Throughout the month of February, we will be highlighting little-known facts, inspiring histories and creative advice related to black women breastfeeding. If you are interested in contributing to this series, send us a message!
When I first began research for our month of Black breastfeeding history I was disappointed by what little information I could find. When I look up Black+breastfeeding+history I get nothing but articles after articles about Black women as wet-nurses.
A wet nurse is a woman who breastfeeds and often cares for another’s child. Wet-nursed children may be known as “milk-siblings”, and in some cultures the families are linked by a special relationship of milk kinship. Wet nurses are solicited for many reason and used in many societies and cultures throughout history. Unfortunately, Black women have been the ones to become the poster child of the “profession” due to the impact of slavery and institution of wet-nursing and care-giving of their slave owner’s children.
So when I began my research for this month all I could find was this:
So, I’m thinking “I know, I know. It’s Black history month; why we gotta talk about slavery?! I so do NOT want to talk about slavery.” It wasn’t until I stumbled across the amazing blog, Mommy Too! Magazine: Celebrating Black Mothers and Motherhood, that I was hipped to some very interesting history about “sucklers,” or breastfeeding slaves, that I had never heard before.
According to the book American Negro Slavery: A Survey of the Supply, Employment and Control of Negro Labor as determined by the Plantation Régime by Ulrich Bonnell Phillips, in some circumstances breastfeeding slave were afforded some ”priviledges” (for lack of better words) in order to provide breastmilk for their children.
Sucklers are not required to leave their homes until sunrise when they leave their children at the children’s house before going to field. The period of suckling is twelve months. Their work lies always within half a mile of the quarter. They are required to be cool before commencing to suckle to wait fifteen minutes at least in summer after reaching the children’s house before nursing. It is the duty of the nurse to see that none are heated when nursing as well as of the overseer and his wife occasionally to do so.
They are allowed forty five minutes at each nursing to be with their children. They return three times a day until their children are eight months old in the middle of the forenoon at noon and in the middle of the afternoon till the twelfth month but twice a day missing at noon during the twelfth month at noon only. The amount of work done by a suckler is about three fifths of that done by a full hand a little increased toward the last. Pregnant women at five months are put in the sucklers gang. No plowing or lifting must be required of them. Sucklers old infirm and pregnant receive the same allowances as full work hands.
What are your thoughts about this?
Do you think he institution of slavery contributes to the rates of Black women breastfeeding today?