Some of the comments under Abby O’Reilly’s Birth: Everyone’s got an opinion thread brought to mind a book I found in a second-hand bookshop years ago, and that I haven’t looked at in ages.

Pye Henry Chavasse’s Advice to a wife on the management of her own health and on the treatment of some of the complaints incidental to pregnancy, labour, and suckling was first published in 1882, but a quick skip through the pages shows that some attitudes really haven’t changed in over 100 years.

Compare and contrast:

From Abby’s thread:

“I could write reams on the immense importance of breastfeeding to babies’ health and their health in later life…and to mothers (mothers who don’t breastfeed are at higher risk of quite a few illnesses than those who do)…..”

“Let us not silence the facts.

Let us not silence the babies.

Let us not, in a need to deny pain and betrayal, deny the truth. Lack of breastfeeding is a significant health risk to both the baby, and the mother.”

“the patriarchy adores formula feeding for it allows them to split mothers and children off from each other, and treat them separately. Divide and conquer. Once you’ve sold a women the concept that she is ‘liberated’ by removing her children form her, you can then model the world around your needs and voice, not the needs and voice of the mother, and her child. You can present a woman with the notion it’s _either_ child or career, and not that as a mother, she has a right to equal status. Everything becomes about the need to keep the mother and her child separate, as the world is too cushy for you, to have to accomodate them both.

Send the children to the back rooms and call it ‘The Nursery’! This leaves the women to be sent out to work, and to be sexually available on demand in the home. Pretend the children don’t need their mothers! Pretend the mothers don’t need their children!

Children are the wellspring of the world. There is no point to our entire culture, without children, Making sure the next generation has a better life than we did, is what drives the human race.”

“Breastfeeding is so beneficial to the health of mother and baby that the only pro-woman stance is to be pro-breastfeeding”

And now Chavasse:

“If a mother be blessed with health and strength, and if she have a good breast of milk, it is most unnatural and very cruel for her not to suckle her child…..

“A mother who is able to suckle her child, but who, nevertheless, will not do so, can have but little love for him; and as indifference begets indifference, there will not be much love lost between them; such a mother is not likely to look after her children, but to leave them to the care of servants….”

“Those mothers who nurse and cherish their own offspring are not only truly mothers, but they have a double reward in that, while their children thrive and thus gladden their hearts, they themselves are also very materially benefited. No woman is so healthy as she who bears healthy children healthily.” (Chavasse quoting Dr Alfred Wiltshire)

“Suckling is a healthy process, and not a disease, and is, therefore, usually most beneficial to health:-what then must happen if a mother does not nurse her infant? Disease must happen. For by so doing she violates the laws and institutions of nature, which cannot be done with impunity; cannot be done without throwing the constitution into disorder and disease…..”

“It is very cruel and most unnatural for a mother, if she be able, not to nurse her own child; even the brute beasts, vile and vicious though they be, suckle their offspring.”

“Ponder well, therefore, before it be too late, on what I have said – health of mother and health of babe, human life and human happiness are at stake, and depend upon a true decision.”

See the similarities?

As I hope I made clear in my previous comment on the breastfeeding debate, I’m not anti-breastfeeding, in fact I fed my youngest for 3 years. But what I am against is women being dictated to by others about the choices they make, and being made to feel guilty about those choices.

First it was a 19th century male medic doing the moralising, but now it appears some so-called feminists have stepped in to fill the patriarch’s shoes.

Anyway, coming up soon: Chavasse on young women’s hectic social lives and the detrimental effect all this gadding about has on their fertility.