Historical Advice on Breastfeeding in Honor of World Breastfeeding Week

By Becky Filner, Head of Cataloging

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“Mother nursing twins simultaneously.”  From Reginald Charles Jewesbury’s Mothercraft, antenatal and postnatal.

World Breastfeeding Week – August 1-7, 2016 – seeks to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding. How was breastfeeding regarded in the past? To answer this question, I consulted books on child rearing from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century.

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Title page, William Buchan’s 1804 Advice to Mothers.

The earliest book I looked at, Dr. William Buchan’s 1804 Advice to Mothers, on the Subject of Their Own Health; and on the Means of Promoting the Health, Strength, and Beauty, of Their Offspring, is extremely critical of women who do not breastfeed:

Unless the milk….finds the proper vent, it will not only distend and inflame the breasts, but excite a great degree of fever in the whole system… It may be said, that there are instances without number, of mothers who enjoy perfect health, though they never suckled their children. I positively deny the assertion; and maintain, on the contrary, that a mother, who is not prevented by any particular weakness or disease from discharging that duty, cannot neglect it without material injury to her constitution.1

At the end of the 19th century, Dr. Genevieve Tucker’s Mother, Baby, and Nursery: A Manual for Mothers (1896) also strongly advocates breastfeeding:

Every mother who has health sufficient to mature a living child ought, if possible, to nurse it from her own breast. Her own health requires it, as the efforts of the child to draw the milk causes the uterus to contract, and nothing else will take its place to her infant.2

Much of her other advice seems outdated now, including her claim that “nursing babies suffer from too frequent nursing” and her suggestion to nurse “as seldom as possible at night.” Perhaps strangest to modern ears is her analysis of a woman’s ability to nurse based on her physical and emotional state:

Different temperaments and constitutions in women have great influence in the quantity and quality of milk. The richest milk is secreted by brunettes with well developed muscles, fresh complexions, and moderate plumpness. Nervous, lymphatic, and fair-complexioned women, with light or auburn hair, flabby muscles, and sluggish movements, as a rule, secrete poor milk. Rheumatic women secrete acid milk, which causes colic, diarrhea, and marasmus in the child.3

Tucker also suggests that a nursing mother should be producing a whopping forty-four ounces of breast milk every twenty-four hours.

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Breastfeeding baby, from Stella B. Applebaum’s Baby, A Mother’s Manual, published ca. 1946.

Dr. Charles Gilmore Kerley in his Short Talks with Young Mothers: On the Management of Infants and Young Children  wrote in the early 19th century that contemporary pressures on women hinder their breastfeeding abilities:

A mother, to nurse her child successfully, must be a happy, contented woman… The American women of our large cities assume the cares and responsibilities of life equally with men. Among the so-called higher classes, — those who have all that wealth and position can give, — there is a constant struggle for social pre-eminence. Among the majority of the so-called middle classes the contest for wealth and place never ceases from the moment the school days begin until death or infirmity closes the scene. Among the poor there are the ceaseless toil, the struggle for food and shelter, the care of the sick, and the frequent deaths of little ones in the family whom they are unable properly to care for. In all classes, therefore, the conditions of life are such as seriously to interfere with the normal function of nursing, no matter how excellent may be the mother’s physical condition.4

This emphasis on a woman’s mind being at rest is repeated in much of the early 20th- century literature on breastfeeding.

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“Hungry!” from Myrtle M. Eldred and Helen Cowles Le Cron’s For the Young Mother, 1921. p. 31.

Most of the books from the first few decades of the 20th century contain a passage about keeping the breasts and nipples clean. Kerley and others recommend washing the nipples (and even the child’s mouth!) with a solution of boracic (boric) acid. Myrtle M. Eldred and Helen Cowles Le Cron write in For the Young Mother (1921) that “the breasts are tender and easily infected at first, so that the boric acid acts as a cleanser to protect the baby from possible germs and as a preventive of abscessed breasts.5”Boric acid, though it is sometimes used as an antiseptic, is toxic to humans if taken internally or inhaled in large quantities. Other books recommend rinsing the breasts with hot water prior to nursing.6

