Today’s Podcast

112 Part 4  While it does sadden me to work with moms who are having great difficulties with breastfeeding, to the point where they are just not making enough milk for their baby, it also pains me to hear them use the words that they feel like a failure.

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Currently, moms with a low supply are doing all kinds of things to help increase their supply. Some people think they are crazy for the lengths they go and for what they eat and drink in order to boost their supply. Just as in wet nursing and how it became a paid profession years ago and how it is becoming one in modern times and how society now looks down upon what was happening years ago, the same goes for what moms do to make more milk. Moms are drinking tons of water or lots of Gatorade or Beer to increase their supply. They are making and eating lactation cookies and swallowing placenta pills to help increase their supply. Well, while I do not like the word lactation failure, far be it from me to rewrite history. here is what I read:

Lactation failure is mentioned in the earliest medical encyclopedia, The Papyrus Ebers, Aberse which came from Egypt (1550 BC) and contains a small pediatric section that includes a prescription for lactation failure, as follows:

To get a supply of milk in a woman’s breast for suckling a child: Warm the bones of a sword fish in oil and rub her back with it. Or: Let the woman sit cross-legged and eat fragrant bread of sowsed soused durra,which is a grain, while rubbing the parts with the poppy plant. (Wickes, 1953a, p. 154)

The prescription demonstrates that lactation failure was a problem during ancient Egyptian times and, as such, wet nursing was the primary alternative-feeding method. I wanted to bring this up because readings such as this just shows that there has always been a small percentage of moms who have struggled for one reason or another and moms should not batter themselves and think they have failed.

There are many mentions of ways or activities for women to take on for their milk flow, which I take to mean milk volume. This also tells me that not all women had an adequate supply and at least to a small degree there was often talk about ensuring they had plenty of volume.

The Roman physician Oribasius (325 AD to 403 AD) wrote that the wet nurse should be required to do a certain amount of physical work in addition to her nursing obligations. The physical work was to incorporate chest and shoulder movements to enhance the flow of milk. Oribasius recommended activities such as grinding, weaving, and walking. He also advised that a wet nurse should be a healthy 25- to 35-year-old woman who had recently delivered a male child as this was felt to be optimal

There is actually quite a lot written about wet nurses and the requirements the employers had for their wet nurses and how they wanted them to abstain from sex, not have any children while they were in their employ, take care of themselves in a certain way, all to ensure a continued good milk supply. Whether it be wet nurses or moms who breastfed their babies directly, my reading tells me that many centuries ago, people were just as distracted with the idea of making enough milk as they are in modern day times.

I work with so many woman who begin pumping in the very early weeks post partum. They are building their stash for many different reasons. Some did not make enough milk for their first, from the very beginning, some struggled once they went back to work, others wanted to have their babies very close and knew that they would produce very little if anything and wanted their baby to have breastmilk for the first year of life.

Overall, it has been interesting to learn that women from centuries ago, were not that much different than mothers now. We want our babies to have breastmilk and if we struggle w ith supply, we will do almost anything to increase our supply. For some, if your babies cant get enough milk directly from the source, you are willing to feed your baby donated milk, or pay for breastmilk or have your baby nursed by another mom. And years ago, this was all before science “proved” that human milk was meant for human babies. Centuries ago, people could already see that human milk is what kept babies alive and thriving. At the same time, there were similar concerns centuries ago about the safety of wet nursing with the biggest worry that the wet nurse could pass diseases onto the baby, which is the same concern that we have in modern day times.

You will hear me say several times throughout this series of the History of Infant Feeding, that one of my purposes is soley educational and my other purpose in doing so is to reduce and hopefully remove the judgements that society places on moms and that people have on one another for the choices they make in how to feed their babies. We are not much different in our current society than we were in ancient times.

Next week we will continue to explore infant feeding practices. We will get into wet nursing during times of slavery and we will talk about what effects wet nursing had on the relationship between the nurse of hire and her baby and the natural mother and her baby, as well as some interesting thoughts about how wet nurses were also used to bridge communities together.

Lori J. Isenstadt, IBCLC

Lori j Isenstadt, IBCLCLori 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:

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