The cultural significance of breastfeeding and infant care in early modern England and America

The cultural significance of breastfeeding and infant care in early modern England and America

Marylynn Salmon

In the late summer of 1752, the Reverend Ebenezer Parkman lay ill. His joints were stiff and painful; he frequently felt faint and feverish; and he had no appetite. As he confided to his diary on the 21st of August, “I am so wasted, that there appears to me Danger of consuming away.”(1) Ebenezer Parkman had been suffering for weeks, the rheumatic pains that troubled him moving from limb to limb, his nights so tormented that his neighbors and adult children came in regularly to sit with him and watch. On August 22 Ebenezer grew worse. He wrote, “The Evening and night were most distressing with pain that ceased not, no not in any situation whatever, a Circumstance which I have not, I think, at any Time had till now.”(2) The 24th was a night filled with “Fever, faintness and frequent waking.”(3) Deacon Newton of the Westborough church came to pray with him.

On the 25th Ebenezer’s wife, Hannah, sent her baby Samuel, age one year and three days, away to be weaned. That night she watched with her husband herself and stilled “a miscellany of Meat, Herbs, Roots, seeds, etc. by the Doctor’s Direction.” She sat up with her husband again the next night and from Ebenezer’s diary we learn of the special care she was giving him. On the 26th he wrote, “My wife tends me o’nights and supply’s me with Breast milk.”(4) Little Samuel’s loss was Ebenezer’s gain. The father recovered from his illness to live another thirty years.

In England and America, breast milk was regarded as a beneficial medicine. Women provided milk for use in a wide variety of medicinal recipes, and in extreme cases like Ebenezer Parkman’s, gave it as nourishment to adults as well as children. Reliance on breast milk as food for the weak and medicine for the sick is one of those striking historical facts that we sense, instantly, is significant for revealing the secrets of the past. Such uses lead us to question whether breast milk and breastfeeding had meanings in the early modem period quite different from modern ones. In giving their milk to others, women were able to preserve not only the lives of their infants, but also the health of their adult relatives, friends, and neighbors. What does this belief reveal about the cultural significance attached to women as breastfeeders? In this context, culture is defined as a shared system of meaning that determined attitudes and behavior.

Historians have uncovered little about the meaning of breastfeeding to most women and men. Our attention has focused more on the relatively few women who employed wetnurses than on the majority of mothers who breastfed their own infants. Fortunately, readily available and varied sources contain a wealth of information on the meaning of breastfeeding. Writings long known to contain references to women’s breastfeeding capacity–the ministerial literature with its rich maternal imagery–may be read for clues on attitudes toward breast milk, breastfeeding, and women’s maternal roles. Medical texts also contain valuable information about infant feeding and general care. Perhaps most important, given the dearth of writings by women that have survived from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, are women’s own collections of medicinal recipes. They reveal mothers’ day to day, activities in feeding infants and caring for children’s health, and concern that the work be done well. Although these manuscripts do not constitute the same kind of literature about infant and child care that women began to write at the end of the eighteenth century and that historians have found so useful for uncovering information about motherhood, they do demonstrate much about breastfeeding and the kind of child care that contemporaries believed was important.

All of these sources–the ministerial literature, the medical literature, and women’s medicinal recipe books–reveal much about the nature of women’s breastfeeding capacity and attitudes toward motherhood generally. Significantly, taken together it is the physical side of mothering that emerges as the focus of both women’s and men’s writings. The contemporary belief that women’s efforts in breastfeeding and otherwise tending to the physical needs of their young children was work seems particularly important for understanding the cultural meaning of motherhood.

The material included here is a part of a larger attempt to study the work of motherhood and to address the question of how women and men regarded motherhood before the modern age. Breastfeeding is emphasized because we know so little about it despite the fact that infant care was a central part of women’s day to day work as mothers. As we will see, throughout the period contemporaries regarded women’s physical powers with respect, and treated seriously women’s responsibility for infant care. After the acceptance of the healthfulness of colostrum in the middle of the eighteenth century, we see a sudden cultural shift toward even greater regard for women’s work as breastfeeders. Infant nurture was one aspect of the maternal role that consistently earned women praise, and very little criticism.

The focus of this paper is on breast milk and breastfeeding, but these are topics that can be understood only in the context of women’s wider role as mothers. Therefore, questions about motherhood must be addressed alongside questions about breastfeeding. For example, our failure to understand the work women performed as mothers, including breastfeeding, has led us to conclude that motherhood was a secondary role for women, less culturally significant than women’s work as economic providers.(5) In fact, our knowledge of motherhood before the end of the eighteenth century is so slight that we do not know how much time women spent on mothering or to what degree it played a part in determining either women’s sense of self or the meaning of women’s work.(6) Yet few historians would deny that motherhood, like other social roles, is constructed according to the cultural values of different eras, values that have changed over time and thus created a history of the meaning of motherhood. We need to understand much more fully the history of motherhood in all of its complexity.

Breast Milk as Medicine

The use of breast milk as food for weak adults probably was common in England and the colonies. “Neither is women’s milk best only for young and tender infants, but also for men and women of riper years, fallen by age or by sickness into compositions,” wrote the physician Thomas Muffet in 1584.(7) Its lightness and ease of digestion made it particularly useful in cases of loss of appetite or consumption. As Nicholas Culpeper explained in his Directory for Midwives (1660), “Milk digests soon, it being concocted by the Nurse; and thats the Reason, many in a Consumption (whose digestion is weak) are cured by sucking a Womans Breast.”(8) Similarly, a late seventeenth-century recipe book claimed that “ye Consumption of ye Lungs . . . is best recover’d by Sucking Milk from a Womans Brest, as most familiar to our Livers & Blood, needing no Preparation (for it is only Blood discolored) but only Application to ye flesh.”(9) Breast milk, the only fit food for a newborn infant, could also ease the distress of the weak and sick.

Medicinal use of breast milk in early modern Anglo-American society went beyond simple nourishment. In childbirth, a draught of another woman’s milk was recommended as a way to speed delivery, and reliance on breast milk as a pain reliever, and as a prime ingredient in medicines for grievous ailments such as hysteria, faintness, and blindness indicate that it had a special significance to early modern men and women.(10) Consider, for example, the recipes of Gulielma Penn, first wife of William Penn, which reveal reliance on breast milk as a pain reliever. In a section of the recipe book covering ear infections, she noted her success in easing the pain of one man’s earache. “I dropt into it Womans milk warm with ye white of an Egg, & with this remedy ye pain ceased.” Another man came to her in great pain from an infection, caused by a piece of garlic he had placed in his ear to cure a toothache. When he could not get the garlick out he called in a surgeon, but the man only pushed the garlick further into the ear canal so that “ye blood came out with great pain & heat of his Ear following.” Before attempting to remove the garlick or treat the infection (which she did successfully through the application of two different elaborate remedies), Gulielma Penn dealt with the afflicted man’s pain. “To ease him of his pain, I wished him to foment his Ear often with Womans-Milk & oyl of Roses warm, & drop it into his Ear.”(11) Male professors at prestigious schools of medicine also might rely on breast milk as a pain reliever in the treatment of ear infections, if the example of Felix Platter is typical. He taught that “to asswage pain. . . . take womans milke,” mix it with other ingredients, and drop it into the affected ear.(12)

