Sunday 16 January 2011

Breast Feeding

Here's a great article from the London Literary Gazette of 1827 on breast-feeding. The author (controversially) is against nursing mothers consuming ale and porter, considers 'breast is best' ("There can be no question as to the moral duty which is imposed on every woman who becomes a mother, to suckle her child") and, although he countenances wet-nursing, he does not think much of society women who ignore their moral duties (" the infant is left to mewl and writhe in the nurse's lap, tormented with the cravings of hunger, while the unnatural mother is listening to the scandal of a coterie, or to the pretty vapourings of some empty dandy") ...
1. Food of Early Infancy.—If Providence have ordained that man be born in a state of health, the same beneficent Power has bountifully provided nourishment of a quality adapted for the delicate nature of his digestive organs, and for easy assimilation; so as to promote the rapid growth and the evolution of new parts in the body of the infant. The necessity of a distinct kind of food for this state, is demonstrated, not only throughout the animal, but also in the vegetable creation. The oak, which for centuries has braved the tempest and drawn its support from the soil, was nourished, when its first leaves were evolved, by a milky emulsion formed from the cotyledons of the acorn; and a lactiferous fountain is formed in the bosom of every mother, for the support of her infant, almost immediately after its birth. There can be no question as to the moral duty which is imposed on every woman who becomes a mother, to suckle her child; but the artificial state in which society has placed the human race, suggests the inquiry—Is every mother capable of performing this office?
    Although nature has provided that the food of the infant should be prepared in the maternal system, yet, the fitness of this food for the purposes for which it is intended depends greatly on the health, both corporeal and mental, of the mother. Thus, if a mother be in a state of disease, the secretion of the milk is necessarily impaired; and it may be both deficient in quantity, and of a quality not only not calculated to afford the nourishment which the infant requires, but likely to disagree with its stomach and bowels, and to be productive of disease. A woman so circumstanced, is, certainly, incapable of performing the duties of a mother; and in such a case, however revolting the idea may be to maternal feelings, the infant must be suckled by an alien. I employ the expression "must be," because, as I shall prove afterwards, no circumstances connected with the health of the mother can authorise the hazardous experiment of dry nursing, or bringing an infant up by the hand. But, where one mother is rendered incapable, by disease, of nourishing her infant, hundreds become bad nurses, and injure their offspring, by circumstances altogether under their own control. It is wonderful, and yet the fact is every day before our eyes, that even delicate and otherwise unhealthy females acquire a state of robust health previous to child-birth; and become, and they might continue, good and efficient nurses, were they properly managed. The supineness, however, in the exercise of their reasoning faculties, which makes them the slaves of custom in clothing their infants, renders them the victims of the prejudices of education, opinion, and of self-indulgence, with respect to the diet and regimen which are requisite for constituting them good nurses. "La! ma'am," says the old monthly attendant, "what nonsense the doctor speaks, about eating mild things and not drinking no ale nor porter: how can such a great boy be supported on such washy fare? I knows that milk never can't be made without ale nor porter, ay, and brandy and water—and good living to boot." The advice of so sage a counsellor, seconded by inclination, is followed; the habit of the mother, which was cool and admirably fitted to secrete healthy nutriment for her babe, becomes heated and feverish; the functions of the lactiferous glands are disturbed; the supply of milk is diminished; and what is formed is of a bad quality. The same effect on the secretion of the milk is occasioned, at a later period, by the bustle of visiting, late hours, irregularity in the periods of suckling, and mental irritation. A woman, therefore, who intends to do her duty to her offspring, cannot be a nurse and a votary of fashion at the same time: and every source o£ anxiety, or of mental agitation, must be carefully avoided. The latter circumstances, indeed, are too often unavoidably connected with situation in life and domestic occurrences; and impede the exertions of many an excellent and well-disposed woman to perform her maternal duties: but in numerous instances, irritability of temper being unrestrained, and feelings ill-regulated, women become fretful and peevish with trifles; and, consequently, cannot continue the duty which, they have commenced, and the performance of which they find even delightful. Thus situated, a woman becomes incapable of nursing her child; and, in providing another nurse for it, not only the health, but the equanimity of temper of the individual should be carefully ascertained.
