The Perceptions of Pregnancy blog, like the Researchers’ Network, aims to reach beyond boundaries and borders, and to facilitate an international and interdisciplinary conversation on pregnancy and its associated bodily and emotional experiences from the medieval to the modern. Today’s post is contributed by Jessica Cox and examines Victorian debates about breast feeding.
Breast or Bottle? A Victorian Debate
In twenty-first century Britain, women are more likely to breast feed if they are educated beyond the age of eighteen, work in professional occupations, and live in less deprived areas. This marks a distinct shift from the early to mid-nineteenth century, when women from higher socio-economic groups often eschewed the practice of nursing their own children – though the relatively common practice of employing wet nurses meant many of these children were still breastfed. Queen Victoria is a case in point: she refused to nurse her nine children herself, and was disgusted when her two eldest daughters elected to breastfeed. In a letter to her second daughter, Princess Alice, she wrote:
[A] child can never be as well nursed by a lady of rank and nervous and refined temperament – for the less feeling and more like an animal the wet nurse is, the better for the child