A wet nurse is a woman who breastfeeds children that are not her own. This may be due to the death of the mother in childbirth, or because the mother may not have enough milk, or for cultural reasons. According to Grand Maester Gyldayn, most noblewomen do not nurse their own children, but there are dozens of examples otherwise, among both nobles[N 1] and royalty.[N 2]
Children of different parents who breastfeed from a wet nurse at the same time are called milk brothers. A wet nurse may come to love the children she nurses. Wet nurses are known for telling fanciful tales to their charges.
In 7 AC, Prince Aenys Targaryen was born to King Aegon I and Queen Rhaenys. Aenys was weak and sickly at birth, and cried all the time. He rejected wet nurses, and would only nurse at his mother's breast.
In 47 AC, King Maegor I Targaryen married his Black Brides, three women of proven fertility whose husbands he had killed. Elinor Costayne's sons were sent away from her after her wedding to Maegor; her eldest was fostered at the Eyrie, her second son went to Highgarden, and her youngest was given to a wet nurse, as Maegor was annoyed by Elinor nursing him.
It was said that Queen Alysanne Targaryen had learned to read before she was weaned, and the court fool would make jokes that she had spilled milk on Valyrian scrolls while drinking from her wet nurse.
Queen Alysanne and King Jaehaerys I Targaryen's daughter, Princess Daenerys was talking and running before the age of one and a half, and her wet nurse described her as being in a great hurry. When the six-year-old princess was stricken with the Shivers in 60 AC, a wet nurse was summoned even though Daenerys had long been weaned, because some believed mother's milk could curse the disease.
Prince Baelon's wet nurses complained that the baby sucked harder than any other they had encountered. Princess Saera was a difficult child, and refused to be weaned until past the age of four. She wanted her mother's milk, and would scream and throw fits when Queen Alysanne had to dismiss another wet nurse. Prince Valerion was a small and sickly baby who never thrived, despite the attempts of half a dozen wet nurses.
In 114 AC, King Viserys I Targaryen ordered his son Daeron and his grandson Jacaerys Velaryon to be nursed by the same wet nurse, because he hoped to prevent enmity between them by raising them as milk brothers. Unfortunately, the plan was unsuccessful.
In 130 AC, during the Dance of the Dragons, Prince Aemond Targaryen fell in love with Alys Rivers, a mysterious woman and reported woods witch who was also a wet nurse at Harrenhal. Though reputable historians say Alys was the bastard daughter of Lord Lyonel Strong, the fool Mushroom's Testimony claims that Alys was far older than she looked and had nursed Lyonel's sons, and perhaps even Lyonel himself. By 132 AC, Alys was known as the "witch queen" of Harrenhal.
In 136 AC, trials were held for those involved in the conspiracy surrounding the end of the Lysene Spring and the secret siege of Maegor's Holdfast. Prince Viserys Targaryen attended every day, often accompanied by his wife Larra Rogare and their son Aegon, as well as the baby's wet nurse.
Old Nan first came to Winterfell to nurse Lord Willam Stark's son Brandon, whose mother had died in childbirth. Unfortunately, Brandon died of a summer chill when he was three, but Nan continued to live at Winterfell, nursing many children over the years and telling them stories. Even after Nan grew too old to serve as a wet nurse, she continued to take care of the Stark children and tell them her tales.
In 255 AC, Lord Tytos Lannister and his wife, Lady Jeyne Marbrand, welcomed their fifth child, Gerion. He was healthy, but his mother died within a month of his birth. Though Tytos was greatly saddened by the death of his wife, he soon became enamored of Gerion's wet nurse, and made her his first mistress. Tytos often retreated to her comforts rather than deal with ruling the westerlands. By 267 AC, the wet nurse had been replaced by Tytos's second mistress.
In 273 AC, Lady Joanna Lannister died in childbirth, and her son Tyrion was given to the care of a wet nurse. Tyrion's older sister, Cersei, wanted to show off the dwarf baby to Casterly Rock's guests, Elia and Oberyn Martell. The wet nurse tried to send them away, but Cersei threatened her, calling her a "milk cow" who didn't need a tongue.
When the infant Prince Jaehaerys Targaryen died in 274 AC, his father, King Aerys II, angrily blamed the baby's wet nurse, and had her beheaded. Aerys later blamed his mistress and her family, before taking the child's death as a sign from the gods that he should be true to his wife alone.