Reliance on breast milk to treat eye problems may have been extensive. Gulielma Penn used it in her recipe “for an eye yt is pricked, venomed swolne or such like.”(13) Another seventeenth-century English healer, Elizabeth Dowinge, recommended “a lettle woman’s milke” be mixed with various herbs, honey, frankinsence and urine to restore eyesight, “though near lost.”(14) One recipe book from the end of the seventeenth century contained numerous cures for various eye ailments, many of them relying on breast milk. They ranged from treatments for sore or red eyes to cures for blindness, and marginal notations reflected the healer’s belief in their efficacy. “Keep ye water in a Glass for this water is pretious of all waters for ye Eyes; And hath been often tryed.” Beside another recipe, the compiler wrote, “This hath healed many blind People,” and elsewhere “A Medicine that help’d One yt had a Thurst in ye White of his Eye.”(15) At the beginning of the eighteenth century, breast milk still was being used in eye remedies. “An excellent Eye-Water,” found in a collection of recipe published in 1716, directed: “Take of Juice of Sengreen and Red Fennel-Root, each 2 Ounces; of Woman’s Milk, a Spoonful; of White Rose-Water, a Quarter of a Pint; of fine Sugar-Candy, and White Vitriol powder’d, of each 2 Drams; being all mix’d, set them on the Fire, and as the Scum rises take it off, and keep it in a Glass for your Use, and with a Feather drop of it into your Eye, twice thrice every Day.”(16)

The use of breast milk as a treatment for eye ailments may have grown from mothers’ custom of milking their breasts into infants’ eyes. Breast milk was useful in clearing the discharges that collected in infants’ eyes before the tear ducts began to work properly. Thus the French physician Jacques Guillemeau wrote in 1612, “The Nurse, besides a sufficient quantity for the nourishment of the child, must have some to milke into his eyes, if he should chance to have any imperfections there: as either heat, pimples, itching, that so it may be cooled.”(17)

Other healers employed breast milk in salves and plasters. “Ffor swiming in ye head” an unidentified seventeenth-century Englishwoman thought that following purging and bleeding the ailing person should apply a salve of oil of roses, oil of cowslips, nutmeg, mace, rose water, wine, and “womans milk of a manchilde 2 spoonefulls [or] if ys be used for a man ye milke must be of a woman childe.”(18) According to at least one seventeenth-century healer, insomnia could be cured by making a salve of opium and breast milk: “A Remedy–Rx Oyl of Violets Opium, Incorporate these together wth. Womans Milk, And with a fine Linen Cloth lay it to thy Temples…. Or–Rx Opium ye Bigness of a Pease, dissolve it in Cochy of Womans Milk, make it Blood-warm, and Anoint ye Temples therewith, for want of Womans milk, take Rose-Water.”(19) Cures for gout also sometimes included breast milk, as in the claim that “Ye yolks of Eggs, Womans milk, Linseed, & Saffron, altogether in a plaister, asswageth ye Diseases of ye Gout.” Similarly, “For ye Gout–Rx Sevil Sope, [ca.] pennyworth of Camphire, a Sauser full of Woman’s milk of a man child, then put ye Sope & Camphire into ye Milk, till it be thick, then put it into a clean box, or Vessel, & let it stand 24 hours, & then Anoint ye Patient therewith cold, & ever lay ye Medicine above ye Sore to draw it downwards. This was proved upon Sr Jon Wilton, & many more.” Breast milk also was employed in a treatment “for heat in the Kidnies,” in combination with houseleek, plantane, rose water, and wine vinegar.(20) As late as the second half of the eighteenth century, breast milk still was recommended as an ingredient in medicinal recipes. As an “outward medicine for [the phrensy],” Aristotle’s Masterpiece (1766 edition), recommended “Take juice of house-leek, mix it with woman’s milk, apply it to the fore part of the head shaved.”(21)

Respect for the medicinal properties of breast milk reflected faith in its power as a life-giving force. Contemporaries recognized that denial of breastmilk in the first few months after birth led almost inevitably to sickness and death. In England and America, hand feeding of animal milk through horns or boats therefore was practiced only in extreme cases of hardship. The majority of women breastfed their infants as a matter of course.(22) Medical and religious writers urged hesitant mothers to nurse their children themselves, or if they could not, to hire wetnurses. In the early modern period, when a mother nursed her own infant, she was seen as providing it with the purest, lightest, and most easily digestible food available. Not only was breast milk so perfectly designed that newborns could not live without it, but older babies thrived so well on the breast that weaning generally was postponed for at least a year.

Early modern medical texts taught that breast milk was whitened blood, the same blood that had fed the fetus in the womb now diverted to the breasts where it could continue to nourish the newborn baby.(23) “It were fit,” wrote Guillimeau (1612) “that every mother should nurse her owne child: because her milke which is nothing else, but the bloud whitened (of which he was made, and wherewith bee had been nourished the time hee staide in his Mothers wombe) will bee alwaies more naturall, and familiar unto him, than that of a stanger.”(24) A nursing mother represented selfless devotion to early modern men and women, for in feeding her child she gave, quite literally, of herself. Her milk was her own blood, her own life-sustaining fluid. As Hugh Smith explained women’s breastfeeding capacity in 1777,

Whether it be animal or vegetable diet, or a mixture of both, taken into the stomach; the quality of the food is so far altered by the digestive faculties, that a milky nutriment is produced from it; and as the aliment passes through the bowles, this milk is taken up by a great number of fine vessels, which, from their destined office, are called the milky vessels; and through them it is conveyed into the blood for our support: and, as before observed, Nature has so admirably contrived the animal fabric, that mothers are likewise enabled to support their young from this constant supply, which at the same time also affords to themselves their own proper nourishment.(25)

Early modern faith in breast milk as medicine for adults therefore may be seen not only as a reflection of the power of breast milk as a life-sustaining fluid, but also as evidence of respect for this aspect of women’s physical nature. Such an interpretation coincides well with Thomas Laqueur’s recent discussions of what he calls the “one sex body,” and the cultural values attached to specific bodily fluids. During the early modern period, the fluids of the human body were regarded as fungible, making one simply a different form of another. Some forms were more powerful than others. As Laqueur explains,

In Aristotle’s one-seed theory, sperma and catemenia refer to greater or lesser refinements of an ungendered blood . . . The thicker, whiter, frothier quality of the male semen is a hint that it is more powerful, more likely to act as an efficient cause, than the thinner, less pristinely white, and more watery female ejaculate or the still red, even less concocted, menstrua. Like reproductive organs, reproductive fluids turn out to be versions of each other; they are the biological articulation, in the language of a one-sex body, of the politics of two genders and ultimately of engendering.(26)

In this cultural setting, the white, frothy appearance of breast milk indicated its highly concocted, and therefore powerful, state. Like semen, it possessed life-giving force. While semen was necessary to create life, breast milk was necessary to sustain it. The proximity of the breasts to the heart explained the appearance of breast milk, for the heart was the “shop of heate,” as the English anatomist Helkiah Crooke explained it.(27) Thus breast milk, like semen arose from the heat that contemporaries associated with a higher physical state. Although women’s bodies were, on the whole, colder than men’s, in this one aspect of their physical nature they duplicated the superior abilities of men’s bodies.

Positive attitudes toward breast milk are particularly striking when we contrast them with the negative connotations given to menstrual blood in early modern Anglo-American culture, for as fungibles they came from the same source. Menstrual blood, too, was created to nourish a new life, but when that life was not conceived it was sloughed off, extraneous, superfluous, foul and unclean. A menstruating woman was offensive; the blood that flowed from her body dangerous. Men were repelled by the sight and smell of menstrual blood, disdaining and derogating women for the unpleasantness associated with their bodies.(28) Attitudes such as these contributed to the persistence of a taboo on intercourse with a menstruating woman.

