Glasgow History of Medicine Seminar 2019. In partnership with the Centre for the History of Medicine and The Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow.
Tea/Coffee from 5pm. Talk from 5:30pm
Speaker: Professor Lawrence Weaver, University of Glasgow
This talk discusses the natural history of human milk from antiquity to the modern day, taking scientific and social views of the part it plays in infant health, growth, survival and welfare.
Human milk is a miraculous fluid. It is much more than simply the natural and perfect food for babies; it contains a vast array of non-nutritional substances that helps them to grow and develop outside the womb. Just as blood courses around the body carrying everything it needs to thrive, so milk bears from mother to baby all that the newborn requires to thrive and survive. It is the life-blood of the newborn baby. Mother’s milk is a ‘vital fluid’ in two senses of the word. It bridges the gap between the blood-borne nourishment of the fetus in the womb, and the solid diet to which the baby becomes accustomed when weaned. It is also literally ‘life-giving’, as has long been known. Until the advent of safe, clean, scientifically formulated alternatives, deprivation of mother’s milk could be a death sentence.
Milk feeding (nursing) is an essential component of reproduction, nutrition and development; it is a biological reality, but the ways in which it is conceived and carried out are culturally variable in both time and place. Mothers, ‘old wives’, midwives, philosophers and poets, and men and women of science and medicine have framed advice, fashioned recommendations and formulated feeding regimes, based on trial and error, humoral hypotheses, alchemy and chemistry, the study of nature, nutritional science, medical theories, child welfare initiatives, commercial interests and public health goals.