It’s fairly well documented that I really struggled with breastfeeding for a number of reasons and I ended up resorting to the bottle. For this act, I have been belittled by middle aged men, criticised for not looking after my child properly and being selfish and made to feel guilty by Health Visitors, certain doctors and some midwifes. The level of pressure that I felt certainly contributed to me suffering from post-natal depression with my first child. I was very careful not to feel pressured with my second.
I really think that if someone looked into it there might be a relationship between the increased pressure to breastfeed and the rise of post-natal depression. It is every woman’s right to chose, in the UK we can boil our water, sterilise bottles and provide a safe, healthy alternative. It is your body, and your choice alone.
I don’t wish to come across as either anti or pro breast-feeding. I don’t think that does anyone any good. However, there are many arguments presented by the pro- breastfeeding lobby and one is the historical ‘in the past’ one. But what did happen in the past? As an archaeologist, I feel reasonably well placed to discuss this. Nonetheless, please bear in mind that I don’t have the opportunity to research at the British Library or my museum library as I’m on maternity leave and I’m limited by the books I have sitting here on my shelf! So, here is a bit of a tin-pot guide. But I hope it conveys the message that children, even in the ancient past, were not exclusively breast-fed. Women still exercised choice or simply needed to do something other than breast-feed for the sake of their own health.
The Key Facts
In the past many women used Wet Nurses; Moses was presented to a wet nurse, as was Mohammad, Napoleon and many other notable historical figures. By Victorian Times there was a whole wet-nursing industry. Needless to say a fair few children died as a result of being nursed by women who were poorly fed themselves.
Wet- nursing was often, but not strictly a practice associated with high social class. It was hoped that women would be able to become pregnant again more quickly if they weren’t feeding as that would enable them to produce another heir. This has been shown to be a fallacy, it is possible to become pregnant if you are breast-feeding.
Wet nursing went into decline in Europe following WWII as a result of the availability of formula. However, shared breast-feeding is still practised in a lot of developing countries and there is a growing small body of UK women that choose to practise shared breast-feeding.
Feeding bottles have been found across the world in a range of cultures from Ancient Egypt, Roman all the way up to modern day Europe. They were made from wood, horn, ceramic or glass. The first glass bottle was patented in 1841. There’s a whole museum of baby bottles with a website here. The image above is of a replica Roman glass feeding bottle. We tend to use plastic bottles today, although glass is making a come back for health reasons!
I don’t want to write an academic article, that’s too much like my work for my blog. If there is enough interest, I will of course, go off to the British Library and sit down and write one, with proper references and some photographs of bottles that I have seen in various museums. However, Ive done some Internet searches and found some useful sites which may be of interest:
and a couple of books:
+Wet nursing: a history from antiquity to the present Fildes, V Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988
+Breasts bottles and babies Fildes, V Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1986
So, there you go, I hope that if you are struggling with the breast-feeding dilemma you can take heart from the fact that women have been having the same issues for at least, the last two thousand years.