Historians and historical anthropologists have placed greater emphasis on the negative connotations of menstrual blood than on the positive connotations of breast milk.(29) Perhaps that imbalance should be corrected to recognize the symbolic as well as the practical value placed on lactating women’s milk flow. White, sweet, and pure, breast milk also flowed from a woman’s body. A woman whose breasts swelled and flowed with milk was the provider, nurturing, and loving. Women and men praised breastfeeding women unequivocally. They were all that was good, not only redeemed in the eyes of God and cleansed of original sin–for even mothers who did not nurse earned such praise–but also particularly feminine in the positive sense of that word: concerned for the welfare of others, unselfish, giving. They took no chances with the health of their children, giving them the breast despite the strain nursing placed on their own bodies. The high cultural value placed on the physical side of motherhood in the early modern period is demonstrated by idealization of women as breastfeeders, the nurturers of new life.

Ministerial Representations of Breastfeeding Mothers

The writings of seventeenth-century English and colonial religious leaders reveal respect for women’s roles as the breastfeeders of infants and caregivers to young children. As Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has observed, ministerial representations of women’s lives are useful for delineating cultural norms and expectations. In her own work on motherhood, Ulrich found that in ministerial pronouncements “The idealization of motherhood received its fullest expression.”(30) Ministers’ frequent reliance on breastfeeding as a symbol for divine love, and on weaning as a metaphor for spiritual loss and helplessness, is particularly striking for its idealization of maternal care.

Ministerial comparisons of eternal joy with infant contentedness at the breast reveal a deep respect for the power of breastfeeding mothers to soothe and comfort as well as nourish. Thomas Shepard described the gift of eternal life as being “laid in the bosom of Christ, when sucking the breasts of the grace of Christ, when you can go no further, though thou wert in heaven, for there is no other happiness there.”(31) Eternal happiness was a gift from God, just as infantile bliss was a gift from mothers. “Grace goes directly to Christ, as a childe new borne goes to the mothers breast, and never leaves crying till it be laid there.”(32) Similarly, final denial of the breast was a time of crisis, and used as a metaphor for the absence of grace. John Winthrop’s famous description of his feelings before his conversion is telling in this regard. God “laid mee lower in myne owne eyes than at any time before, and shewed mee the emptines of all my guifts and parts, left mee neither power nor will, so as I became as a weaned child.”(33)

According to David Leverenz, who has written the most detailed study of Puritan language and imagery, breasts ordinarily represented churches or ministers, but could also stand for God’s loving nurturance. “Ministers often called themselves breasts of God, and milk imagery was interchangeably dispensed among several theological roles: the minister, the Word, and God’s promises.”(34) Because breastfeeding represented God’s gift of grace coming through his churches and ministers, good Christians should attend worship services on the sabbath prepared to “suck the breast while it is open,” that is, attend to the minister’s sermon.(35) Parishioners might also rely on breastfeeding imagery to describe the worth of their religious leaders. In commenting on the early death of Joseph Green, the peace loving minister to distressed Salem Village in the years after the witchcraft hysteria, Joseph and Anna Gerrish said that he died with “his breast full of milk,” that is, full of promise in bringing his parishioners to Christ.(36)

Ministers’ recognition of the power of breast milk is seen in their comparisons of breastfeeding and handfeeding. Just as the word of God conveyed by ministers in the sermon was more powerful than the word of God conveyed by the written word, including the Bible, so a breastfed baby received nourishment and comfort far superior to that of the hand-fed baby. As phrased by Thomas Shepard, “Dish milk and slit milk may convey some nourishment, but breast milk hath spirit going with it; good books may be blessed, but there is not that spirit in them as in lively dispensations of the gospel by ministers themselves.” His words speak to a widespread popular faith in mothers’ milk as the only proper food for newborns, unmatched by animal substitutes or pap. “Give children milk in the dish, they cry still; they must have it from the mother, and there suck; so 2 Pet. i 2,3.”(37)

Religious imagery focused on maternal feeding as a means of representing God’s love. Nursing at the breasts of ministers during the hearing of the Word, or cuddling in God’s bosom throughout eternity, was bliss. Although only one of several common images for feelings of joy and regeneration, breastfeeding clearly evoked a powerful sense of perfection in early modern religious sensibilities. Significantly, the ministerial literature demonstrates positive attitudes not only toward breastfeeding and breast milk, but also toward motherhood generally. References to maternal love and care of children, and comparisons of God to good mothers, appeared frequently enough to indicate that they could evoke strong emotional responses in listeners. Seventeenth and eighteenth-century English people in England and the American colonies believed in the importance of maternal love.

In fact, according to Leverenz, Puritan imagery exalted women only in their roles as pure mothers. If women attempted to excel in other areas, they earned derision rather than praise.(38) Similarly, Patricia Crawford has argued that “Preachers taught their congregations that the ideal good woman was the good mother. The Bible was the basic authority in this, as in other areas of life. Concepts of motherhood were deeply embedded in the metaphorical discussion of Church and State. Thus, for example, the true Church was a mother, the false a whore.”(39)

Although women’s spiritual value as revealed in the sermon literature was limited to motherhood, we should not underestimate the significance of that role in the early modern period. Ministers’ equation of God and good mothers, both full of care and concern for their offspring, both providing the necessities of life–even of eternal life–with selfless devotion, demonstrates the power of motherhood to evoke feelings of devotion and gratitude. The first two stanzas of “A thankful Acknowledgment of God’s Providence” by John Cotton exemplifies the merging of everyday maternal care and heavenly solicitude:

In mothers womb thy fingers did me make, And from the womb thou didst me safely take: From breast thou hast me nurst my life throughout, That I may say I never wanted ought.

In all my meals my table thou hast spread, In all my lodgings thou hast [made my] bed: Thou hast me clad with changes of array, And chang’d my house for better far away.(40)

Early modern religious writers accorded women honor for their performance of everyday chores, including even such lowly duties as changing diapers or washing sinks. In this vein, the equation of sin with filth, and of the power of God to cleanse with mothers’ care of the body, is particularly important. Again, John Cotton provides a telling passage:

Women, if they were not Mothers, would not take such homely offices up, as to cleanse their Children from their filth; why if God were not of the like affection to us, hee would not cleanse us from our filthiness, . . . if hee did not sweep the Sinck, and scum off the scum of our hearts, it would never bee done; . . . it is with us as it is with young Infants that would lye in their defilements, if their Mothers did not make them clean, and so would wee even wallow in the defilements of sin, if God did not cleanse us, therefore admire Gods love and mercy towards us.

Tender mothers, like God, would not let their children cry out unheard. Rather, they would take them up, clean and comfort them, and give them the breast. Good Christians were instructed to admire the tasks performed by women with dedication and love. Theirs was an appropriate model for true Christian humility.

Advice to Mothers in Medical Books

Like the ministerial literature, the printed medical literature is valuable for uncovering attitudes toward breast milk, breastfeeding, and women’s work as mothers. Two points are particularly important. First, medical writers, like religious writers, praised breastfeeding mothers for their efforts and demonstrated respect for breast milk by advocating it as the only proper food for infants. Second, detailed medical advice to mothers about the proper feeding and care of infants and young children reveals widespread concern for the work of women as mothers, beginning in the sixteenth century. Medical writers recognized that infant care was a vital health issue and that without proper management, which they believed often was lacking, infants would sicken and die. They therefore published advice and instructions on all aspects of breastfeeding, weaning, and the care of both ill and healthy infants. Changing medical advice on feeding neonates colostrum is especially important for the period under consideration here, because it helps us understand the eighteenth-century shift toward more maternal breastfeeding among English elites.(41)

Medical writers praised breastfeeding mothers and criticized harshly women who declined their maternal duty. Their attitude demonstrates a strong respect for women’s physical power to sustain life. In giving birth women fulfilled only part of their duty as women. A second, equally burdensome duty was breastfeeding, for without it infants were immediately placed at great risk. Not only might they die if the wetnurse hid feeding problems, as many were rumored to do, but in addition they absorbed any character failings of the wetnurse through the milk.(42) To mold a child properly, both physically and mentally, a mother had to devote the whole of her physical abilities to the task. Only those women who undertook the office of breastfeeder were true mothers.

