This week is everyone’s favourite international holiday…World Breastfeeding Week! The simple act of feeding babies is a routine as old as time itself and breastfeeding as a concept has a very long and complicated history which involves capitalism, condensed milk and obviously, the American Civil war. Come with me,
Dairy Daisy Edwards while we milk the history of breastfeeding for content!
Back in ye olden times (the 18th Century), only the poorest of peasants actually deigned to feed their babies from their own bosom. If you had expendable income, you would hire a lady called a wet nurse to breastfeed your baby for you. It was an extremely popular endeavour, to the point where wet nurse bureaus were established. If you couldn’t hire someone else or you struggled to breastfeed yourself, the alternatives were animal milks. If you are overwhelmed in a vegan coffee shop because of the never-ending list of milk substitutes these days, back in the 18th century, those guys were milking literally any animal they could get their hands on. Donkey milk was the most popular human milk substitute because they tasted the most similar, but this was quite dangerous as they didn’t know what germs or pasteurisation were yet.
In 1864, a scientist called Louis Pasteur humbly named a new process he had discovered after himself called pasteurisation. Physicians had discovered germs from gross, mouldy food actually caused disease and one of the mouldiest offenders was unfortunately milk, because it spoiled so quickly. Pasteur realised that milk kept at higher temperatures spoiled quicker than milk kept at lower temperatures. The public were suspicious of Pasteur’s idea but eventually accepted it, realising that those craving a milky fix were safer drinking pasteurised milk than unpasteurised. This meant fewer non-breast-fed babies were dying of diseases like TB and diphtheria-hooray!
War, power and…milk
During the American Civil War, soldiers were shipped milk in cans with all of the air condensed out. This was, unsurprisingly, called Condensed Milk, which became a very popular type of milk to feed babies for a century.
Milking the cash cow
In the 1950s, commercial baby formula had a boom in advertising and cans of it were flying off the shelves and into hungry babies’ mouths, knocking condensed milk off the top spot for milk alternatives for newborns. Formula was seen as closer to human milk than cow’s milk and was specially prepared to give babies’ all the yummy nutrients they need to grow. The advertising of formula was so successful that by the 1960s, only 25% of new mothers were breastfeeding their babies and most were using formula instead.
Breast is best
Capitalism accidentally went too far and in 1991, the WHO and UNICEF panicked about diminishing breastfeeding numbers and banded together to create a campaign called ‘Breast is best’. This was meant to encourage new mothers to breastfeed rather than formula feed their bundles of joy. The campaign put emphasis on the amazing nutrients that came from a mother’s breast. Because human beings are ridiculous, this somehow morphed into a way of shaming mothers who would not or could not breastfeed their babies, telling them that if they didn’t, their babies would be obese in adulthood or have low IQs. This mentality still unfortunately exists today, even though studies have been published that the correlation between breastfeeding and higher IQs is mostly false. A study proved that the same mother with two children, raised in exactly the same environment, but one was breastfed and the other wasn’t, had an IQ disparity of 0.02, which is almost zero. New mothers had to not only deal with the trauma of childbirth, post-partum and sleepless nights, but also the judgement of others if they had to formula feed for whatever reason.
Family looks very different in the modern world, sometimes babies are being raised in a household by mums who just can’t breastfeed or single dads who have no choice but to formula feed or disabled parents for whom breastfeeding proves too difficult or gay parents without the necessary tools for breastfeeding or adoptive parents who aren’t lactating. There’s a much more even parenting structure in place in a lot of modern households too, which means dads are spending more time with their babies now more than ever. Babies still need to be fed, even when there isn’t a spare boob around. It’s time to stop forcing ‘breast is best’ on new, emotional mums and people without the means to breastfeed. Let’s stop the shame surrounding formula feeding, after all the quality controls in modern labs are so good now, that there’s never been a better or more safe time to feed your baby with formula.
If you’re a new parent, the only thing that matters is that your baby has nutritious food in their tummy, it doesn’t matter how it got there. As a former baby myself, I’m rooting for you.