In the Netherlands in the nineteenth century, busy moms were less likely to breastfeed their children
According to a study published on April 13, 2022 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Andrea L. Waters-Rist of the University of Western Ontario and colleagues, a 19th century rural Dutch town had exceptionally low rates of breastfeeding, perhaps because mothers were busy working.
Artificial infant feeding, as opposed to nursing, is a relatively new technique, occurring far less frequently before the emergence of commercially available alternatives to breast milk.
Breastfeeding behaviors, on the other hand, have been found to vary greatly with regional cultural diversity in studies of previous populations in Europe.
Researchers look at a 19th-century dairy farming rural hamlet in the Netherlands to see whether certain characteristics are associated with reduced breastfeeding rates.
Breastfeeding alters the stable carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios in newborns’ bones. Researchers examined isotopic signatures in the bones of 277 people from Beemster, North Holland, including over 90 newborns and children.
When they looked at the town, they found very little evidence of breastfeeding, which is unusual because this town has a lot in common with other breastfeeding communities of the time, like having a Protestant population with a middle-class income and moms who worked in or near their homes.
Because previous data suggests that dairy farmers were common in 19th century Beemster, the researchers believe that a heavy job and a convenient supply of cow’s milk as an alternative infant food source were major contributors to the low breastfeeding rates.
Mothers who worked long industrial shifts were shown to have poor breastfeeding rates at a few urban archaeological sites, but a similar problem has yet to be discovered in a rural community.
Future research in other locations will help to clarify how regional cultural traditions influenced breastfeeding rates over time, as well as how these factors influenced infant health in recent centuries.
The authors continue, “The practice of artificially feeding newborns is not new. Because of the availability of fresh cow’s milk and the high demands on female work, female dairy farmers in the Netherlands preferred not to breastfeed or wean their infants at an early age.