Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding

Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding

Alli - November 2, 2017

Women’s breasts are a bone of contention in most cultures; revealing the nipple in some societies is even considered a taboo. Over-sexualizing breasts has led to enormous debates in recent years on whether or not a woman should be permitted to breastfeed in public. Arguments against allowing public exposure of breasts for a child’s nutritional need include indecency and relating breasts to be sexual objects. However, many experts and even the general population agree that the nutritional value of breastfeeding is significant.

Women who support public breastfeeding- particularly in American and European cultures- argue this stance is hypocritical. Walking down the streets, you see more breasts in advertisements than Kentucky Fried Chicken ever imagined. A study from the US Attorney General analyzed data from a national public opinion survey in 2001. Although the overwhelming majority agreed that breastfeeding was important for a child, 57 percent of US adults believed women should not have the right to breastfeed in public places and should even be kicked out of stores and restaurants if caught.

This mindset of not exposing breasts in public may seem like a “traditional” value, but I’m here to show you that stigmatizing breastfeeding is a very recent fad. In fact, during the Victorian Era, there was a craze of women posing for photos while breastfeeding. Sometimes, breastfeeding mothers were even featured on postcards- without an envelope! Gasp! The following photographs were taken during the 1840s-1890s and show that breastfeeding in public and private was once considered a beautiful part of life and motherhood.

Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Small framed print of mother breastfeeding. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
A young mother embraces the role of breastfeeding her infant. Women in America were much more likely to breastfeed their children than use a wet nurse. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Posing for photographs while breastfeeding became a fad during the Victorian Era. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
In Europe, it was much more common for women to employ wet nurses for their babies. Vintage Everyday.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding your own child became a central measure of your worth as a mother. Vintage Everyday.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
The beauty of the breastfeeding mother was fully embraced. Vintage Everyday.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Cultural constructions of femininity became highly centered on motherhood and the special bond between a mother and her children in the Victorian era. Wikimedia.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Within decades, women suddenly seemed to be unable to feed their babies naturally. The introduction of formula began to stigmatize breastfeeding mothers. Vintage Everyday.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Women were now told by Doctors to continue breastfeeding, but social norms swayed their opinions. Vintage Everyday.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Soon, the idea of fragility and femininity overtook the idea of motherhood. Vintage Everyday.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
In Boston, very few upper class women breastfed. Vintage Everyday.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding continued almost exclusively among the poor. Vintage Everyday.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
An African American woman breastfeeds her child on her porch. Vintage Everyday.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding soon became considered “animalistic” and uncivilized. Wikimedia.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Many women still enjoyed the connection they felt to their children; embracing their motherly duties. Vintage Everyday.

Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
While many began to embrace breastfeeding, other women confined their maternal roles to the privacy of their own homes. Vintage Everyday.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Photographic portraits in the mid-1800s were typically formal affairs, with subjects posing stiffly in their Sunday best. But the breastfeeding pictures feature more relaxed poses and a look into the real women’s lives. Vintage Everyday.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Some of the traditional markers are still in the Victorian-style photographs. Many women still chose a formal pose. Vintage Everyday.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
The photographs, most of which are elaborately framed, show the women bare-faced with their hair worn centrally-parted and tied back. Vintage Everyday.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Wikimedia.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Typically, an old photograph would take up to 10 minutes to develop while it developed on a silver or copper plate. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Young mothers, in particular, enjoyed this fad of breastfeeding photographs. Vintage Everyday.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Given that the images are daguerrotypes – the first official photographic process – the subjects are not as relaxed in the photos as somebody today might be. Harvard University.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Some of the children pictured in the Victorian pictures appear to be at least 12 months old, whereas these days, women usually stop breastfeeding by six months. Sparking hot debates today. Wikimedia.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
In the 18th century, flour or cereal mixed with broth were introduced as substitutes for breastfeeding, but this was also unsuccessful. Improved infant formulas appeared in the mid-19th century, providing an alternative to wet nursing, and even breastfeeding itself. Flicker.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
This is a postcard of a woman breastfeeding. During the time where these photographs were popular, post cards like this were very common. Flicker.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
Flicker.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
In the 19th century, mother’s milk was considered best for babies, but the quality of the breast milk was found to be varied. The quality of breast milk was considered good only if the mother had a good diet, had physical exercise and was mentally in balance. Vintage Everyday.
Treasured to Taboo: 30 Rare Glimpses of Victorian Mothers Breastfeeding
By 1900, 9 out of 10 women breastfed their new babies. Buzzfeed Partner.

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