Contributions from the London Conference on Infant Mortality

FRITZ B. TALBOT
1913 Boston Medical and Surgical Journal  
The wetnurse problem, at first sight, seems simple and separate from other social problems which come to our attention but on closer study it is found to be connected with many of the great problems of the day, such as that of infant mortality, the social question, and the problem of illegitimate children. That there is a wetnurse problem is shown by the fact that out of eighty physicians who answered a circular letter sent to them by the writer, only eight did not use wetnurses at all. Most of
more » ... ses at all. Most of the seventy-two remaining physicians used six or more a year and one has used on an average of twenty-five a year in his private practice for the past two and a half years. Wetnurses are used extensively in the United States both in hospital work and private practice. Breast milk is often necessary to save a baby's life and in such instances must be obtained quickly. The phase of the problem which interests the practicing physician is ' ' how can one be obtained. ' ' The writer has traveled many miles and spent many hours in the past hunting for wetnurses. This time was wasted in many instances and it seemed to him that if some central agency or directory could be established it would serve the double purpose of bringing the demand and supply together. This was by no means an original idea. It was found, on enquiry, that an attempt had been made in the year 1900 to have wetnurses register at the Directory for trained nurses in Boston, but that none had ever registered. This attempt was unsuccessful as have been other similar attempts that have come to the writer's notice. The explanation is simple because the majority of women who wish to become wetnurses are destitute and cannot afford to wait for a position because they need money immediately for their bread and butter. They have, therefore, to wean the baby, put it out to board, and go to work. There is a wetnurse agency in the city of New York run by private individuals, where wetnurses can be obtained by paying a fee of ten to twenty-five dollars. These agents also take an unknown per cent, of the wetnurse's first month's wages. The babies are placed out to board and the writer has been told, on good authority, that a large percentage of them die.
doi:10.1056/nejm191311201692107 fatcat:safuhjnoifbwbpm4k5ozcgvgmq