Many books also contain lists of foods the nursing mother should and should not eat. Dr. Anne Newton, in her Mother and Baby: Helpful Suggestions Concerning Motherhood and the Care of Children (1912), advises mothers to practice “sacrifice and self-denial” in eating meals, and to avoid rich and seasoned foods altogether.7 Newton specifies that mothers should eat “nothing about which there is any question of fermentation. Such vegetables as cabbage, turnips, cauliflower, and tomatoes should not be given until the baby is four months old at least, and even then certain things may cause discomfort and cannot be indulged until the child is weaned.8” Dr. Thomas Gray, in Common Sense and the Baby: A Book for Mothers, notes that the breastfeeding mother should “eat an abundance of wholesome, nutritious food; avoid indigestible pastries and salads. Take sparingly of tea and coffee. Drink freely cocoa and milk. Eat fruits – not acid.9”  Some more recent books are much less rigid about the mother’s diet. Dr. Dorothy Whipple, writing in 1944, is less cautious, and argues that there’s very little a mother can eat that harms a nursing baby, mentioning only certain foods like onions that may, in breast milk, deter babies with its “unusual taste.10

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A mother breastfeeding and a selection of foods recommended for the breastfeeding mother, taken from Stella B. Applebaum’s Baby:  A Mother’s Manual (1946).

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Front cover of the New York City Health Department’s The Care of Baby, 1932.

None of the books I consulted recommended breastfeeding to two years or beyond, the WHO’s current recommendation on breastfeeding. Most books recommend weaning the baby between eight and fourteen months of age.  The New York City Department of Health warns against weaning in summer because of the risk of spoiled cow’s milk:

If possible, do not wean your baby during the hot summer months…. If you are well, it will not harm you to nurse your child until the dangerous, hot weather is over. This precaution may mean saving your child’s life.”11

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“One of life’s richest experiences,” from Dorothy Whipple’s Our American Babies, published in 1944.

Another common thread in the literature about breastfeeding is an emphasis on the pleasure and health benefits experienced by the nursing mother.  According to Tucker, “under the right conditions of lactation, … the mother should thrive and even grow stout.12” Others emphasize that breastfeeding will help the mother “get her ‘good figure’ back much more quickly than the mother who doesn’t nurse” because “nursing causes the uterus or womb to contract.13” Stella Applebaum provides this summary of the mother-baby nursing relationship:

Mother’s milk is the perfect baby food. From a healthy mother’s clean nipples, this pure, fresh, warm, nourishing, digestible food is delivered, germ-free, directly into the baby’s mouth. At the same time mother’s milk protects him against certain diseases. Suckling at the breast makes the baby feel close to his mother, happy, and secure.

Nursing benefits you, too. It stimulates the uterus to contract to normal size and contributes to your personal enjoyment and contentment. Propped in a comfortable chair or bed, you share a uniquely satisfying experience with your baby.14

Other writers underscore the vital role nursing plays in strengthening the emotional bonds between mother and child.   Buchan writes in 1804 that “the act itself is attended with sweet, thrilling, and delightful sensations of which those only who have felt them can form any idea.15” Dorothy Whipple has the last word:

…to sit in a comfortable chair and hold a little snuggling baby in your arms, to watch him grab that nipple with all the fury of his tiny might and suck and work away until he reaches that complete satisfaction that comes to a baby with a full stomach is one of the pleasantest sensations in life.16

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A mother and her baby breastfeeding while lying down, from Louise Zabriskie’s Mother and Baby Care in Pictures, published in 1941.

References

1.  Buchan, William. Advice to Mothers, on the Subject of Their Own Health; and on the Means of Promoting the Health, Strength, and Beauty, of Their Offspring. Philadelphia: John Bioren, 1804, p. 75-76.

2-3. Tucker, Genevieve. Mother, Baby, and Nursery: A Manual for Mothers. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1896, p. 85-87.

4. Kerley, Chalres Gilmore. Short Talks with Young Mothers: On the Management of Infants and Young Children. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904, p. 13-15.

5.  Eldred, Myrtle M. For the Young Mother. Chicago: The Reilly & Lee Co., 1921, p. 37.

6.  Kenyon, Josephine Hemenway. Healthy Babies Are Happy Babies: A Complete Handbook for Modern Mothers. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1934, p. 55-56; Zabriskie, Louise. Mother and Baby Care In Pictures. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1941, p. 131.

7.  Newton, Anne B. Mother and Baby: Helpful Suggestions Concerning Motherhood and the Care of Children. Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co., 1912, p. 74.

8.  Ibid., p. 78.

9.  Gray, Thomas N. Common Sense and the Baby: A Book for Mothers. New York: the Bewick Press, 1907, p. 39.

10. Whipple, Dorothy V. Our American Babies: The Art of Baby Care. New York: M. Barrows and Company, Inc., 1944, p. 139.

11.  New York City Department of Health. The Care of Baby. New York: Department of Health, 1932, p. 10.

12. Tucker, p. 86.

13. NYC Dept. of Health. The Care of Baby, p. 5.

14. Applebaum, Stella B. Baby: A Mother’s Manual. Chicago and New York: Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, 1946.

