Today’s Podcast

Episode 127 Historical Show #7

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This show which is episode #127,  is actually a continuation of Episode # 118    I took a few weeks break from the usual Wednesday show where I have been talking about  Infant Feeding Practices.

As we learned in last weeks show, wet nursing drastically decline near the end of the 19th century.  It never disappeared though and as a matter of fact in the early years of the 20th century, wet nurses could be seen and employed by hospitals.  If a mom could not breastfeed her baby, then a wet nurse hired by the hospital fed her baby.

With all this talk about the decline in wet nurses, it is important to remember that before artificial baby milk was popular, most mothers were still breastfeeding their own babies and did so until they were at least 2 years old and many up until 4 years old.    You may remember that I interviewed Jennifer Grayson who wrote the book unlatched.  She reminds us that any attempts to replace human milk or replicate it proved overwhelmingly fatal. Her research supports what I have learned from my readings.  When babies were given other animal milk their was a high rate of death. When they were given “pap” a food made with flour and water, their was a high rate of infant death.

There are many accounts of tombs in Egyptian times and archeologist finds that show vessels that are to believed various forms of feeding instruments from thousands of years ago that were constructed of pottery, they were often alongside skeletons of infants who obviously did not make it past the first few months of year of life.  The food infants were given were poor nourishment  that they could not survive on and the feeding instruments that were used were these vessels that were contaminated. These poor babies just could not survive the bacteria they were exposed to.  When babies were not wet nursed, they died a very early death.  If you dig deep enough, you will find that there were places and times where some babies fared better.  This typically happened in colder climates where bacteria was slower to take hold and contamination of feeding bottles was less of a concern. This was still a far from optimal situation as a good 50% of the babies died during infancy.

When there are records of babies being fed animal milk, there was death.  I was reading in Unlatched about some hospitals, trained goats to straddle cribs so that the babies could suckle their milk.  According to her research as high as 75% of the babies never made it to their first birthday.  In Ireland, the Dublin Foundling Hospital dealt with its epidemic of abandoned babies and shortage of wet nurses  by feeding babies a mixture of pap and bread and water with a little animal milk & according to the research this was mixed with a strong opiate, the mortality rate was 99.6 percent.  It makes me cry right now to even think about this.  It was clear then as it is clear now.  Human babies need human milk for optimal health.

This tells us that animal milk, whether it be cows or goats, is not a fit food for human babies. Their milk is especially designed for their young and they will thrive on it because it is exactly what they need.  When human babies are given straight cows milk, they also will not do well as the cows milk is not a complete food for human infants.  Without their mothers milk, the precious infants were defenseless without the protection that the immunological components of their  own mothers milk gave them.

Over the years, many experiments were done and different formulas were made, until they found enough of the right ingredients in the right amounts so that infants could survive their first 6 months to a year.  The formulas we have now, are exactly that, formulas. Which are far from a perfect food for our babies, which is why the formula companies continue to experiment, change the ingredients, add  new ones and each year come up with new and improved formulas.

I worked in a large hospital for 8 years and I had first hand knowledge of what would happen with the formula companies.  They pretty much had the run of the maternity unit.  Their representatives would come in with their cases of formula and stack them on the shelves.  The representatives would bring in a full lunch for the staff and while the staff ate their lunch, the formula reps would have their attention and they would talk about the latest changes in their formulas.  There was organic and non-organic, there was cows milk based and soy milk based, their was low iron and there was hypo-allergenic formula.  They would each say that theirs was the best, and they would hand talk about what the newest ingredients they added, that would make their formula combination better than a competitors.

Then the next month, another competing formula company would come in, bring a whole Mexican lunch for the Staff and they would do the same thing and talk about why theirs was the new and improved formula and why the competitors formula that were missing some of the newest ingredients, were putting babies at risk for not having these specific vitamins or nutrients added to the formula.

I do feel that formula is a food that moms can decide to feed their baby or that moms will use when they need to supplement, but this talk really pissed me off.  The reps use to follow me around the unit and try and coax me into coming in and listening to their schpiel and one time when I was adamant, one rep told me that I really needed to have this info so I could educate the parents.  Well, I beg to differ.  But this one particular rep got me so pissed off that I finally said to her:  You want  me to learn about the new and improved formula and tell moms they should be using one over the other and I am not going to do that.  And by the way, now that you have added these latest 2 ingredients and the formula has all the nutrients babies needs, what about your same formula that you were giving out last year that did NOT have these 2 ingredients in it.  Are you saying that all those babies who had that formula, inus these latest 2 ingedients, harmed the babies, just like your competitors are now?

She was silent.  She had nothing to say.  I got my point across.

These are newborn babies we are talking about.  Not a detergent like Tide… the newest commercial talks about the New and Improved Tide works better and takes out stains better than last years Tide or their competitors.  Now, that I could deal with.  Okay, you learn and you get better.  But don’t expect me to push one formula over the other and don’t expect me to say that one has all the right ingredients for babies and the competitors do not. have lots more to say on this subject and we will get to it in one of the next few episodes.

In a previous show, I told you about one of my favorite books by, Gabrielle Palmer.

Gabriella Palmer, in her book titled – The Politics of Breastfeeding – When breasts are bad for business, She delves deep into how the formula industry evolved. I am going to pull out sections that I think will give you a good overview of what was happening in our culture during this time period, and yet, is a far cry from the in depth reading that is available to you if you are interested.  I am excited to talk about this subject because there are many questions about how formula came to be sold as the BEST food for baby, when clearly for centuries people recognized that human milk was exactly what our babies  needed and without it they did not fare well and the infant mortality rate was very high.  So, why on earth would we take away the best thing ever and replace it with substandard food?

Let’s dive into Gabrielle’s book so we can learn more on this subject.

I am going to quote the beginning of one paragraph as she says it much better than I ever could:  The title is:  The Establishment of the US market :  ideal conditions.

” A market for artificial milk and infant feeding products was created in the late 19th and 20th centuries.  It was conceived through the mutual attraction of manufacturer and doctors.  This love affair developed into an enduring and stable marriage which has lasted to this days.”

Several factors contributed to the change from breast to artificial feeding.  The US was industrializing and urbanizing rapidly.  Any shortfall in workforce numbers could be quickly made up by immigration.  Poor Europeans flooded in with little choice but to accept the conditions and ages of the host country, which were not much better than in Europe. The majority of rural women continued to breastfeed, but increasingly urban workers were forced to be separated from their babies and sought replacement feeds. Though wet nursing was still practice, Drs. found they could make money by inventing and promoting substitutes of breastmilk and of course their clients were the wealthier women prepared to pay for them.

These women could reject breastfeeding for all the usual reasons just as they had done centuries before and instead of hiring a wet nurse, could pay their doctors for a custom made food for their babies, believing that this modern state of the art concoction was a scientific wonder.  The term infant formula was a stroke of marketing genius, it made a recipe based on ordinary old cows milk seem like something special.  At the same time commercial infant milk spread through the market and poor women, who could not afford doctors fees bought them.  By 1922, 58% of US babies were still breastfed at 12 months, though the urban rate was lower than the rural.


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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