    As it is only among the middle ranks and higher classes of society, that infants can be transferred from the breast of the mother to that of a hired nurse, the moral character of the duty imposed upon every woman of suckling her own offspring has been too much over-looked; and it is thought to be sufficient, if a mother behave kindly to the menial who supplies her place, and sees that she performs her duty to the infant intrusted to her care. But mothers are not alive to the responsibility which they incur, by exposing the infant of the hired nurse to the danger attendant on dry nursing; for few of the unfortunate children whose mothers are engaged as wet-nurses are suckled; and hundreds, I might say thousands, of infants are sacrificed annually to the necessities or the cupidity of their mothers, and to the unnatural habits of fashionable life, improper management, self-indulgence, or unrestrained temper.
    But whether an infant be suckled by its mother or by a hired nurse, it is evident, from what has already been said, that no other food can properly supply the place of the breast milk in early infancy. It is of importance, therefore, to inquire what diet, supposing a woman to be in health, is best fitted for promoting the due secretion of good milk? what exercise a mother who is suckling ought to take? and at what periods the infant should be suckled? In reply to the first query, I advise every woman to adhere, as much as possible, to plain, light, and nutritious diet: to abstain from highly-seasoned food, salted meats, and pastry. A very mistaken notion prevails among the fair sex, that vegetables should be avoided by nurses: on the contrary, every nurse should eat a moderate share of well-boiled vegetables at dinner ; and ripe fruit, if it agree with her at other times, cannot prove hurtful whilst she is suckling, provided it is eaten in the forenoon. From the fluid nature of the milk, nurses require a larger supply of beverage than other women; but this should neither be strong nor soporific, but diluting, bland, and cooling. In females of delicate habits, and during the progress of suckling, when the nurse is conscious that her strength is failing, ale or porter, or a moderate quantity of wine, may be requisite: but if these are indulged in, they should be accompanied with a large share of mild and diluting liquids, as weak tea, milk and water, barley gruel, or rennet whey. If the individual belong to the higher class of society, the most substantial repast should be made at lunch-time ; for a hearty meal of animal food taken at six or seven o'clock in the evening, is more likely to be productive of fever in the habit of a nurse than to favour the secretion of milk. Supper, however, is a meal which every nurse, who performs her duty to the infant, requires ; for she who resigns her charge at night to a nurse maid, to have its cravings supplied by the feeding-bottle or the spoon, scarcely deserves the name of a nurse. With respect to exercise, every nurse should walk out daily, or take exercise in a carriage, if too delicate to walk without suffering from fatigue: but no exercise should be taken which can hurry the circulation of the blood ; for, as the milk is formed from this vital fluid, it is evident, that its secretion or preparation in the glands of the breast cannot be properly effected, if it be carried in too rapid a current through them. Hence nurses ought to refrain from dancing, and even from riding on horseback, unless the paces of the horse be extremely easy. For the same reason, as has already been hinted, every agitation of spirits should be avoided ; for the softness and serenity of the female character is essential in the nurse; and it is vain to expect a bland and healthful rill to flow from the fountain of infantine nutriment, when the poison of discord is infused in the bosom, and the heart is swelled with acrimony and vehemence. But in securing that complacency of disposition in the nurse which is so necessary for the well-being of the infant, both parents must concur; for who can expect equanimity of temper in the wife who is harassed by contradiction and debate, and who seldom feels the solace of those endearments, and of that tenderness, which esteem and love only can secure in connubial intercourse? Nothing interferes more with the duties of the nurse than irregular hours; and thence I repeat, that no character is more opposite than that of the nursing mother and the woman of pleasure. In respect to the periods of taking food, it is true that infants may be inured to any habits that the nurse adopts; but the child who is