Baby formula is an actual miracle

If the birthing parent could not breastfeed, for whatever reason, the family sought out other sources of breast milk. In the 17th and 18th centuries, most women spent decades pregnant or nursing, which meant that friends, neighbors, or relatives commonly nursed one another’s children. The wealthy could afford wet nurses, either enslaved or paid servants, who breastfed others’ children under the most tragic of circumstances, something that has been well documented by the historians Stephanie E. Jones-Rogers, Marissa C. Rhodes, and Janet Golden. Though some nurses were available because their infant had already died, others nursed their enslavers’ or clients’ children at the expense of their own, many of whom starved.

Parents who could not afford a wet nurse turned to alternative baby foods. In early modern Europe and early America, caregivers mixed animal milk, water, or broth with flour, bread, or other grains, much like the Wabanaki blend of nut milk and cornmeal.

Such foods would have offered hydration and calories, but these benefits could come at a terrible cost. Spoiled or contaminated with pathogens in the days before modern food-safety standards, alternative infant foods could be deadly. Even at their best, they were rarely nutritionally sufficient for a child. Hanson’s experience of a baby thriving on an alternative diet was the exception, not the rule.

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