Victorian Era Breastfeeding Photos Didn't Spark Controversy Then, But They Do Now (Of Course)

breastfeeding victorian eraLet me ask you something: If you were going out for ice cream, would you rather go to a shop that only sold vanilla, or would you prefer to go somewhere that carried vanilla, strawberry, chocolate? Probably the latter, right? Because choices are good. Choices allow for more people to be satisfied and for more people to do what works for them. Life isn't one-size-fits-all, we know that by now. So why do people jump down a mom's throat every time she chooses between two or more options? Aren't options good?

Recently, photos of mothers breastfeeding their babies from the Victoria era surfaced, and naturally, now -- hundreds of years later -- the photos have sparked controversy. (Feel free to peruse the comments section on The Huffington Post article that originally featured the pics.) At the time, do you think anyone batted an eyelash at these photos? Or at a mother nursing her child? Doubtful. Because breastfeeding was the only option.

See what I'm getting at here?

Before bottles and formula were introduced, there was no controversy over nursing. Mothers had one choice and one choice only: Breastfeeding. Options in motherhood have evidently turned us against each other, when in reality, they should be uniting us. We can all be happy! We can all do what works for us! There's something for everyone!

Think about some of the most controversial topics in motherhood: Vaginal birth or C-section; breast or bottle; cosleeping or crib. They all have pitted women against one another. Simply because someone is choosing to do something that differs from the way someone else does it. Why is that? Have we really become that close-minded? Do we simply want to feel superior by cutting others down? Or are we a group of women who just love fighting? Whatever the answer, I think it's not a good example for our children.

If a woman posed for photos like these now (and, yes, posted them online), there would be an uproar. (Remember Jamie Lynne Grumet on the cover of Time last year?) And conversely, the same goes for bottle feeding. You would have thought Beyonce was tangling Blue Ivy from the Empire State Building after the backlash she received for posting a photo of herself feeding her daughter from a bottle. Options. They should be working for us, but clearly they're working against us. Perhaps we can't handle them?

The next time you see a woman giving her baby or bottle or nursing in public and you have the urge to judge, try taking a step back for a moment. Remember that it isn't your life and it's her choice. She may not being doing what you chose to do, but honestly -- who cares? Certainly not the ladies of the Victorian era.

Do you judge other moms for doing things differently than you?


Images via Schlesinger Library/Harvard



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nonmember avatar MammaMel

I can't even read on "hundreds of years later"...OMG...NOT HUNDREDS OF YEARS LATER...just barely over 100 years later...hundreds indicated well over 200 years! Queen Victoria (who the Victorian Age was named for) reigned from 1837-1901. Further, photography wasn't even established until the late 1820's and early 1830's...and wasn't widespread until the 1880's and 1890's...*sigh* you guys need a history editor? I will do the job...

LeeshaE LeeshaE

The reason it was acceptable in the Victorian era had more to do with human sexuality than choices. Sex was viewed as acceptable only for procreation. Sexualization of any kind was considered vulgar. So if one were to pitch a fit over a photo of breast feeding it would mean they were admitting to sexualizing breasts, no respectable Victorian man or lady would admittedly consider breasts anything more than baby food.

LadyM... LadyMinni

Victorian women weren't allowed to nurse in public. This was back in the era of women being told -by law- what they could wear, and how they had to act in public. They could hold very few jobs. Victorian women had no options in anything but they didn't have to breastfeed. Bottles were invented pre- Middle Ages and used quite frequently. Consider that during our development from a hunter/gatherer society to an agrarian society, women had to work in the fields. Women would milk themselves into a bottle, probably made of horn with leather or cloth as the teat, and the one or two women in charge of all of the children would feed the baby from that.

I get the point that you're trying to make, but make sure you're right before you post. Google "Victorian baby bottles" and you'll see pictures of them. I'm sure you can find a photograph of a woman bottle feeding her baby, as I've seen them before. Victorian women pretty much had to feed their babies from bottles if they wanted to take the kid in public.

LadyM... LadyMinni

The very high death rate from early bottles is often attributed to two factors: hygiene and babies being given animal milk. Goat and yak milk were very common, but infants can't digest that. With no refrigeration milk could spoil in the bottles, and the bottles were rarely cleaned properly so I imagine many babies died of bacterial complications.

Rache... RachelsMercy

HUNDREDS of years??? Oh lordy....

tsk tsk

cmjaz cmjaz

I see your point, but I don't think that these pics were for public consumption at the time. It was a private photo.

bella... bellacazzate

Excuse me for being snobby for a moment, but Leesha's comment is making the Victorian Lit MA student in me snicker. There's a ton of fascinating literature, poetry, and research on the sex lives and sexuality of Victorians and it is amazing how... "unVictorian" they were. 

Coles... Coles_mom

I'm a bit confused. I come from a Victorian era town (our houses can't be altered in any way because they're historical locations and all of our townspeople are from "old money")...anyway, we're bombarded with Vicorian era history and I don't know about those few pictures but women around here were most definitely NOT allowed to bf in public nor did they even bother bfing. They had wet nurses. Women were insanely modest back then.. I don't know the history behind those specific pics, but that was not the norm.

jalaz77 jalaz77


freemane freemane

I hate to point this out because I really do support breastfeeding, but, historically, the women who breastfed were the women who Had to. If they could afford it, women hired a wetnurse. Many women used breastmilk substitutes (animal milk, sugar water, whatever.) Children were weaned as early as possible because women had a ton of other work to do. And yes, a lot of babies died because of it. I get sick of the argument that "women have always breastfed." Because they didn't.

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