to be anointed as king (2 Chronicles 22).
Blessings & CurseThe reader should give brief attention to one last piece of this foundation we’ve laid. That is the blessings and curses associated with breastfeeding.
By the God of your father who will help you, by the Almighty who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb. Genesis 49:25
Give them, O Lord–what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts. Hosea 9:14
The power in this juxtaposition is not lost on me. This is the only blessing proclaimed, and the only curse pronounced on breasts and wombs together–and both are pronounced onto Israel. We should understand, too, that there certainly are blessings and curses similar to these pronounced upon believers and non-believers today. It is a matter of life and Christian living that we must understand to honor God through both.
Obedience through Wet-Nursing
A few years ago, a story caught major headlines. A female police officer who had a newborn at home was brought to a baby found abandoned or lost. Knowing what the baby's cries meant, this mother did not hesitate to care for the baby. He was hungry, so she breastfed him. I do not know if this woman was a believer–but the Lord was certainly working through her in grace. I certainly hope she has left the force to return to her home and care for her children there if she is a believer.
As it relates to blessings and curses, my wife certainly felt the weightiness of a dry breast. She has also felt the abundant joy of a blessed breast. She has been able to be a “wet nurse” of sorts. While she has not brought another’s baby to her bosom, she has labored over a pump to supply over 2800 ounces to families in need after my wife weaned our second child. God, in His providence, has blessed modern women with tools that make this possible. Pumps to express milk, bottles to feed it, and freezers to keep it. She fully anticipates doing the same thing as the third child weans.
Now, if we are going to make wet-nursing no longer taboo, let us not stop at the suggestion that women pump and stockpile breast milk. Instead, consider how it might apply in a Christian mother’s life today. Is a young mother not understanding how to feed her child? Show her how to feed her child at your breast. Coax the baby into a proper latch that you only know from your trials. Is a mother with eight children overwhelmed at church only to break down into tears when the youngest cries for milk? Take and feed her infant. Is a mother suffering from tenderness, mastitis, or a clogged duct? Give her rest by taking the baby up to your chest. Is a mother in mourning over the loss of a loved one or otherwise grieving? Bring her child to your breast and comfort them both.
I certainly cannot tell anyone to do these things. I can only pray that we see the opportunity to love one another by doing something that has been done through all of human history. Only to be proclaimed as strange or inappropriate in the last century.
To love these neighbors, Christian mothers can show a rare (at least in modernity) and unique form of hospitality to these struggling mothers and hungry babes. Wet-nursing a small babe, either through the gifting of surplus milk or at the breast, is an act of love that God has only equipped women with, and they ought to consider fulfilling the command to love in this way.
Just as we need godly women willing to sacrifice themselves for “snowflake” adoptions, just as we need godly women to sacrifice themselves to persevere in an unsafe pregnancy, we also need Christian women willing to suffer the blessing of another’s babe at their breast. Just as they are saved through childbirth (1 Tim 2:15), breastfeeding and wet-nursing might be a means to some small and glorious bit of sanctification.
Christ, in His resurrection, gives a new life. Christian women, through Christ, can give sustenance of life, thus putting Christ’s goodness on display through loving a very peculiar neighbor in a very peculiar way (Mark 12:31). They can love the stranger’s baby through wet-nursing.
May the Lord bless some of you women with the witness of a wet nurse.