After discussing the issue of who should feed the newborn, medical writers commonly turned to questions of how often infants should be fed, when supplementary feeding of pap and solid foods should begin, and when and how weaning should be undertaken. Advice on clothing, bathing, and airing of infants also appeared in the medical literature, again indicating concern that children be cared for properly and well. Specific instructions on topics such as diapering speak to commentators’ belief that even the mundane details of child care deserved coverage. In A Treatise of the Diseases of Infants, and Young Children (English translation, 1612), for example, Jacques Guillemeau wrote on diapering,

The time of shifting him is commonly about seven a clocke in the morning, then againe at noone, and at seven a clocke at night: and it would not be amisse, to change him againe about midnight; which is not commonly done. But because there is no certaine howre, either of the childs sucking, or sleeping; therefore divers, after he hath slept a good while, do every time shift him: least he should foule and bepisse himself. And surely there be many children, that had need to be shifted, as soone as they have foul’d themselves: which I would counsaile you to doe, and not to let them lie in their filth.(43)

It is important to note that Guillemeau addressed his comments to the women who would be caring for the children. While some writers wrote only for other physicians (Walter Harris, for example, published his treatise in Latin(44)), most directed their advice at women: midwives, professional baby nurses, wetnurses, and mothers. This is apparent not only from titles, prefatory remarks, and use of the vernacular, but also from content.(45) A largely female readership can be assumed from the material covered in these books. In the early modern period few men concerned themselves with infant care. Those who did were physicians, caregivers to nobility and royalty, or pediatric specialists. They wrote their treatises to instruct the normal caregivers of infants and young children in the techniques they had found to be the most effective in managing elite patients. Thus as late as 1767, George Armstrong could write in the introductory section to his On the Diseases Most Fatal to Infants “The care of infants, even with regard to medicine, has commonly been left to old women, nurses, and midwives, so that it has been long a common saying in this country, that the best doctor for a child, is an old woman.”(46)

Accepting the fact that physicians wrote for women as well as other physicians, we can well wonder what use wetnurses and midwives had for male advice on diapering and mixing pap. Undoubtedly, these sections of the books were most useful to elite women who commonly employed wetnurses and therefore had little firsthand experience with infant care. It seems highly likely that the reason common details of infant care were covered in this literature was precisely because elite women lacked information about them. Mothers who wanted to assist in the care of their infants, or at least to understand whether or not their infants were receiving proper care, now could turn to these books for advice. In addition, elite women who did choose to breastfeed themselves, as an increasing number did among seventeenth-century English Puritans, could rely on medical advice books in the absence of personal knowledge. This might have been particularly important because their mothers and other female relatives did not have the experience to guide them, as they had not breastfed their own children. Reliance on the printed word undoubtedly supported mothers in making decisions about infant feeding and care, particularly when they disagreed with the practices of their baby nurses. Medical advice books therefore must have found a ready market among poorly trained, but literate, elite mothers. The less well-to-do, that is, the vast majority of women who always had breastfed and tended their own children, undoubtedly continued to rely on the guidance of relatives, neighbors, and local healers in an oral tradition.

The medical literature of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries maintained that infants should be fed on demand, initially in small amounts. “As to the time and hour it needs no limits, for it may be at any time, night or day, when he hath a mind; but let him have it rather little and often, than too much at a time, that his little Stomach may the better concoct and digest it without Vomiting.”(47) Most authors maintained that infants should be fed only on breast milk for at least two months, although they recognized that sometimes this was impossible. Physicians argued that mothers’ tendency to begin supplementary feedings of pap and solid foods too early caused unnecessary distress in infancy. As one eminent practitioner observed, “It is very astonishing, that Mothers, who are so fond of their Children, as to be quite mad with Love of them, are not afraid to murder them with so improper a food.”(48) He referred to mothers’ habit of chewing meat to a soft consistency and then giving it to their infants.

Treatises frequently described the kinds of gruels and solid foods that children should be fed, and when they should be introduced. By gradually feeding a variety of solid foods to their children, mothers could ease their dependence on the breast. Gradual weaning was generally regarded as essential for a child’s well being.(49) Although final denial of the breast might be either sudden or extended over a period of weeks, the fact that virtually all children were fed supplementary foods beginning at only a few months old minimized the trauma of the final weaning. The recommended age for weaning varied according to a variety of circumstances, such as the health of the child and the season of the year. In the seventeenth century, physicians recommended that weaning take place during the second year, while in the eighteenth century many argued for the benefits of weaning at about eight to ten months.(50) Commentators sometimes noted mothers’ tendency to breastfeed for unusually long periods of time. Nicholas Culpeper disapproved of mothers spoiling their children in this way. “The fondness of Mothers to Children doth them more mischief than the Devil himself can do them: one part (and not none of the least) of which appears in letting them suck too long.”(51)

As these examples demonstrate, from the early seventeenth century English-women received the advice of physicians on the proper care and feeding of infants. While it is always difficult to uncover evidence on maternal behavior, medical writers did open a window on women’s attitudes in discussing what they saw as the common practices of the day, and then approving or disapproving of them. One area in which medical writers revealed women’s behavior involves breastfeeding immediately following birth, when colostrum rather than milk is produced in the breasts. It appears that many women did not give their infants colostrum. In 1612, for example, Guillemeau observed that “Some women do make their keepers draw their breasts, and others draw them with glasses themselves,” indicating they were not feeding their newborns.(52) Hugh Smith, writing in 1777, complained about women’s custom of feeding newborns before the mother’s milk came in, either with pap or another woman’s milk. “The cries of an infant are generally occasioned by the uneasiness it suffers, either from its dress, or in consequence of thus cramming it…. Custom has rendered this ridiculous practice so universal, that the good women continually complain it is impossible for a child to remain without food till the milk comes.”(53)

William Cadogan was the most explicit in describing common practice in the middle of the eighteenth century: “The child as soon as it is born, is taken from the mother, and not suffered to suck till the milk comes of itself, but is either fed with stronge and improper things, or put to suck some other woman, whose milk flowing in a full stream, overpowers the new-born infant, that has not yet learned to swallow.”(54) But probably the most telling evidence is the belief that every woman would, as a matter of course, suffer from what was called a milk fever, and what we would identify as a breast infection. According to the anonymous author of “A System Concerning Fevers,” (1677), a “milky fever” was common to “almost all childbed women…. the third or fourth day after their delivery, upon the milk floeing into the breast.”(55) Medicinal recipe books, both published and private, commonly included remedies for milk fevers, indicating that they were commonplace.

The taboo against colostrum, which has been found in a wide variety of cultural settings, stems from its color and consistency.(56) Colostrum looks and feels different from mature breast milk. It is yellow rather than white, sticky, and of a more watery consistency. The fear of colostrum was unfortunate, for modern research has demonstrated unmistakable benefits to neonates from drinking it. Colostrum purges the small intestines of meconium (a black, sticky substance present at birth), which contains bilirubin, a cause of jaundice if retained too long. It also contains twice the protein of mature breast milk, and is high in vitamins A and E. Perhaps most importantly, colostrum holds concentrated amounts of antibodies that protect the neonate from gastrointestinal infections, and maternal antibodies that shield against various bacteria and viruses. As newborns do not begin to produce their own antibodies for about six weeks, maternal antibodies are a great help in protecting infants from disease.

