109: Part 3 Our next country on our breastfeeding tour is England. Records show that the pattern of wealthy married women hiring wet nurses in France, was quite the same in England also. Historians came to this conclusion based on the stark difference in birth rates between English upper and working class women. The wealthy women gave birth every year and the working class women had longer intervals with births about every 3 years. Read more below.
Last week on our Tour of Breastfeeding show Episode # we left off with the Bureau of Wet Nurses of the City of Paris and how wet nursing evolved in France from the 1700s to the 19th century. So much more to learn,, so Let’s Get Started.
Next country on our breastfeeding tour is England. Records show that the pattern of wealthy married women hiring wet nurses in France, was quite the same in England also. Historians came to this conclusion based on the stark difference in birth rates between English upper and working class women. The wealthy women gave birth every year and the working class women had longer intervals with births about every 3 years. While not 100% accurate, women who were wet nurses experienced a suppression in ovulation, which made wet nursing a relatively reliable contraceptive. I find this so interesting as the wealthier women, who should have enjoyed a healthier life were not so healthy largely because of the number of pregnancies and births they had which were commonly between 12 – 18 by the time they were less than 40 years old. These high number of pregnancies was very hard on their bodies. They spent a better part of their married life pregnant, while the lower class women who were busy nursing babies and having fewer babies, enjoyed a healthier life.
Wet nurses were in high demand and poor women were hired to wet nurse were paid poorly and the babies they were in charge of were sent to live with them in places far away from their biological mother. Many of these babies were not well cared for and there was a high infant mortality rate. There are records of the babies not being looked after as well and also fed nutritionally poor quality food, as we know now, a mixture of meat or rice broth, and/or flour, cows milk, sugar and water and it was called pap. Wealthier women employed wet nurses in their home and paid them very well. This way they could keep them close, look after them and ensure that they were being breastfed.
Just as in France, for years this was an excellent job for a woman as it paid well. However, as much as I believe in wet nursing, I certainly would not be happy with these arrangements. Because of the financial rewards and probably also the good working conditions living in nice homes, the wet nurses were more likely to abandon their own children for the financial rewards. Just as in France, the tides began to turn as the concern about Syphilis being passed on to babies, was heightened. The wet nurses also feared that the babies could infect them and spread to other family members. These fears were the main cause of wet nursing greatly decreasing and pretty soon was replaced with maternal breastfeeding and slowly but surely as time marched on, the increase of bottlefeeding formula.
As I continued my research, it was interesting to learn how the practice of wet nursing differed in Germany. In some regions, regardless of class, almost all babies were breastfed directly by their mothers and in other areas, the practice was exactly the opposite, with babies being wet nursed or fed poor quality food called pap. This practice of feeding babies pap was also called dry nursing. Not surprisingly, it was determined that this method of infant feeding was a key player in the cause of the high infant mortality rates during this era.
I learned a new word during my research. Nichstillen which means – never breastfeeding. Breastfeeding in Germany was least common in the South and southeastern Regions and most common in the Northwest and Northern and Western Regions. In some places, the practice of Nichstillen was practiced, babies were fed pap instead of human milk and breastfeeding mothers were openly threatened and ridiculed. This is quite unfortunate as the rate of infant mortality were in the 50th percentile. Before you condemn people of those times, think about how many women we hear in modern times that are threatened when seen breastfeeding in public and how many are ridiculed by others. As I continued my research, one common phrase kept coming to my mind: The more things change, the more things stay the same.
By the eighteenth century, as it became common knowledge in the medical community that wet-nursed infants died in greater numbers than maternally breast-fed babies, eighteenth-century pediatricians united in their condemnation of the practice. It would still take many more years until Their disapproval had much of an impact. Hamburg, a city populated by ninety thousand at the time, continued to house almost five thousand wet nurses. Wet nurses lived in the homes of the rich, as well as the homes of merchants and artisans.
By the late nineteenth century, German health officials, alarmed over the country’s high infant mortality rate in comparison to other European countries, began to collect data on local infant feeding customs and their effects. All resulting studies showed a strong inverse relationship between maternal breast-feeding and infant mortality. This finding prompted an infant welfare movement whose varied facets all emphasized the benefits of maternal breast-feeding and the risks of feeding infants pap and wet-nursing babies. Infant welfare centers, whose primary purpose was to encourage mothers to breast-feed their own babies, grew in numbers. Working mothers not only came to enjoy legal protection so they could stay home and nurse their babies, the state paid allowances to these mothers while they nursed their infants.