The birth of Prince Viserys Targaryen in 276 AC only seemed to make King Aerys II more fearful and obsessive. Though the baby was healthy, the king was terrified that he would die, and had the Kingsguard watch him day and night. Even Queen Rhaella Targaryen was forbidden to be alone with her son, and when her milk dried up, Aerys insisted that his own food taster drink from the breasts of the prince's wet nurse, to make sure she had not smeared poison on her nipples.
In 283 AC, after the end of Robert's Rebellion, Lord Eddard Stark's new bride Catelyn Tully traveled to Winterfell from Riverrun with their first baby, Robb. When Catelyn arrived, she found that her husband's bastard, Jon Snow, and his wet nurse were already living there, which greatly upset Catelyn.
In 284 AC on Dragonstone, Queen Rhaella Targaryen gave birth to her daughter Daenerys, and died in childbirth. Shortly afterwards, King Robert I Baratheon's brother Stannis plannned to assault Dragonstone. As the Targaryen fleet had been destroyed by the storm during which Daenerys had been born, the garrison at Dragonstone planned to sell her and her brother Viserys to Robert. However, before they could act on this plan, Ser Willem Darry and several other loyal retainers rescued the children and smuggled them into exile, along with Daenerys's wet nurse, sailing to the Free City of Braavos.
A Game of Thrones
A Clash of Kings
The infant Lady Ermesande Hayford attends the tourney on King Joffrey I Baratheon's name day, seated on her wet nurse's lap. Sansa Stark has heard gossip that Ermesande may soon be married to one of Queen Regent Cersei Lannister's cousins, so that the Lannisters may claim her lands.
A Storm of Swords
In the riverlands, Edric Dayne tells Arya Stark that her half brother Jon Snow is his milk brother.[N 3] Edric explains that his mother did not have enough milk for him when he was born, so he had to be nursed by Wylla, a wet nurse at Starfall. When Arya asks who Wylla is, Edric replies that she is Jon's mother.
A Feast for Crows
At Castle Black, Lord Commander Jon Snow explains to Samwell Tarly that he is sending Gilly and her son away from the Wall, and that they will need to find another wet nurse for his milk brother. Sam recommends goat milk in the meanwhile, as he has heard it's better for a baby than cow's milk. Before Gilly leaves for Oldtown with Sam and Maester Aemon, she makes Jon promise to find the baby a good woman to be his wet nurse, so that he will grow up big and strong. In actuality, Jon has forced Gilly to secretly leave behind her son and take Mance's son, in order to protect him from Melisandre. For much of the journey to Oldtown, Gilly is overcome with grief at being separated from her child, but eventually comes to love Dalla's child as much as she loves her own.
Asha Greyjoy voyages from Deepwood Motte to Harlaw with her hostages, Lady Sybelle Glover and her children, Gawen and the infant Erena. Sybelle's milk dries up during the crossing, and they stop at the Stony Shore to search for a wet nurse for Erena; instead they find a goat. When Asha arrives at Ten Towers, she asks her uncle, Lord Rodrik Harlaw, if there is a nursing mother in the village, as Erena is not thriving.
The late Lady Lysa Arryn used to breastfeed her son, young Lord Robert, who is prone to seizures. When the eight-year-old Robert has another seizure, Maester Colemon describes the practice to the boy's stepfather, Petyr Baelish. Petyr mockingly asks if they should find Robert a wet nurse, and wean him when he marries, so he can move from his nurse's nipples to his wife's. Instead, Petyr suggests they use sweetsleep to calm Robert, and the maester hesitantly agrees.
A Dance with Dragons
Lords Torghen Flint and Brandon Norrey arrive at Castle Black, each bringing a wet nurse. The Norrey nurse is forty years old, and has extremely large breasts. The Flint nurse is fourteen years old and flat-chested, but has plenty of milk. With his two wet nurses, Gilly's son thrives. After Princess Shireen Baratheon arrives at Castle Black, Val insists that neither the baby, who she calls "little monster", nor his nurses should stay in the same tower as the girl, a survivor of greyscale. Leathers thinks Toregg has taken a liking to one of Monster's wet nurses, but Jon thinks Toregg prefers Val.