While early modern physicians echoed women’s own fears of colostrum in arguing against maternal breastfeeding of neonates, they also influenced women by expanding on that fear, creating a more extensive taboo on the basis of the condition of the blood. Early modern physicians believed that any overexertion, excitement, or overhearing was detrimental to the blood. Breast milk, as whitened blood, was poisoned because of the difficulties women experienced during childbirth. The discharge of the lochia, which can last anywhere from a week to a month and a half, indicated an instability in the woman’s system that spelled impurity, and thus danger to a sucking infant. According to contemporary medical theory, only after the discharge ceased could infants safely be put to the breast. Therefore, although many mothers in western Europe must have denied their newborns the breast for two or three days following birth, when they produced only colostrum, women who came under the care of physicians probably waited longer than less privileged women to begin breastfeeding. Undoubtedly, this affected their ability to breastfeed at all, as early and frequent stimulation of the breasts is necessary to promote a good supply of milk. The result would have been a high rate of failure, especially for first time mothers, and a consequent greater dependence on wetnurses. In contrast, less privileged women who could not afford the services of wetnurses in the days and weeks immediately following birth began their own breastfeeding sooner, and thus succeeded in establishing adequate supplies of milk.

Here we may have an explanation for commentators’ assertions that it was primarily elite women who found their milk supplies insufficient to meet the needs of their infants.(57) In 1597, for example, the Puritan writer Henry Smith complained about the problems wealthy women experienced in establishing breastfeeding: “Whose breasts have this perpetual drought? Forsoothe it is like the goute, no beggars may have it, but citizens or Gentlewomen. In the ninth chapter of Hosea, drie breasts are named for a curse: what lamentable happe have Gentlewomen to light upon this curse more than other? Sure if their breasts be drie, as they say, they should fast and pray together that this curse may bee removed from them.”(58) In 1773 the physician Charles White commented on the inability of some women to breastfeed, blaming fashionable corseting for the problem. After describing the tight and unpliable nature of women’s stays, he wrote, “Hence it will appear evident why women of rank, and those in the middle stations of life meet with difficulty in giving suck to children … [and] why hard working, labouring women, who are obliged to go very loose about their breasts generally make good nurses, and that too with very little trouble.”(59) And at the end of the eighteenth century William Moss, an opponent of maternal breastfeeding immediately following birth, still believed with regard to elite women that “a great many are not able, to nurse at all, for want of sucky.”(60)

Although physicians may have contributed to elite women’s breastfeeding problems in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, it was, ultimately, physicians who demonstrated the benefits of colostrum to newborn infants. According to historian Ian G. Wickes, the first recommendation to give neonates colostrum appeared in 1699, when the German physician Michael Ettmueller argued in favor of the purgative quality of the first milk.(61) The leading expert on English breastfeeding practices, Valerie Fildes, found that the physicians who wrote medical advice books began recommending colostrum as more nourishing than any other milk in 1719. She believes that it was mid-century before this viewpoint became generally accepted among physicians.(62)

In 1748, William Cadogan published a highly influential, popular treatise on maternal breastfeeding that criticized mothers’ fears of colostrum. According to Cadogan, maternal nursing in the first hours and days after birth would prevent milk fevers, bring the mother’s milk in sooner, and provide the newborn with a natural–and beneficial–purge. By following nature, rather than interfering with it, both mothers and babies would benefit. His views gained favor in England and America throughout the second half of the eighteenth century. By 1800 physicians rarely argued against giving infants colostrum. The result was a rather sudden cultural shift in attitudes toward maternal breastfeeding, and therefore in attitudes toward the relationship among mothers, fathers, and children. The new views on colostrum apparently contributed to the rise in maternal breastfeeding among elites that has been documented for the eighteenth century. Greater success due to earlier introduction of the breast must have meant that more women enjoyed suckling. Perhaps women who intended to breastfeed for only a short while, to give their infants the benefits of colostrum, found that they enjoyed the experience and decided to continue. The decision of elites to breastfeed meant that infants remained at home where close emotional ties could develop more easily. The resulting affectionate relationships contributed to greater emotional attachments among the members of elite families, as Lawrence Stone first posited in The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England.(63)

If we can accept the fact that many early modern women believed it was harmful to nurse their infants in the first days following a birth, then how did they feed them? Mauriceau admitted that many women would not be able to follow his advice. “But often poor people cannot observe so many Precautions, and such Mothers are obliged to give their Children suck from the first day…. In this case, let their Breasts be a little drawn by some old persons, or some lusty sucking Child; or they may draw them themselves with a Glass.”(64) Other medical writers assumed that a friend of the new mother would assist in feeding the child, which they saw as preferable to feeding the infant pap, or milk gruel. In 1724, John Maubray advised, “The Breast of some other clean and sound Woman may be given the Child, until the mother’s Milk be purified for its proper Use.”(65) Here we can see an important way in which women cared for one another in childbirth. For a short time, generally lasting for only a few days at the most, a friend or hired wetnurse might suckle the newborn. Thus in describing the birth of his first child, Samuel Sewell reported that “The first Woman the Child sucked was Bridget Davenport.” Five days later Sewell wrote that they “First laboured to cause the child suck his mother, which he scarce did at all. In the afternoon my Wife set up, and he sucked the right Breast bravely, that had the best nipple.” Two days later “The Child sucked his Mothers left Brest well as she laid in the Bed, notwithstanding the shortness of the Nipple.”(66) In theory, this kind of delay in initiating breastfeeding relieved the mother to recover from the rigors of birth, and benefited the infant by giving it nourishment superior to what the mother could provide. These services were probably exchanged regularly, a part of the mutual support women gave and received during their childbearing years. Moss, for example, could claim rather casually at the end of the eighteenth century that a newly delivered mother would have little trouble finding a friend to nurse her child. “Either in town or country,” he wrote, “breast milk may be obtained from some relative, friend or other healthy woman … as the sex of all ranks feel much for each other in this situation.”(67)

Women’s Attitudes Toward Breastfeeding

As demonstrated by a number of authorities on the early modern family, many wealthy mothers in western Europe (and some in colonial America) hired wetnurses for their infants, turning over the biologically important and culturally significant role of breastfeeder to a paid employee.(68) Historians have pointed to parents’ reliance on wetnurses as evidence of a lack of concern for their infants. Valerie Fildes argues convincingly that dependence on wetnurses did not indicate a lack of affection on the part of mothers. Instead, the weight of tradition virtually required elite women to use wetnurses, much as women today rely on bottle feeding. In addition, she found considerable evidence demonstrating that husbands objected to their wives’ breastfeeding.(69) While among the English there was no longer a taboo on intercourse with a breastfeeding woman (upheld over centuries by the Catholic church), traditional fears about the ill effect of intercourse on the milk may have helped to justify husbands’ objections to the demands breastfeeding placed on their wives’ time and energy. And in addition as we have just seen, attitudes toward colostrum must have affected the ability of elite women to breastfeed successfully, even when they attempted to do so against considerable social pressure.