accustomed to be suckled at fixed periods is always the most healthy; the stomach is less likely to be overcharged from excessive hunger, or to be nauseated by one meal being crowded upon another, in order to accommodate the engagements of the nurse. Young children require to be more frequently nourished than those who are more advanced in age; at first, the interval between each period of suckling should not exceed two or three hours; but when the child is four months old, it may extend to four hours, and to six during the night, if the child sleep well. To females who have the true feelings of a mother, these intervals are sufficient to permit exercise and the pleasures of society, as far as they ought to be indulged in by a rational nursing mother: but to one who regards her duty to her infant as secondary to her amusements, these intervals are far too limited ; the infant is left to mewl and writhe in the nurse's lap, tormented with the cravings of hunger, while the unnatural mother is listening to the scandal of a coterie, or to the pretty vapourings of some empty dandy ; and when at length its wants are supplied, the meal it obtains is heated by retention, or by the flurried state of the thoughtless mother, when conscience awakens her recollection of her infant, who has been suffering for hours from her inadvertence. Again I repeat, such females ought not to undertake the nursing of their offspring. On the other hand, many excellent women, from a mistaken tenderness, nurse their infants every time they cry or seem uneasy ; and not satisfied even with this, add a meal or two of thick pap or arrow root. By thus constantly stimulating the stomach, the little creatures acquire artificial appetites, which cannot be satisfied; the food is never fairly digested before the stomach is replenished; and the thick pap, from passing in a crude state into the bowels, produces diarrhoeas and other complaints : thence the frequent aid of medicine is requisite to correct the effects of the thick food and repletion. Indeed, it is not easy to say, whether greater evils result from this error or from dry-nursing. The repletion itself is sufficient to weaken the powers of the stomach; but the addition of the thick food forms an imperfect chyme, which, passing in a crude state into the intestines, originates an acrid chyle, which obstructs the mesenteric glands. On this account, the nutriment cannot enter into the blood, to supply the waste and exigencies of the frame; the stomach becomes inflated and tumid, the limbs are emaciated, and the child sinks into a state of atrophy, and falls a victim to inanition, in the midst of profusion. The physiognomy of an infant starving from over-feeding, or from improper diet, is the most deplorable picture upon which the eye can rest: the plumpness of the cheeks being sunk, the angles of the jaw-bones project; while the skin, which is sallow, hangs in wrinkles ; and there being no teeth, the chin rises and projects forward, so as to give the countenance the similitude of an old shrivelled face in miniature, distorted with pain. Yet there is a semblance of patience or resignation in the expression of the face; the cry is feeble, and the sunk but large eye seems to turn a deploring look upon the beholders, and to powerfully speak a language expressive of suffering and anguish. Mothers and nurses, nevertheless, look daily upon a picture so heartrending ; and, although they are apprised of its origin, yet go on administering to the evil; so impregnable is the stronghold of prejudice and self-deception.
    From all that has been detailed, the following conclusions may be deduced respecting the food of early infancy :   
  1. That the breast milk, being prepared by nature for the support of the infant, is preferable to every other kind of food.
  2. That when the mother is healthy, and the supply of breast milk is sufficient, the infant should be supported on it alone.
  3. That, in order to secure a healthful and abundant supply of the breast milk, the diet of the mother or the nurse should be light, nutritive, and unstimulating; that her mind should be kept in a tranquil state; that every thing should he avoided which can hurry the circulation and heat the body; and when either mental or corporeal circumstances flurry the spirits or irritate the temper, the child must not be applied to the breast until the agitation have subsided.
  4. That an infant should be suckled only at stated hours.


  1. I LOVE reading about breastfeeding in history! Thanks for posting this!!


  2. Awesome. Glad to be a modern mom. I dont believe he would think much of my trips to the gym.

  3. Very cool actually in the respect of breastfeeding being so respected and recommended. While I draw issue with parts I also agree that women who are in the newborn stage should have their lives as simple as possible, without stress so that they may bond, enjoy and establish breastfeeding.