Learn All About The History of Breastfeeding

Learn All About The History of Breastfeeding

The history of breastfeeding must have begun when the very first man & woman had their very first baby. How else would people feed their babies? Well not exactly. Breastfeeding is a practice that has been around for thousands of years, but it’s not as old as you might think. In fact, breastfeeding didn’t begin until the Paleolithic era, when humans started living in small groups and had to develop survival strategies that helped them stay together and care for each other during times of scarcity.

Breastfeeding history - animals

History of Breastfeeding – wet and cross nursing

All mammals make & release milk from secretory glands – indeed, that is one of the criteria for being a mammal. Early humans (be it homo sapiens or extinct species of hominids) are mammals and therefore probably breastfed their babies like all other mammals. The earliest evidence of breastfeeding comes from the Paleolithic period, when cave paintings show women breastfeeding their children.

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. 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.

History of breastfeeding

History of Breastfeeding – formula rise

In the past, different cultures fed a variety of things to babies – most were unfortunately insufficient to support life. The mortality rates back then were very high. In particular, baby bottles were also not properly cleaned so that many babies died of infection.

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 (that’s interesting). 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.

In medieval times, women didn’t have access to formula or other substitutes so they fed their children what they could get: milk from cows or goats; fermented milk products like yogurt and cheese; bread soaked in milk; dried fruit soaked in water; porridge made with water and milk; or sweetened water.

History of breastfeeding – Newest times

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 them was the modern (and better) way to feed babies. By 1950, more than half of the babies in the USA were fed with some form of baby formula. Again good marketing can do the wonders.

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. We can’t compete with nature. 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 breastmilk 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.

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