Another factor in the decision not to breastfeed was concern about the physical difficulty of the breastfeeding routine. Commentators often mentioned women’s fear for their health during breastfeeding as a primary reason for hiring a wetnurse.(70) At the end of the eighteenth century, for example, the physician William Moss explained why some women continued to rely on wetnurses. “They are mostly advised from [i.e., against] it, at first, by their older relatives or friends, either on the mistaken idea of their health, or on the score of fashion; very frequently by their husbands, who fancy they shall be incommoded and disturbed by it.”(71) When elite women decided not to breastfeed, they were thinking of their own health as well as their convenience. Even women who could not afford to hire wetnurses sometimes limited the amount of time their infants spent on the breast, from a concern for their health.(72)

By acknowledging the dangers and difficulty of breastfeeding, we will better understand the respect granted to women who breastfed successfully. The medical sources demonstrate that women’s fears for their health were legitimate. Private collections of medicinal recipes and published medical tracts all include cures, sometimes numerous ones, for breast ailments. Taken in combination with the comments of diarists about problems with breastfeeding, we come to understand that the routine carried potentially serious risks for many, if not most, women.(73) In studying the Maine midwife Martha Ballard, whose early nineteenth-century experiences echoed those of earlier periods, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich found that “A considerable part of Martha’s medical practice involved treating infants for ‘sore mouths’ and their mothers for ‘painful breasts.'”(74) In addition to fatigue, and problems associated with the reduction or loss of their milk supply, breastfeeding mothers suffered from sore, cracked nipples and painful infections.

Medicinal recipe books, both published and unpublished, were filled with cures for plugged milk ducts, knots in the breast, and abscesses. Serious breast infections brought with them high fevers and general weakness in addition to the pain–often extreme–of a swollen, tender breast. Today such infections are treated with antibiotics and can be alleviated within twenty-four hours of starting medication. In the early modern period, women suffered for days or even weeks. In the most severe cases, the breast or nipple could be permanently damaged. Mauriceau presented the worst case scenario in his medical treatise. “Very often Women that are Nurses, and especially the first time, are subject to have their Nipples, which are endued with an equisite sence … chopped and excoriated; which is very painful to them, and insupportable … And sometimes these Chops and Excoriations do so encrease by the Childs continual sucking, that in the end it takes the Nipple quite off from the Breasts, and the Woman is no longer capable of giving suck, and there remains sometimes an ulcer very hard to be cured.”(75) The pain, and damage to the breast caused by infections, led some women who endured them to resist subsequent breastfeeding. As Moss observed, “A gathered breast in a former lying-in, is often given as a reason for preventing a future attempt at nursing; either for fear of a like accident, or lest there should not be suck enough from want of milk in that breast.”(76)

Healers treated infections with a variety of salves and poultices, generally laid on warm as in “An oyntment for a swelling or soare or for a swelled breast,” a recipe recorded by a seventeenth-century Englishwoman. Her ointment was made of fresh butter and herbs and she recommended that “wn you use it heate it as hott as you can suffer it anoynte & bayth it in against ye fire.”(77) Similar recipes were still being used in the eighteenth century. Elizabeth Smith’s cure for “a Sore Breast before ’tis broken” was to “Boil white Bread and Milk to a Poultice, then put to it Oil of Lillies, and the Yolk of an Egg; set it over the Fire again to heat, and apply it as hot as can be endured: Dress it Morning and Night till ’tis broke, then dress it with the Poultice of Raisins.”(78) It was the heat that worked in these remedies; hot compresses still are recommended as the most effective way to open a plugged duct. So, for example, when Sarah Cushing “was a good deal threatened with a sore in her left Breast,” as her husband wrote to his brother-in-law in 1774, she relied on “ye application of Cow Dung” and found relief.(79) The cow dung probably was applied hot. Sarah was fortunate; she might have ended up with an abscess like her mother, Hannah Parkman.

Hannah suffered through a number of breast infections over her years of child rearing, but one illness was particularly serious. This infection worsened steadily over a period of two weeks, causing great distress for the entire family. Ebenezer described her condition as first “soreness,” then “very bad.” On the eighth day he wrote, “Miss Patty Dunlop here, and very Seasonably for my Wife’s Breast is grown very bad, & Patty can tend ye Child better yn any one, as she also takes a singular please. & Delight in it. Mrs. Hitty Rice came p.m. They both tarry over Night, & are very helpf. to my wife undr. her distress & pains.” The next day Hannah was “weak and feverish,” despite taking “physick,” and all that week her condition remained critical. Finally the decision was made to call in professional help. Ebenezer wrote, “My Wifes breast so bad that I sent Thomas for Dr. Hemingway, who came. Dr. Rice here likewise. May God prepare for his holy will!” Three days later they decided to “open” the breast. Hannah bore the operation, “with a good spirit,” but the pain must have been severe. Ebenezer probably observed the procedure, for he commented, “It was no more than a blood-letting as to ye Drs. part … Its issue was corrupt Matter & Blood.”(80)

The hesitance of some mothers to breastfeed in the face of such dangers, and the inability of others to do so despite their attempts, made those women who did intensive nursing seem all the more nurturant, giving and bountiful. Contemporaries recognized the excessive strain that breastfeeding placed on some women, particularly if they were weak, unhealthy, or malnourished. In diaries, letters, medical treatises, and sermons of the period, women and men praised breastfeeding mothers for their personal sacrifice, while babies who were dry-nursed, weaned early, or sent out to wetnurses were seen as the innocent victims of maternal weakness or parental selfishness. Respect for breast milk and breastfeeding mothers remained a cultural given throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in part because people recognized just how difficult the work could be.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has pointed to the cultural importance of fertility for defining women’s status.(81) By fertility, she means both fecundity and success at nurturing children until they reached adulthood and became parents themselves. Clearly, fertility was essential both to women’s self perceptions and interpretations of their roles. As the New England minister Benjamin Colman observed in 1716, “A Mother with a Train of Children after her is One of the most admirable and lovely Sights in the Visible Creation of God.”(82) Ministers and physicians valued highly women’s ability to give birth, breastfeed, and care for their families in sickness, but even more importantly, women valued these qualities in themselves. In such a cultural setting, problems with breastfeeding and infertility caused severe stress. Women’s collections of medicinal recipes invariably included remedies for increasing inadequate milk supplies as well as recipes for supplementary feedings of pap and panada, but mothers with breast-feeding problems often must have relied on the help of other women in feeding their infants. For infertile women, the inability to become pregnant or carry a fetus to term carried an even heavier social and psychological burden. Such women turned to prayer and active medical intervention in their attempts to become mothers. Both female healers and male physicians wrote at length about the causes and cures of barrenness, and ministers attempted to comfort barren women, but it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that barrenness was a sign of God’s disfavor. In his printed sermon on motherhood, Some of the Honours that Religion Does Unto the Fruitful Mothers in Israel, Benjamin Colman observed “LET me add a Caution to the Barren: Not to be dejected for want of Children; as Rachel and Hannah were too much. For tho’ it be such a favour to be the Mother of many, yet there are Greater favours than this to set our Hearts upon; and it may be you in your Espousals to Christ have much more to satisfie your Soul in; or at least thither let me direct you.”(83) For women who could not fulfill their highest earthly duty, and receive the honor due them as good mothers, only the hope of an eternal reward could give solace.

Large areas of women’s history remain obscure, hidden by our failure to understand basic assumptions about women’s lives in the past. We have not grasped the importance of women’s functions as mothers, and so we have assumed that other areas of women’s lives were more culturally significant. Yet clearly fertility, and infertility, determined women’s status and self image alongside other factors more commonly considered by historians, such as wealth or reputation. That we have overlooked for so long the role of fertility in women’s lives points more to its lack of importance in twentieth-century culture than to its lack of importance in the past.