15. Buchan, p. 79.

16. Whipple, p. 122.

The Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room – the panoramic view

The Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room captured by Ardon Bar-Hama.

The Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room captured by Ardon Bar-Hama. Click for the full panoramic experience.

The Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room has reopened. Renovations improved environmental conditions for the collections, including a new HVAC system, restored the historic windows, and a return to the cork floor’s former glory. We are once again welcoming readers and visitors to the room and were delighted to have the chance to host the wonderful Ardon Bar-Hama, who kindly captured the space in its full panoramic glory. Click through on the image to see the interactive (and highly zoom-able) panoramic view.

A Ceroplast at NYAM

In today’s guest post, the artist Sigrid Sarda tells us how historical collections inform her work. Visitors to our Festival of Medical History & the Arts may have seen her moulages in person, and be sure to visit her blog for information on exhibitions and more of her fabulous work.

Earlier this year, I began researching the collections at the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health. I am an artist/ceroplast, which means wax modeler. The resources I discovered at the Center have been of great inspiration to my work.

Sigrid Sarda, "MRSA," 2013. Wax, Human Hair, Life-size.

Sigrid Sarda, “MRSA,” 2013. Wax, Human Hair, Life-size.

First, let me tell you about myself. For over 30 years I was a painter. Due to the death of my father and the psychological aftermath I experienced, I ceased painting. In its place, the obsession of the wax figure came into being. Since I was completely self-taught and only worked in this medium for a few years, it was necessary to learn more about its technique and history. Having always had a fascination with religious icons, the body (particularly skin), diseases, and later on death, as well as incorporating human remains such as teeth, bone, and hair in my work, I realized I needed a better understanding of the aesthetics and techniques of wax used in creating these life-size figures and medical moulages.

While exhibiting a waxwork in New York City, I met up with Lisa O’Sullivan, director of the Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health at NYAM, and Arlene Shaner, reference librarian and acting curator for historical collections. After discussing the exhibited piece and my ambitions working in wax Dr. O’Sullivan invited me to explore NYAM’s collections. This was an opportunity not to be missed!

Upon arriving at NYAM, I was directed to the 3rd floor of the massive Romanesque building where Arlene welcomed me. Delightful, funny, and knowledgeable, she made me immediately comfortable in the surroundings of the library and excited to view the books housed in the collection. She checked out my waxwork, we geeked out on ceroplasts, and spoke about other artists whose work dealt with death such as Joyce Cutler-Shaw.

On my second visit, filled with anticipation, I found myself greeted by marvelous books and an actual anatomical wax moulage of a diseased infant. After the initial perusal of my work, Arlene knew what was needed for my research: anatomical images and techniques, and had the books waiting for me in the formidable reading room. As a bonus she brought out the works of M. Gautier D’Agoty, the 18th-century French artist and anatomical illustrator. I pored over both heavily illustrated and non-illustrated books for hours, amassing information for future waxworks. There is truly nothing like the feel of a beautiful book in your hands. The library has become quite the addiction, what with the wonderful staff and superb collection!

Below are images from D’Agoty and various books consulted at NYAM, and above is one of my wax moulages.

Congratulations, Captioners!

At our Festival of Medical History and the Arts on October 5, we asked attendees to submit captions for three images from items in our collection. Today, we’re happy to announce the winners of the competition, who will receive high-quality prints of the captioned image. We’ve included original captions with the images, where available, to help show how they appear in context (although the Festival attendees did not get to see them).

The first image comes from William Cheselden’s Osteographia, or The Anatomy of the Bones, published in London in 1733. Linda Kleinman wrote the winning caption.

“I’ve had enough of your lip!”

I’ve had enough of your lip!

The second image appears in Konrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalium Liber IIII, published in Zurich in 1558. Samuel Luterbacher wrote the winning caption.

“I knew I should have never trusted Dr. Moreau.”

I knew I should have never trusted Dr. Moreau.

The final image, produced by Egbert van Heemskerck II circa 1730, appears in the George Osborne Mitchell Medical Scrapbook. This picture inspired the strongest pool of captions. But Iana Dikidjieva’s caption stood out from the pack.

“It appears to have been curiosity.”

“It appears to have been curiosity.”

Congratulations to the winners!

Winsome Fetal Skeletons Bearing Scythes: Monro’s Traité d’ostéologie of 1759: Guest post by Morbid Anatomy

A note from the Center for the History of Medicine & Public Health: This is the last post in Morbid Anatomy‘s guest series leading up to our Festival of Medical History and the Arts. If you’ve enjoyed these posts as much as we have, don’t despair! Tomorrow’s event holds a full day of lectures and activities from Morbid Anatomy, Lawrence Weschler, and the Center. We hope you can make it! See the full schedule here.

