Cracking Open a Cold One With the… Wet Nurses?

If there is one topic that probably deserves a lot more history books, it’s certainly motherhood. After all, it is the act that has single-handedly insured pretty much all of humanity.

However, the history of motherhood is not without its studies. Even the most seemingly unimportant aspects of having a baby ( in the United States alone) have been studied and researched. It’s really quite interesting to see how the culture of motherhood has changed throughout history.

However, this also means that there are bound to be some pretty funny gags in the history of motherhood: While it’s now common knowledge that breastfeeding mothers should not consume any alcohol, back in the late XVIII and early XIX century, it was believed that alcohol would improve milk production!

But don’t start imagining a bunch of drunk mamas feeding their newborn children! During this time (and in the United States) most mothers that could have hired a wet nurse rather than feeding their children themselves. Some wet nurses would be forced to consume alcohol by their employees.

But, despite the popularity of these myths, some doctors and maternity magazines called out the myth behind this practice. This, however, did not stop many employees from making their baby’s wet nurses “ to drink beer and take hearty foods”. As time passed, the myth that alcohol would help breastmilk production began to die out.  The practice of hiring wet nurses would also begin to disappear in  XXth century when selling breast milk replaced it as a more profitable business.

 

Source: Golden, Janet. A Social History of Wet Nursing in America: from Breast to Bottle. Ohio State University Press, 2001.

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