By 1937 sharp regional differences in infant feeding had all but disappeared and breast-feeding was becoming the norm in all areas of Germany. In Munich, for example, the percentage of breast-fed infants rose from 14 percent in 1877 to 91 percent in 1933. This somewhat mirrors what happened in the United States as breastfeeding than again fell out of favor and formula was said to be the best practice and the healthiest food for babies and by the 1950s most babies were formula fed. See how quickly the tide turns. It took another 65 years and now in 2016 the breastfeeding rates are in the mid 80s. BUT, the time spent breastfeeding is still way too short. Going back to Germany and The resurgence in the initiation of breast-feeding, this initiation rate was also accompanied by a reduction in the duration of breast-feeding. Women rarely breast-fed their babies beyond the twelve-week nursing allowance provided by the state. That phrase keeps coming back,, ringing in my ears: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
What I continually find so interesting is that breastfeeding and mothers and their decisions to do so or not, are not so different now as they were years ago. It seemed that the culture you raised your children in, as well as the financial status of the parents had more to do with what they fed their babies, then what the mothers themselves desired, despite the health of their babies. It is not until a major influential organization comes in and changes the rules, does society listen and follow. As high as the breastfeeding rates were in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they continued to decrease during the early 1900s to late 1900s. Initally, the medical organizations influence parents by stating that formula was superior to human milk and mothers were shamed into not breastfeeding and there was little to no support.
I cannot tell you, well if you are a regular listener to the show, you know this.. How many mothers tell me that either they were made to feel shamed and embarrassed and were told they were a cow if they breastfed, or they share this same story about their own mothers who were made to feel dirty and embarrassed if they dared show a desire to breastfeed.
I am so disgusted at the strong influence that society has on mothers decisions to breastfeed their babies. How many millions of babies have lost out on this most precious gift. How many mothers and babies have lost out on the health benefits of breastfeeding, largely because they were given wrong information and were shamed into not breastfeeding. You can’t see it, but my veins are looking like they are going to pop!
Thank goodness that In the late 1900s, the AAP and the WHO and other well known organizations began endorsing human milk, disseminating studies of the health benefits of human milk and began supporting, encouraging and providing services to help support mothers and breastfeeding. In addition, the organizations are Now taking it a few steps further and began studying human milk and the benefits of not only to the baby, but the health benefits to mothers who breastfed.
The rates are still piss poor for duration and I won’t keep harping on this until the changes are significant. Happy they are increasing and more moms are breastfeeding, however, we still have a long way to go.
Stay tuned for next week as we go continue our tour of the world of breastfeeding. We are going to get into breastfeeding in other countries, in the United States, did slavery impact breastfeeding? The influence of culture on breast-feeding decisions by African American and white women. I am going to get into discussions about the politics of breastfeeding, the influence of physicians on breastfeeding, on formula feeding. We are going to talk about the impact the company Nestle has had on breastfeeding, and many other factors that influence breastfeeding such as co-sleeping, finances, global impact on breastfeeding. Be sure to tune in next Wednesday for more on the tour of the world of breastfeeding.
I welcome your comments on the show. You can go to allaboutbreastfeeding.biz/contact and leave me an email or you can click on the pink link that is on the right side of the page with a picture of a microphone there and leave me a voicemail, which I will happily read out loud on the next show.
Lori J. Isenstadt, IBCLC
Lori Jill Isenstadt, IBCLC is a huge breastfeeding supporter. She has spent much of her adult life working in the maternal health field. Once she became turned on to birth and became a childbirth educator, there was no stopping her love of working with families during their childbearing years. Lori became a Birth doula and a Postpartum doula and soon became a lactation consultant. She has been helping moms and babies with breastfeeding for over 25 years. Lori founded her private practice, All About Breastfeeding where she meets with moms one on one to help solve their breastfeeding challenges. She is an international speaker, book author and the host of the popular itunes podcast, All About Breastfeeding, the place where the girls hang out. You can reach Lori by email at: [email protected] or contact her via her website: allaboutbreastfeeding.biz/contact
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