Qualities of Ideal Wet Nurse: Dhatri Lakshana

Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Dhatri means wet nurse or foster mother.
Since Dhatri is substitute for mother, Ayurveda advises that a dhatri should be thoroughly examined and selected before giving her the responsibility of taking care and feeding the child. Her milk should also possess the qualities of mother’s breast milk and should be compatible to the child to optimum. In other words she should be interviewed for good qualities a dhatree should possess and the norms which she should fulfill before being appointed for the post of dhatree. 

Qualities and characteristic features of ideal Dhatree.
अतो धात्री परीक्षाम् उपवेक्ष्यामः।अथ ब्रूयात् – धात्रीम् आनय समान वर्णां यौवनस्थां निभृतानां अनातुराम् अव्यङ्गाम् अव्यसनाम् अविरूपां अजुगुप्सितां देशे जातीयां अक्षुद्रं अक्षुद्रकर्मणीं कुले जातां वत्सलां अरोगां जीवद् वत्सां पुं वत्सां दोग्ध्रीं अप्रमत्तां अनुच्चारशायिनीं अनन्त्यावसायिनीं कुशलोपचारां शुचिं अशुचि द्वेषिणीं स्तन स्तन्य सम्पद् उपेतां इति।(च.शा.८/५२)

ततो यथावर्णं धात्रीं उपेयान् मध्यम प्रमाणां मध्यम वयस्कां अरोगां शीलावतीं अचपलां अलोलुपां अकृशां अस्थूलां प्रसन्न क्षीरां अलम्ब ओष्ठी अम्लम्ब ऊर्ध्व स्तनीं अव्यङ्गां अव्यसनिनीं जीवद् वत्सां दोग्ध्रीं वत्सलां अक्षुद्र कर्मणीं कुले जातां अतो भूयिष्ठः च गुणैः अन्वितां श्यामां आरोग्यं बल वृद्धये बालस्य।(सु.शा.१०/२५)

Samana Varna – The Dhatri should be of the same varna (order, class or caste) as that of the child. Varnas or social strata as divided in Ancient India are of 4 types. They are Brahmin (Brahmana), Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra.

  • If the child is a Brahmin (class of priests, scholars and teachers), the dhatri too should belong to the same class, i.e. she too should be a Brahmin.
  • If the child is a Kshatriya (class of rulers, warriors and administrators) the Dhatree too should be a Kshatriya.
  • If the child is a Vaishya (class of merchants) the Dhatri too should be a Vaishya.
  • If the child is a Shudra (laborers and service providers) the Dhatree too should be a Shudra.

Note – Varna means social classes depending on the job or work each class does. The quadruple division is a form of social stratification and not to be confused with the term Jati or the European term ‘caste’.
Read related: Ayurvedic Care Of The Newborn Baby: Jatamatra Paricharya

Yauvanasthaam – The Dhatree should be a middle aged adult. If the Dhatree is a young girl, she will not be responsible enough to take care of the child nor can she give the desired love and affection to the child. On the other hand if the Dhatri is an old woman, she would be weak enough to nurse the child. Moreover old woman would naturally not produce good quality and quantity of breast-milk. She might also have sagging breasts. She would have less energy and would fail in the assigned job of feeding and nursing the child properly.

Nibhrutaam – Dhatree should be a trustworthy woman. Since Dhatree is a substitute to mother and also represents the later, the trust factor becomes very important as the child will be totally handed over to her, to be taken care of. Even when no one is supervising the dhatree, she should be abiding to her duty and fulfill the role of mother to the child.

Anaatura – Dhatri should be healthy and devoid of any diseases. If she is diseased she may be physically and mentally upset, lacking energy and enthusiasm. In such condition she might not be able to take good care of the child. On the other hand she may transmit the disease to the child and make the child diseased.

Avyangam – Shouldn’t have deficit body parts or excessive body parts (which could be scary to the child), she shouldn’t be handicapped, this points towards physical completeness and fitness

Avyasanam / Nirvyasana (Sushruta) – Dhatree should be devoid of bad habits like smoking, drinking alcohol etc. Such women would impart bad effect on the child and the child too gradually starts learning or falls into the habits of these things.

