Breastfeeding has a unique and complicated history, from the employment of wet nurses to the adaptation of cow’s milk to create formula. Even now, women struggle to manage proper nourishment for their children. Breastfeeding mothers have long dealt with many challenging situations, resulting in a sordid past, but a promising future.
History of Wet Nurses
For thousands of years, upper-class women in society employed the services of wet nurses to help feed and care for their children. This enabled them to have more freedom. This changed throughout the centuries, however, with the preferred form of nutrition coming from the infant’s mother. Wet nurses were often called when mothers struggled to feed their children.
During the industrial revolution, with the urbanization of families and increased cost of living, it required women to turn to wet nurses again. For many, this profession was looked down upon, as women who were wet nurses were often destitute, and forced to abandon their own baby and provide sustenance for a wealthier one. The employment of wet nurses quickly waned due to the introduction of infant formula.
The Growing Use of Formula
Since the development of formula in the mid 1800s and its commercialization in the early 1900s, women have been able to choose whether to feed their children via breastmilk or formula. The freedom this provided to not only upper-class women, but women of all socioeconomic backgrounds, made a tremendous impact on the freedom of women.
Unfortunately, the first formulas created were somewhat unstable and nutrient deficient, leading to the death of many infants. By the 1970s, however, formula had become a staple in American culture, with almost 80% of women exclusively formula feeding their children.
This large number may be associated with the cultural revolution happening at the time, with a strong feminist movement. It was in 1969 that the first bra-burnings happened, as women sought to free themselves from the restraint society placed on them. This growing empowerment movement correlates to low breastfeeding numbers.
When Lactation Consultants Were Introduced
In the early 1970s, IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) were introduced in an effort to educate women about the benefits of breastfeeding and provide personalized breastfeeding support. The push for this was orchestrated by the National Council of Churches’ Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and the Infant Formula Action Coalition.
The numbers began to decrease, and as a result infant formula manufacturers began to market their products in 1988. Then, in 1990, the American Academy of Pediatrics finally fought back and stressed the health benefits of breastfeeding.
How Lactation Consultants Benefit Breastfeeding Women Today
Today, just over 60% of women choose to breastfeed their children, with this number dropping to 26% by 6 months. The reason for this decrease is associated with problems with latching, not producing enough milk for the infant, sore nipples, or infected breasts (mastitis), however, working with an IBCLC can help you address any breastfeeding difficulties you may be experiencing, offer advice on breastfeeding positions and techniques, and provide education and resources to help you make informed decisions about your breastfeeding journey.
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The modern goal of an IBCLC is to help women achieve their breastfeeding goals and provide sufficient support and education to make these goals possible. The purpose of a lactation consultant is not to convince you to breastfeed, but to provide you with the best options and personalized lactation care that will meet the individual needs of both the lactating parent and baby.
The unique history of breastfeeding is quite sordid and sad. Fortunately, through science, technology, education, and proper support, women are able to safely provide nourishment to their infant children. Regardless of how a mother chooses to feed her infant, she is sure to find support, guidance, and care when she works with a well-trained IBCLC who can help lactating parents achieve their breastfeeding goals through personalized lactation care