As we have discovered from a variety of sources–sermons, medical books, collections of recipes, letters, and diaries–cultural assumptions about motherhood in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries differed significantly from modern ones. Most importantly, contemporaries regarded motherhood as first and foremost a physical activity. Women were primarily responsible for the physical well being of their infants and children, as, in fact, they were for all members of their households, and they demonstrated their emotional attachment to family members by giving them good physical care. When we consider healing in conjunction with women’s work as the bearers and breastfeeders of infants, women’s control over the body emerges as the focal point of motherhood before the modern age. After marriage, most seventeenth and eighteenth-century women spent fully twenty to twenty-five years either pregnant or nursing. Many died in their old age with children still living at home. Their work as mothers filled their days: in the physical presence of the fetus kicking inside the womb, in the pull of the infant sucking at the breast, in the needs of the sick child lying in a cradle by the fireplace. Although matrons’ work in kitchen and garden was never ending, children’s needs probably came first. When the baby cried it had to be fed. The very physical realities of motherhood made it the center point of women’s mature lives. In fulfilling their roles as both good housewives and good mothers, women lived up to a high cultural standard for female excellence.

History Department Northampton, MA 01063


The author wishes to thank Norma Basch and Jan Lewis for their perceptive criticisms and comments on this paper. Earlier versions of the work were presented at the Eighth Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Douglass College, 1990, and at a conference in honor of Lois Green Carr, The Chesapeake and Beyond–A Celebration, held at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1992.

1. Francis G. Wallett, ed., The Diary of Ebenezer Parkman, 1703-1782. First Part: Three Volumes in One, 1719-1755. With a Foreword by Clifford K. Shipton (Worcester, MA, 1974), 259.

2. Ibid., 259-260.

3. Ibid., 260.

4. Ibid., 260.

5. American historians, in particular, have devoted considerable energy to studying women’s work as wives and economic providers, and have produced little on the work of mothering. Chapter 1 of Jeanne Boydston’s book on Home and Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the Early Republic is typical of the focus on economic production. For the colonial period, Boydston did not define childbirth, breastfeeding, or care of the sick as work, and equated child care with such chores as tending fires and cleaning. Other studies of colonial and revolutionary era women that argue against motherhood as a valued social role are Ruth Bloch, “American Feminine Ideas in Transition: The Rise of the Moral Mother, 1785-1815,” Feminist Studies 4 (1978), 101-126 and Catherine Scholten, Childbearing in American Society: 1650-1850 (New York, 1985). Bloch’s work influenced Carl Degler, who made the same point in At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present (New York, 1980), 73. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich has produced the best work on colonial motherhood. She demonstrates the high regard New Englanders accorded women as mothers, particularly prolific ones. See Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England 1650-1750 (New York, 1982), especially Chap. 8. Ulrich’s conclusion that women’s work as mothers was extensive rather than intensive, due to their many household obligations, is her most frequently cited point. Unfortunately, this somewhat undercuts her main argument about the respect accorded motherhood as a key female role. Nancy Schrom Dye and Daniel Blake Smith, for example, cite Ulrich as proof for an extensive mothering style in the colonial period, and do not mention her arguments about the importance of good mothering for defining women’s status in their communities and the wider culture. Their oversight allowed them to use Ulrich’s study as proof for their own argument that only in the nineteenth century did mothers assume primary responsibility for the physical care of their children. See Dye and Smith, “Mother Love and Infant Death, 1750-1920,” Journal of American History 73 (1986): 329-353. Similarly, Boydston ignored Ulrich’s discussion of motherhood, focusing only on the discussions of household production in Good Wives. In Liberty’s Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women, 1750-1800 (Boston, 1980), Chap. 3 Mary Beth Norton argues that mid-eighteenth-century women received their greatest satisfaction from their work as mothers. Julia Cherry Spruill, Women’s Life and Work in the Southern Colonies (Chapel Hill, NC, 1938; reprint ed., New York, 1972), Chap. 3 includes useful information on motherhood. John Demos is one of the most frequently cited authorities on the prevalence of breastfeeding in colonial New England. See A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony (New York, 1970), 133.

6. English historians recently have produced a number of excellent studies on various aspects of motherhood in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. See Valerie Fildes, ed., Women as Mothers in Pre-Industrial England: Essays in Memory of Dorothy McLaren (New York: 1990); Valerie Fildes, Breasts, Bottles, and Babies: A History of Infant Feeding (Edinburgh, 1986); Linda A. Pollock Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 1500 to 1900 (Cambridge, 1983); Betty S. Travitsky, “The New Mother of the English Renaissance: Her Writings on Motherhood,” in The Lost Tradition: Mothers and Daughters in Literature (New York, 1980), eds. C.N. Davidson and E.M. Broner.

7. Thomas Muffet, Health’s Improvement (1584), quoted in Ian G. Wickes, “A History of Infant Feeding,” Archives of Disease in Childhood 28 (1953), 157. Dorothy McLaren believed suckling of weak adults may have been a normal part of wetnursing in pre-industrial England. See “Marital Fertility and Lactation 1570-1720.” in Women in English Society 1500-1800 (New York, 1985), ed. Mary Prior, 29.

8. Nicholas Culpeper, A Directory for Midwives: or, A Guide for Women, in their Conception, Bearing, and Suckling their Children (London, 1660), 214.

9. Great Britain, Customs Establishment, 1688-1691, 69 Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston (hereafter MHS).

10. Gervase Markham wrote, “If a woman have a strong and hard labour, Take foure spoonefulls of another womans milke, and give it the woman to drinke in her labour, and she shall bee delivered presently.” The English House-wife, Containing the inward and outward Vertues which ought to be in a compleate Woman (London, 1637), 39. See also Aristotle’s Complete Master-Piece, In Three Parts, Displaying the Secrets of Nature in the Generation of Man … To which is added A Treasure of Health, or the Family Physician (London, 1766), 66.

11. Penn Family Papers, Vol. 6, 103, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (hereafter HSP).

12. Anonymous, Enchiridum or an Abridgm[en]t of Platerous Golden Practise of Physick by T.W. (London, ca. 1660), 180.

13. Penn Family Papers, Vol. 6, 93, HSP.

14. Medicinae Liber, 10a/214, College of Physicians, Philadelphia.

15. Great Britain, Customs Establishment, 1688-1691, 24-29, MHS.

16. Richard Lower, Dr. Lower’s and Several Other Eminent Physicians Receipts: Containing the Best and Safest Method for Curing Most Diseases in Human Bodies. 4th ed. (London, 1716), 103.

17. Jacques Guillemeau, Child-Birth or, The Happy Deliverie of Women (London, 1612), 6.

18. Brigham Account Book, folder 3, recipe #33, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, MA (hereafter AAS).

19. Great Britain, Customs Establishment, 1688-1691, 195, MHS.

20. Anonymous, A Closet for Ladies and Gentlemen. Or, The Art of preserving, Conserving, and Candying…. Also divers soveraigne Medicines and Salves for Sundry Diseases (London, 1635), D2.

21. Aristotle’s Master-Piece, 139.

22. Fildes, Breasts, Bottles, and Babies, 98; Demos, A Little Commonwealth, 133. Even in continental Europe in the eighteenth century, when hand and animal feeding were more common, these methods were considered inferior to maternal breastfeeding or reliance on a wetnurse.

23. Patricia Crawford, “Attitudes To Menstruation in Seventeenth-Century England,” Past and Present 91 (1981), 51-52; David Hunt, Parents and Children in History: The Psychology of Family Life in Early Modern France (New York, 1970), 115. Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud (Cambridge, MA, 1990), 35-36, 104-105. Laqueur writes at length about ideas on the “fungibility of fluids.” See especially pp. 103-108.