FrontispieceThe NYAM rare book collection holds a gorgeous copy of the first French edition of Alexander Monro’s (1697–1767) celebrated Traité d’ostéologie (or “Anatomy of Bones”). Monro was trained in London, Paris, and Leiden before going on to become the first professor of anatomy at the newly established University of Edinburgh. It was under his leadership, and that of his successors, that the school went on to become a renowned center of medical learning.

Monro originally published this book without images, thinking them unnecessary after William Cheselden’s lavishly heavily-illustrated Osteographia, or the anatomy of the bones of 1733 (more on that book at this recent post). The very fine copperplates you see here were added to the French edition by its translator, the anatomist Jean-Joseph Sue (1710–1792).

My favorite image in the book is a kind of memento mori–themed tableau morte of winsome, scythe-bearing fetal skeletons enigmatically arranged in a funereal landscape (images 1–3). I also love the frontispiece in which a group of plump putti proffer anatomical atlases and dissecting tools under the oversight of a skeletal bird (above).

This post was written by Joanna Ebenstein of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series; click here to find out more. All images are my own, photographed at the New York Academy of Medicine.

A Renaissance Man at Work: Volcher Coiter’s “Externarum et internarum principalium humani corporis” of 1573: Guest post by Morbid Anatomy

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One under-seen and fascinating book to be found in the NYAM rare book collection is Externarum et internarum principalium humani corporis partium tabulae published by Dutch Renaissance man Volcher Coiter (1534–1576) in 1573. Not only was Coiter renowned as an anatomist, surgeon, and physician accomplished in the fields of physiology, ornithology, and embryology; not only did he establish the study of comparative osteology and describe cerebrospinal meningitis before any of his peers; he was also an artist, and signed many of the finely drawn copper engravings in his books, including those you see here.

 

All images are my own, photographed at the New York Academy of Medicine, save the painted portrait of Coiter, which was sourced here. The caption, attributed to Dorothy M. Schullian, reads: “Coiter’s portrait (1575) in oils, attributed to Nicolas Neufchatel and representing him demonstrating the muscles of the arm, with the écorché he had constructed on his left and a shelf of medical classics behind him, is preserved in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, at Nuremberg; there are later portraits at Weimar and Amsterdam.” (source for caption here)

Sources: Lessico Volcher CoiterWikipedia

This post was written by Joanna Ebenstein of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series; click here to find out more.

Remmelin’s Dissectible Cosmic Anatomical Extravaganza: Guest post by Morbid Anatomy

Johan Remmelin (1583–1632) was town physician of Ulm and Plague physician of Augsberg. He was also the man behind both the concept and the original drawings (engraved by Lucas Kilian) for the ingenious moving-parts anatomical extravaganza Catoptrum microcosmicum, published in 1619, with numerous editions in many languages thereafter.  NYAM has both the 1619 and a 1639 edition in its rare book collection

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This astounding book—in which flaps of paper can be drawn back to virtually dissect the human body—features a heady blend of the anatomical, the theological, and the metaphysical, beautifully expressing the worldview of Natural Philosophy, that precursor to science, which oversaw investigations into the human body in the early modern era. In this worldview, God and man, metaphor and the encountered world, were indivisible; the human being was the microcosm of all creation, so to understand the secrets of the human body would be to know the mind of God. Accordingly, as explained by Martin Kemp and Marina Wallace in their book Spectacular Bodies:

The purpose of anatomical images during the period from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century had as much to do with what we would call aesthetic and theological understanding as with the narrower intentions of medical illustration as now understood. . . .They were not simply instructional diagrams for the doctor technician, but statements about the nature of human beings as made by God in the context of the created world as a whole [as well as] the nature of life and death. . . .

It should not be surprising, then, that the dissectible humans herein are inextricably entwined with images of Jesus Christ (image 9,17); memento mori mottos (16) and imagery (images 12, 17); allusions to God and the angels (image 1); and even the head of the devil, serving as a kind of fig leaf covering the female sex organs in one instance (image 2). There are also numerous biblical references, including a serpent slithering through a human skull holding a branch from the tree of knowledge in its mouth (image 13), lest we forget that original sin introduced death and disease into our world in the first place; without it, we would still be luxuriating in Eden with no need for medicine, or, by extension, books such as this one. The book also contains the occasional inadvertent (?) eroticism, as the peeling back of obscuring layers brings you, in a sort of pre-modern striptease, to the unveiled sexual organs below (image 14 and 15).

