The Puritans on Breastfeeding

Our secular history books have falsely taught us that the Puritans were dour faced, uptight, prudish people.  Far from “uptight,” our Puritan forefathers actually preached with candor on topics most present day ministers would blanch at.

Puritan pastor William Gouge, writing in the 1600s, included 7 pages about breastfeeding in his treatise on Domestical Duties (this topic starts on page 79). 

Gouge on Breastfeeding

Of giving suck to children

Among other needful things, the milk of the breast is fit for young babes, and with it they are to be nourished. I think none doubt of the equity of this. It hath in all ages, and in all countries, been accounted the best food that can be for young babes.

The metaphor which Peter uses… [As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word (1 Peter 2:2)] confirms as much.

So doth also the desire which such infants have to the milk of the breasts: and the ability, and promptness which is in them to suck: and God’s providence in causing a woman’s breasts to yield forth such milk: and the constant manner of nourishing little infants after this manner, commended in the Scripture: and [to conclude]the natural instinct which many unreasonable creatures have thus to nourish their young ones.

Gouge concludes this section by noting that those who attempt alternative feeding methods “where no urgent necessity requires” it are rejecting “that means which God hath ordained as the best: and so oppose their shallow wit to His unsearchable wisdom.”

Gouge taught breast feeding is a blessing, according to the following proofs:

1. In the blessing given to Joseph thus spoke old Jacob, God shall bless thee with the blessing of the breasts, and of the womb (Gen 49:25). By the blessing of the womb, what can be meant, but children? By the blessing of the breasts, what, but milk, whereby those children are nourished?

2. It is denounced as a curse, that women shall have a barren womb and dry breasts (Hosea 9:14). If it be a curse for women to have dry breasts, then may not women wittingly make them dry: which all mothers do, that give not suck to their children.

3. Manoah’s wife being promised to bear a son, had this charge given her: Drink no wine, nor strong drink, as those things were especially hurtful for her milk. It is therefore implied thereby, that she should so order her diet, as she might well nurse her child, and have good milk for him.

4. God by his good providence brought it to pass, that the mother of Moses (Exo 2:7) [though she were forced to cast out her child] should nurse her own child. Yea the mother herself was desirous to do it, and therefore appointed her daughter to watch who should take it up. These two circumstances imply that it appertains to a mother to nurse her children.

5. The Apostle lays this down as a note of a good woman, who in her place hath been careful to do her duty, and thereupon fit to do service in God’s Church [If she have nourished her children, or word for word, If she have fed her children] (1 Tim 5:10). Now the proper food for young babes is breast milk, which, by the Apostle’s rule, the mother must give.

6. The same Apostle commands mothers to love their children (Titus 2:4). How can a mother better express her love to her young babe, than by letting it suck of her own breasts? As this is a testimony of love, so it is a means of preferring and increasing love.

*First published on Visionary Womanhood

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