Who Nursed the Jewish Babies? Wet-Nursing among Jews in the Late Russian Empire

Ekaterina Oleshkevich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wet-nursing in its two variants—live-in and live-out wet nurses—was widespread among the Jewish community of the tsarist empire, as it was among their non-Jewish counterparts. Of the two types of breastfeeding, the live-in variety, although more expensive, was generally preferred, particularly by the Jewish elite, since it afforded parents greater control. Less expensive and therefore resorted to by less affluent families was the practice of hiring a wet nurse who took the baby to her own home and brought it back to the parents when it had been weaned, between the ages of 1 and 2. Jewish and non-Jewish wet nurses, both in live-in and live-out variants, were employed in equal numbers by Jewish families. For women whose income was essential for the family budget or who were the sole breadwinners, hiring a wet nurse was a necessity rather than a matter of choice. As the century progressed, the perception of ‘good motherhood’ began to change in the tsarist empire, and increasing pressure was put on women to nurse their own children instead of hiring a wet nurse. In Jewish society, public discussion of wet-nursing had a national rather than a medical character condemning employment of non-Jewish wet nurses rather than the wet-nursing itself.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)140-161
Number of pages22
JournalPolin: Studies in Polish Jewry
StatePublished - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024, Liverpool University Press. All rights reserved.


I would like to dedicate this chapter to my father, Valery Oleshkevich, who passed away while I was working on it. May he rest in peace. For comments, suggestions, and discussions, I am grateful to Vladimir Levin and Uriel Gellman. Many thanks to Annette Ezekiel Kogan for language editing. This study would not have been possible without the National Library of Israel’s JPRESS: The Historic Jewish Press Project and the Bar Ilan Responsa Project. I am deeply grateful to their developers.

FundersFunder number
Bar Ilan Responsa Project
Historic Jewish Press Project
National Library of Israel’s JPRESS


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