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3 Bumps

Before formula was invented....

What did mothers do if they could not breastfeed? This is not to start a breastmilk vs formula debate, just an honest question.


Asked by cdecker83 at 10:26 AM on Jun. 17, 2011 in Babies (0-12 months)

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Answers (21)
  • A) there is less than 2% of the ENTIRE WORLD'S population of women who "can't" breastfeed.

    B) there was usually another lactating woman near by who was willing to nurse the infant.

    C) if there was not another lactating woman near by, goat's milk is often substituted. Though it is not as nutritionally sound as human milk, it is the easiest for us to digest. (Opposed to cow's milk, which is one of THE hardest milks to digest).

    Answer by ObbyDobbie at 10:29 AM on Jun. 17, 2011

  • having a 'wet nurse' was an option that was used. Or family helping with nursing if that was an option (sisters having babies around the same time)

    Answer by But_Mommie at 10:28 AM on Jun. 17, 2011

  • Goats milk, cows milk, found another breastfeeding mother, or made their own "formula" (condensed milk and some other stuff, I have no idea what went in it) - but the infant mortality rate was high.

    Answer by missanc at 10:29 AM on Jun. 17, 2011

  • In the Bible, Moses had a wet nurse when he was found floating in the river. This was a very common thing that was done. Many women died in childbirth and a wet nurse could nurse up to 8 infants. (This is where the word 'nurse' comes from.) Bottles were invented in the mid 1800's and often had disastrous results as germs hadn't been discovered yet. Many infants died from infections from unsanitary handling of bottles and breast milk substitutes.

    From a statistical standpoint, about 1% of women will not experience breast changes during pregnancy and will be unable to produce milk. This is a genetic condition. These families either found wet nurses or their infant children starved. So, nature had a way to select that the trait not get passed on.

    Answer by JSD24 at 10:56 AM on Jun. 17, 2011

  • I agree with Obby only 2% or so can literally not breast feed. There was A LOT more support for nursing back then so A LOT more women were able to overcome nursing hardships. Plus there was no 'stigma' attached to it. That was how babies were fed- breast milk. In these times it has become where formula is encouraged for moms and babies who are having a hard time adjusting( by peds/family/friends/ect...) and formula allowed the stigma of public breast feeding to exist.
    (This is not a bash on formula feeding mothers- these days it is a choice, a valid choice since formula has come such a long way- they are always working to improve it, above it just my opinion on why so few women had issues with breast feeding in the past.)

    Answer by But_Mommie at 10:37 AM on Jun. 17, 2011

  • Waaay back when, mothers would chew the food and then give it to the babies. Then when things started coming out to crush or grind the food, they would give the babies whatever they were eating for their meals. It really does not cause problems with the babies unless you are not feeding them nutriciously. All of mine got real food from the get go. It saved the oldest's life. Of course I didn't chew it!

    Answer by attap5 at 10:29 AM on Jun. 17, 2011

  • Good question, I actually never thought about that but am super curious now.

    Answer by mitchellb at 10:28 AM on Jun. 17, 2011

  • I just figured everyone breastfed back then.

    Answer by jenn4443 at 10:29 AM on Jun. 17, 2011

  • A lot of women used karo, evaporated milk and water mixed together, or a similar recipe.

    Answer by MegMurry at 10:45 AM on Jun. 17, 2011

  • MegMurry is right for recently- MIL used the evaporated milk and karo formula back 50 years ago-- but way back when (prior to the 1900s) it was generally milks, which were not pasteurised, or wet nursing as has been mentioned before. Absurdly high mortality prior to the 1900s (exact dates, I forget), except with wet nurses, but IIRC, wet nursing was very proscribed, because it was thought that many of the qualities of the nurse (I'm thinking even education & morality) were supposed to be communicated.

    There was a lot more support. Fewer breast surgeries. Way fewer drugs that disallow breastfeeding. All of which make it harder now for many women, so way more than the 2-5% who couldn't back then, can't now. And while many, many women worked, it was generally not in an office as now.

    Answer by Tracys2 at 10:53 AM on Jun. 17, 2011