Aviroopam – Dhatri should not be ugly and unpleasant. The child may be scared on seeing such woman. If the woman is beautiful and pleasant, she may keep the child attracted towards her. She should be devoid of grin on her face and should carry a pleasing smile.
Read related: Infant Care As Per Ayurveda: Initial Six Months

Ajugpsitaam – Devoid of bad character, shouldn’t have a character which is disguised. Ajugupsita also means a woman who doesn’t get annoyed, frustrated easily. The child which she is taking care of would sometimes be diseased, irritated, agitated, mischievous, cranky etc. In all these conditions the Dhatree shouldn’t lose her temper and remain calm. She should be good enough to handle the child in all these conditions. The child may soil the clothes with stools and urine or may vomit. She should not get annoyed with these things and also shouldn’t get averted. She should nurse and feed the child unconditionally.

Desha Jaateeyam – Should have been born in the same region, place in which the child is born or to which the child belongs to. If the Dhatree is from a different region, her life-style, attitude, behavior, language etc may not be compatible with that of the child. Her culture and way of being may not be suitable to the child. Whatever is good for Dhatri or whatever she feels is good for the child may not be good enough for the child. She might not read the needs of the child and might not get emotionally connected.

Akshudram – Dhatri shouldn’t be wild, wicked or witch. With this nature of dhatree, especially if she is not screened for that, might prove dangerous and lethal for the child. The life of the child will be at risk. Dhatree who is kshudra or wicked may manipulate, hypnotize or kidnap the child for ransom.

Akshudra karmini – Dhatri shouldn’t be a woman who carries black magic. The impact on the child will be same as explained in the above mentioned ‘Akshudram’ quality.

Kule jaatam – Should have been born in a good a noble family. Such woman will be cultured and will have good virtues. They can invoke similar good qualities in the child and generate good impact on the child’s development and behavior with their presence and constant training.

Vatsalaam – Dhatree should be compassionate towards the child and it should be natural of her. She should be good and well versed in protecting and nursing the child. She should not do it as a duty but should do it with love and affection.

Jeevad Vatsaam – Dhatri should have a living kid of her own. She would naturally be producing breast-milk and also would have love and compassion towards the child. The kid should be of nearly of the same age of the other child to which she is appointed a Dhatree. If Dhatree has a child of her own, she would know how to take care, how to feed and how to attend to all the necessities of the child with compassion and love. If she has a same aged child, it will be easy for dhatree to copy-paste the child-care and do identical things with other child also. If a dhatree whose child is dead is appointed, she may not be in a position to take care and nurse the child put under her care. She may also be negligent because every time she sees the child she remembers and misses her lost child. There is also a possibility that she has lost her child due to a disease she is suffering from or due to her negligence or irresponsibility or due to her contaminated milk. That may impart similar damaging impact on the child she is nursing as a dhatree.

Pum Vastsaam – Dhatree should have a male child, preferably of the same age of the other child to which she is a dhatree. There is no specification of why dhatree should be a mother of a male child. But by inference we could understand that it is difficult to rear and up-bring a male child in comparison to a girl child. A mother who could nurse and effectively take care of a male child would obviously take care of any given child.

Dogdhree – Dhatree should produce breast-milk in enormous quantity. Ayurveda emphasizes on appointing 2 dhatrees for a given child. Since milk is the primary food of the child such dhatri who has enormous milk in her bosom to feed the little one should be selected as priority.

Apramatta – Dhatree should be of an un-deviated mind. She should not have high end emotions; she should neither be too anxious nor depressed. Her mental health should be stable and balanced. She should be calm and serene and a happy-go personality.

Anunchaarashaayinee, Anantyaavashaayinee – Dhatree should always be alert and on her toes to attend all the necessities of the child. Since the child cannot express what it needs, she should be in a position to understand the unexplained language and emotions of the child and attend to its necessities with immediate priorities. She should not be sleep-and-rest-prone. When the child happens to soil the clothes with urine and feces, she should clean and sterilize the child and the soiled clothes immediately.

