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  • Writer's pictureAliya

What Did We Do Before Formula?

Updated: May 13, 2022

With my daughter Avery, breastfeeding came pretty naturally (after I got past the excruciating pain), but with my son, it wasn't long after I went back to work that I found my supply quickly declining.

I tried everything I could get my hands on: all the teas, cookies, oatmeal, supplements, drink powders, and even a Guinness or two (gotta love those hops); all to no avail. Every time I pumped, a little less came out. In a couple weeks, my back-up breast milk in the freezer was wiped out and I was picking up formula from the Target down the street.

That's easy enough, though. Not enough milk, just buy formula. But that got me thinking: What did moms give their babies before formula was invented? If breastfeeding wasn't successful, what did these moms do?

So here we go...

If the mom wasn't around or wasn't able to breastfeed, most families employed a wet nurse - which is basically just a lady who breastfeeds on the mother's behalf. The wet nurse would either move in with the family while the baby was nursing, or the baby would be sent to live with the wet nurse until they were weaned. (Fun fact: This site says that brunette wet nurses were preferred over other hair colors because they were thought to be more stable)

As moms, we all know that no parenting trends last forever, and in the early 1900s, wet nurses fell out of favor and parents started creating their own breast milk substitutes. And what was in these concoctions?

Cow's milk, water, cream, and sugar or honey. Yuck. A couple decades later in the 1920s, orange juice and cod liver oil were added in to help fight against scurvy and rickets.

The mixture had to have been pretty rank because also in the 1920s, Similac (which stands for similar to lactation) debuted. And formula came to save the day.

Can you even imagine trying to get your baby to drink a mixture of milk, water, orange juice, and cod liver oil??


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