24. Guillemeau, Child-Birth, 1.

25. Hugh Smith, Letters to Married Women, 4th ed. (Dublin, 1777), 65.

26. Laqueur, Making Sex, 38-39.

27. Ibid., 105

28. Crawford, “Menstruation,” 57-65, 72-73.

29. The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation, edited by Janice Delaney, Mary Jane Lupton, and Emily Toth, rev. ed. (Chicago, 1988) is an excellent introduction to the anthropological literature on menstruation.

30. Ulrich, Good Wives, 153.

31. Quoted in David Leverenz, The Language of Puritan Feeling: An Exploration in Literature, Psychology, and Social History (New Brunswick, NJ, 1980), 130. This section of my paper is dependent on the work of Leverenz, who uncovered numerous examples of breastfeeding imagery in the writings of Puritans.

32. John Cotton, The Way of Life (London, 1641), 28, quoted in Leverenz, Language of Puritan Feeling, 131.

33. Quoted in Edmund S. Morgan, Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (Ithaca, NY, 1963), 72.

34. Leverenz, Language of Puritan Feeling, 143.

35. Thomas Shepard, Parable of the Ten Virgins, in Works, Vol. 2, 40, quoted in Leverenz, Language of Puritan Feeling, 129.

36. Quoted in Ulrich, Good Wives, 264, n. 15.

37. Shepard, Parable of the Ten Virgins, Vol. 2, 497, 131, quoted in Leverenz, Language of Puritan Feeling, 143, 145.

38. Leverenz, Language of Puritan Feeling, 152.

39. Patricia Crawford, “The Construction and Experience of Maternity in Seventeenth-Century England,” in Women as Mothers in Pre-Industrial England, 8. Crawford writes generally of English religious leaders while Leverenz focuses on the Puritans. Yet he concludes, “Almost any point [on family relations] made by Puritan tracts can be found in non-Puritan writings.” Leverenz, Language of Puritan Feeling, 92.

40. Printed in John Norton, Abel being Dead yet speaketh … (London, 1658), 28, quoted in Leverenz, Language of Puritan Feeling, 124.

41. Medical books were static in much of their advice on infant care. This peculiarity reflects two issues. First, there were few advances in medical understanding of breast-feeding, breast ailments, or infantile diseases during the period studied. Second, medical writers frequently borrowed heavily from each other and their predecessors. Thus, advice first written in the early seventeenth century was still being repeated in texts at the end of the eighteenth century.

42. The fear that wetnurses might convey their character failings to their nurslings was expressed beginning in the sixteenth century, in Thomas Phayer’s Boke of Children (ca. 1544). See Wickes, “History of Infant Feeding,” 157-158, 232, 239. Fildes, Breasts, Bottles, and Babies, 112, comments on beliefs during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. On the eighteenth century, see Anonymous, The Ladies Dispensatory, or Every Woman her own Physician, 2nd ed. (London, 1740), viii, and Bloch, “Feminine Ideals in Transition,” 110-111. In her survey of three centuries of medical writers on breastfeeding, Fildes found only one who advocated use of a wetnurse over maternal breastfeeding. See Breasts, Bottles, and Babies, 111 and Table 3.3.

43. Guillemeau, Child-birth 21.

44. Walter Harris, A Treatise of the Acute Diseases of Infants. To Which are added, Medical Observations on Several Grievous Diseases. Written Originally in Latin by the late learned Walter Harris, M.D. Fellow of the College of Physicians at London, and Professor of Chirugery in the same College. Translated into English by John Martyn (London, 1742). The Latin version was published in 1689.

45. Revealing titles, for example, include Nicholas Culpeper, A Directory for Midwives: Or, A Guide for Women, in their Conception, Bearing, And Suckling their Children (London, 1660), and Anonymous, The Nurses Guide, or the right method of bringing up children (London, 1729).

46. George Armstrong, Essay on the Diseases Most Fatal to Infants (London, 1767), 2-3.

47. Francois Mauriceau, The Diseases of Women with Child, and in Child-bed, trans. Hugh Chamberlin (London, 1672), 367.

48. Harris, Treatise of Acute Diseases, 19.

49. See, for example, Guillemeau, Child-Birth, 25; Abbot Quillet, Callipaediae; or, An Art how to have Handsome Children: Written in Latin by the Abbot Quillet. To which is Added, Paedotrophiae; or, The Art of Nursing and Breeding up Children: Written in Latin by Monsieur St. Marthe, Physician to Henry III of France. Now done into English Verse. (London, 1710), 208-209. According to Wickes, the Latin poem appeared in 1655. “History of Infant Feeding,” 239.

50. Fildes provides a wealth of information on weaning practices in Breasts, Bottles and Babies, 351-397.

51. Culpeper, Directory for Midwives, 214.

52. Guillemeau, Child-Birth, 18.

53. Smith, Letters to Married Women, 91-92.

54. William Cadogan, An Essay Upon Nursing, and the Management of Children. From Their Birth to Three Years of Age, 5th ed. (Philadelphia, 1773), 17. Cadogan’s book was published in England in 1748.

55. Anonymous, “A System Concerning Fevers” (Unpub. mss., 1677), 153, Yale Medical Library, New Haven, Ct.

56. Wickes, “History of Infant Feeding,” 151.

57. In Breasts, Bottles, and Babies, Fildes wrote that “religious authors complained that only the rich were afflicted with insufficient breastmilk,” citing William Gouge, Of Domesticall Duties. Eight Treatises. (London, 1622), Henry[?] Newcome, The Compleat Mother or, An Earnest Persuasive to All Mothers (Especially Those of Rank and Quality) to Nurse Their Own Children (London, 1695), and William Perkins, The Complete Works. Vols. 1 and 3 (Cambridge, 1612-1618). In her investigation into breastfeeding difficulties, Pollock found that “The most common hardship was insufficient milk.” See Forgotten Children, 214.

58. Henry Smith, The Sermons of Maister Henrie Smith gathered into one volume (London, 1597), quoted in Fildes, Breasts, Bottles and Babies, 101.

59. Charles White, A Treatise on the Management of Pregnant and Lying-In Women (London, 1773), quoted in Fildes, Breasts, Bottles, and Babies, 102. Fildes believes women’s tight corsets may have caused inverted nipples, which makes breastfeeding more difficult.

60. William Moss, An Essay on the Management, Nursing and Diseases of Children (London 1794), 439.

61. Wickes, “History of Infant Feeding,” 332.

62. Fildes, Breasts, Bottles and Babies, 86, figure 2.2, “Chronology of changes in ideas about colostrum.”

63. Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (London, 1977), 431-432.

64. Mauriceau, Diseases of Women, 365.

65. John Maubray, The Female Physician, Containing all the Diseases Incident to that Sex, in Virgins, Wives, and Widows (London, 1724), 334.

66. Samuel Sewell, The Diary of Samuel Sewell, 1674-1729 in Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 5th ser., Vol. 5 (Boston, 1878), 41-42 (April 1-9, 1677).

67. Moss, Management, Nursing and Diseases of Children, 100-101.

68. See especially Fildes, Breasts, Bottles, and Babies, Chap. 3, and George D. Sussman, Selling Mothers’ Milk: The Wet-Nursing Business in France 1715-1914 (Chicago, 1982).

69. On the importance of tradition, see Fildes, Breasts, Bottles, and Babies, 102. Robert Schnucker also made this point in “The English Puritans and Pregnancy, Delivery and Breastfeeding,” History of Childhood Quarterly 1(1974), 637-658. Fildes’ complete discussion appears on pp. 100-106. Linda Pollock demonstrates that although women may have employed wetnurses, that fact alone did not necessarily indicate a lack of affection or concern for

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