If you page through all of the images below, you will get a sense of the carnivalesque exuberance and dynamism of this book; you can also virtually dissect them yourself by clicking here, or here, compliments of The Hardin Library of The University of Iowa, which was also a source for much of the factual content of this piece.

This post was written by Joanna Ebenstein of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series; click here to find out more. All images are my own, photographed at the New York Academy of Medicine.

William Cowper’s Myotomia reformata: or an anatomical treatise on the muscles of the human body, Guest Post by Morbid Anatomy

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William Cowper (c. 1666–1709) was a British surgeon and anatomist best known today for describing “Cowper’s Gland,” part of the genito-urinary system. He has also been described by at least one scholar as “the first of the surgeon-scientists of Great Britain… the first to bring the power of the experimental method to bear on practical surgical problems… [anticipating] the celebrated Hunterian school of surgery by more than half a century.” (In the last half of the 18th century, famous London surgeon John Hunter made his reputation in part by advocating for the scientific method in medicine.)

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Cowper’s book Myotomia reformata: or an anatomical treatise on the muscles of the human body, first published in 1694 (NYAM’s copy is from 1724), is filled with grimly literal anatomical and dissection-themed initial capital letters, and charming, if somewhat rough, illustrations.

This post was written by Joanna Ebenstein of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series; click here to find out more.

William Cheselden’s Memento Mori and Skeletons at Prayer: Guest Post by Morbid Anatomy

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William Cheselden (1688–1752) is remembered today as one of the greatest English surgeons; he was surgeon to Queen Caroline, wife of King George II, to whom he dedicated the wonderful, epically scaled book Osteographia, or the anatomy of the bones  (1733), which is described by the NYAM Library as “one of the finest of English works containing anatomic illustrations.” The copperplate images were done by Cheselden and his engravers, Gerard van der Gucht and Mr. Shinevoet, with the use of the camera obscura—a pre-photographic drawing aid; this is delightfully alluded to in this wonderful image featured on the title page (images 1 & 2) .

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The book is best known for its large scale and exquisite renderings of skeletons brandishing bones (image 3); leaning on skulls (image 4); with “the same proportions with the venus de Medicis” (image 5); “in the same proportions and attitude with the Belvidere Apollo” (image 6); or, most famously of all, “the side view of the skeleton of a very robust man” at prayer (image 7).

Less seen—yet equally delightful—are the wonderfully imaginative anatomically-themed initial capital letters (8-12); the playful chapter openers (13-19); the memento-mori themed end piece (30); and delicately exquisite animal skeletons (20-22) which fill the book. Despite—or perhaps because of—these luxurious touches, this large-scale atlas was a financial failure.

This post was written by Joanna Ebenstein of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series; click here to find out more.

Jacques Gamelin’s Marauding Skeletons and Écorché Crucifixions: Guest Post by Morbid Anatomy

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I was so excited to finally have the opportunity to pore over a book in the NYAM collection which I had long admired from afar: Jacques Gamelin‘s beautiful and lavish Nouveau recueil d’osteologie et de myologie (“New collection of osteology and mycology”) of 1779. This book, as explained to me by Arlene Shaner—acting curator and reference librarian for historical collections, at NYAM—was intended as a large scale, deluxe manual for artists interested in understanding human anatomy in order to create more convincing depictions of human figures.

The meat of the book, as it were, is a collection of extremely virtuosic anatomical renderings (12-15) showing skinned—or écorché—human figures in a variety of poses. But what is much more interesting—at least to me—is the assortment of animated skeletons which fill the opening pages; these fanciful figures are engaging in such activities as waking up in a cemetery to the trumpet of the resurrection (text reading: surgite mortui venite ad judicium, or “Rise up, come to the judgment of the dead”; image 6); brandishing anatomical drawings in what looks to be a dissection room littered with bones (3); and raping and pillaging the parties of fashionably bewigged lords and ladies (9, 10). I am also very drawn images playing on biblical themes, such as a calm Saint Bartholomew being flayed alive (an old staple of anatomical illustration; image 11), and a skinned and anatomized Christ on the cross (12) which evokes this more literal rendition, cast from a convicted murderer just a few decades after this book was published.

Interestingly, Gamelin is best remembered today not for this book, but as a painter and engraver of battle scenes, genre scenes, and portraits. He dedicated this book to his mentor, a certain Baron de Puymaurin (image 1 and 2), who had recognized Gamelin’s artistic abilities and funded his training when his father refused to do so. It is thought that Gamelin funded the book himself after inheriting a great deal of money upon his father’s death, which perhaps accounts for its delightful eccentricity.

This post was written by Joanna Ebenstein of the Morbid Anatomy blog, library and event series; click here to find out more.