History of Breastfeeding

History of Breastfeeding

history of breastfeedingThe history of breastfeeding must have begun when the very first man & woman had their very first baby. How else would people feed their babies? Historically, breastfeeding was as common as eating and pooping – so why do I have a page dedicated to it?

Well, breastfeeding practices and conceptions change with time – sometimes it’s good to know where we came from so that we can see where we are going. [Photo by G Blanchard]

All mammals make & release milk from secretory glands – indeed, that is one of the criteria for being a mammal. Early humans (be it homo sapien or extinct species of hominids) are mammals and therefore probably breastfed their babies like all other mammals.

If a mother died (during child birth or otherwise), then the baby is left to die. Or depending on the social dynamics of the time, the baby may be fed & raised by other lactating women from the same tribe (called group nursing). If only one woman was feeding the baby, then it is called wet nursing.

Wet Nursing is when someone else breastfeeds your baby on a permanent basis. Cross Nursing is when someone else breastfeeds your baby on a temporary basis. Click the history of breastfeeding: wet/cross nursing to read about whether this is a safe practice or not.

If other lactating women were not available, then the motherless baby would die. Or, members of the tribe may try to feed the baby other food stuffs. And here, is the beginning of “formula” feeding.

In the past, different cultures fed a variety of things to babies – most were insufficient to support life and mortality rates were very high. In particular, baby bottles were not properly cleaned so that many babies died of infection. Click the history of breastfeeding: bottle feeding to read more.

Mothers and wet nurses have breastfed babies for hundreds of thousands of years. When necessary, a baby was fed milk from other animals such as cow or goat. Often, baby food consisted of sugar water, honey water, broth, and even wine. Sometimes finely ground grains such as oats, rice, or barley were added to the mix (called “pap”). Needless to say, many of these infants did not survive.

By the 1800’s scientists and doctors began to investigate what was needed in food mixes for babies to thrive. In 1867, the first commercially available baby food was created by Justus von Liebig. After that, many other kinds of baby formulas were made.

These formulas worked so well, that women began to use them instead of breastfeeding. Manufacturers promoted the baby formulas and suggested that the use of baby formulas was the modern (and better) way to feed babies. By 1950, more than half of the babies in the USA were fed some form of baby formula.

By the 1970’s, the pendulum began to swing back. Women felt the need to go back to the basics: to a more Earthy way of raising their children. Years of research showed that breast milk is best – it contains unique elements that are not found in any baby formulas. As well, women were better educated and made informed choices based on what was best and not what was trendy.

For the year 2010, the Surgeon General of USA hopes to have
• 75% of the babies breastfed when they leave the hospital;
• 50% of babies still on breast milk at 6 months of age, and
• 25% of babies still being breastfed after 1 year of age.
There is no law to enforce breastfeeding, but the above goals suggest that legislators recognize the benefits of breastfeeding and encourage it.