Known wet nurses
- Alys Rivers
- Garin of the Orphans's mother
- Old Nan
- Tytos Lannister's first mistress
Those known to have used a wet nurse
- Aegon IV Targaryen
- Aegon Targaryen (son of Aenys I)
- Aemma Arryn
- Aemon Steelsong
- Aenys I Targaryen
- Alysanne Targaryen
- Arianne Martell
- Baelon Targaryen (son of Jaehaerys I)
- Boremund Baratheon
- Daenerys Targaryen
- Daenerys Targaryen (daughter of Jaehaerys I)
- Daeron Targaryen (son of Viserys I)
- Eddison Tollett
- Edric Dayne
- Elinor Costayne's third son
- Erena Glover
- Ermesande Hayford
- Gerion Lannister
- Jacaerys Velaryon
- Jaehaerys I Targaryen
- Jaehaerys Targaryen (son of Aerys II)
- Jocelyn Baratheon
- Jon Snow
- Monster (Gilly's son)
- Petyr Baelish
- Rhaena Targaryen (daughter of Aenys I)
- Saera Targaryen
- Tyrion Lannister
- Vaella Targaryen (daughter of Aenys I)
- Valerion Targaryen
- Viserys I Targaryen
- Viserys Targaryen
- Viserys Targaryen (son of Aenys I)
- Waymar Royce
Will: My mother told me that dead men sing no songs.
Waymar: My wet nurse said the same thing, Will. Never believe anything you hear at a woman's tit. There are things to be learned even from the dead.
Cersei promised Elia to show you to us. The day before we were to sail, whilst my mother and your father were closeted together, she and Jaime took us down to your nursery. Your wet nurse tried to send us off, but your sister was having none of that. 'He's mine,' she said, 'and you're just a milk cow, you can't tell me what to do. Be quiet or I'll have my father cut your tongue out. A cow doesn't need a tongue, only udders.'
Sam: Gilly.Pyp: Most goats do.
Edd: That's the one. If my wet nurse had looked like her, I'd still be on the teat. Mine had whiskers.
- Fire & Blood, A Surfeit of Rulers.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 6, Catelyn II.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 34, Catelyn VI.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 43, Arya VIII.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 45, Catelyn V.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 49, Catelyn VI.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 11, The Kraken's Daughter.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 33, Jaime V.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Targaryen Kings: Aerys II.
- Fire & Blood, The Sons of the Dragon.
- The Sworn Sword.
- Fire & Blood, The Long Reign - Jaehaerys and Alysanne: Policy, Progeny, and Pain.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 48, Daenerys IV.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 12, Cersei III.
- So Spake Martin: Milk Brothers, Dragons, and Foreshadowing (November 4, 2001).
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 45, Samwell V.
- A Game of Thrones, Prologue.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 13, Tyrion II.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 19, Jon III.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 50, Theon IV.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Bones and Beyond.
- Fire & Blood, The Year of the Three Brides - 49 AC.
- Fire & Blood, Birth, Death, and Betrayal Under King Jaehaerys I.
- Fire & Blood, Jaehaerys and Alysanne - Their Triumphs and Tragedies.
- Fire & Blood, Heirs of the Dragon - A Question of Succession.
- Fire & Blood, The Dying of the Dragons - Rhaenyra Triumphant.
- Fire & Blood, The Dying of the Dragons - A Son for a Son.
- Fire & Blood, Under the Regents - The Hooded Hand.
- Fire & Blood, The Lysene Spring and the End of Regency.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 24, Bran IV.
- The World of Ice & Fire, The Westerlands: House Lannister Under the Dragons.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 21, Tyrion III.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 38, Tyrion V.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 3, Daenerys I.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 15, Sansa I.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 2, Sansa I.
- A Clash of Kings, Chapter 25, Tyrion VI.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 68, Sansa VI.
- A Storm of Swords, Chapter 75, Samwell IV.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 5, Samwell I.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 15, Samwell II.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 26, Samwell III.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 21, The Queenmaker.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 23, Alayne I.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 27, Jaime III.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 43, Daenerys VII.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 49, Jon X.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 53, Jon XI.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 69, Jon XIII.
- A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 3, Jon I.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 41, Alayne II.