Kushala Upachaaraam – Dhatree should be well versed and well trained and have good experience in nursing the child. She should be ever alert and have situational presence of mind and orientation with respect to time and place. She should always keep an eye on the child and the care of child should be her top priority.

Shuchim Ashuchi Dweshinee – Dhatree should be clean and a woman who loves to keep her surroundings clean. At the same time she should be the one who hates untidiness and un-cleanliness. She should indulge herself to clean the surroundings and keep everything clean and sterile because she is dealing with a delicate and sensitive issue of child-care. She should be well educated about cleanliness and its importance.

Stana-Stanya Sampat / Bahuksheera (Vagbhata) – Dhatree should have big (large) breasts and also should be producing large quantities of breast-milk which would be sufficient for the nutrition of the child.

Sheelavateem – Dhatree should have good character and should be devoid of any bad remarks against her.

Achapalam – She should be devoid of unnecessary and undesired temptations. This will divert her from focusing on her job. She would definitely neglect the child and get diverted towards things and activities of fewer priorities.

Alolupam – Dhatri shouldn’t be greedy. If she is greedy, she would eat away the child’s food and also steal the child’s belongings. She will also be tempted to eat unwholesome foods which may disturb her health keeping her always diseased; this may also contaminate her breast milk.

Akrusham – Asthoolam – Dhatree should neither be too thin nor too obese. Too thin would indicate a status of malnutrition. Obesity would indicate over-nutrition and sedentary life. Each condition has its own problems which come into the way of comprehensive child-care.

Prasanna Ksheera – Her breast milk should be clean, clear and uncontaminated. It should have all the nutritious properties.

Alamba Oshta – The nipple of the breast of Dhatree should not be too long, this makes sucking difficult for the child.

Alamba oordhwa sthana – The breast / breasts should neither be too long nor too high. These positions of the breast will make feeding difficult for dhatri, at the same time the child too will feel trouble sucking these types of breasts.

Shyaama (Sushruta) – The woman who keeps self hot during winter (cold season, sheeta kaala) and cold during summer (hot season, ushna kaala) and carries a kanchana varna (golden color of the body) is called Shyaama.

Shukla ambaraa – Dhatree should wear clean and white clothes. White is representative of cleanliness, sanctity, purity and goodness.

Ashta Dosha Rahita – Dhatree should be devoid of 8 physical deformities. They are – Ati Hrisva (too short, dwarf), Ati Deergha (too tall, gigantic), Ati Shweta (too white or fair, albinism), Ati Krushna (too dark), Ati Loma (too much body hairs), Aloma (too less body hairs), Ati Sthula (too fat, obese) and Ati Krisha (too thin, malnourished, wasted). These 8 doshas are called as Ashta Nindita Purushas (8 socially unfit people). They are said to have wide array of health issues apart from seen weirdly and rejected by society.

Sthana Dosha Rahita – Dhatree should be free from deformities of breast. The breast should neither be too peena (stiff and large) nor too shitila (loose and sagging). Such type of breast deformities will cause blockage of the child’s mouth and nose while feeding, cause difficulty in feeding, can also cause suffocation and death of the child due to the block of airways while feeding. The dhatree should know the art of feeding. The nipples also should not be deep in or elongated or projected upwards. If the nipples are hidden or burrowed in the breast, the child faces difficulty while sucking. Similarly if the nipples are projecting upwards, the child has to look upwards and strain himself while taking the feed. This may also come into the teething process and the teeth would develop crooked in future.

Just Before Finishing –
For an infant nothing matters more than her mother and mother’s milk. The child seems to be never at bliss other than while getting fed by the mother. Dhatri was, in ancient India; during the time when Ayurvedic texts were written was the best substitute for mother. Dhatri represents all the forms of artificial feeding which exists in the modern world. This article highlights the qualities of an ideal dhatri.
Click to Consult Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ayu)


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