Wet nursing, or breast feeding another's child for money, is one of the oldest occupations open to women. This book is a history of these substitute mothers from earliest times to the present. Valerie Fildes examines wet nursing practices in ancient societies such as Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Graeco-Roman world; medieval and renaissance Europe; Europe and America since the 17th-century; and in the modern world, including the Third World. She explores the relationship between infants, their nurses and their natural mothers; its occupational diseases, in particular the transmission of syphyllis; its effect on birth rates; the changes brought about by discoveries in medicine and infant feeding, and the impact of industrialisation on nursing practices. Drawing on a wide range of sources - religious texts; parish records; archives of foundling hospitals; legislation and contracts; diaries, letters and autobiographies; and literature and newspapers - with extensive contemporary illustrations, Valerie Fildes not only contrasts the attitudes and practices found in different cultures, and explores the social, economic and demographic effects of wet nursing; she creates a vivid portrait of this fundamental human relationship. This work should be of interest to social historians and specialists in women's studies, as well as general readers.
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