Choosing a Wet-nurse

Of A Nurse, And what election, and choice ought to be made of her.

Though it were fit, that every mother should nurse her owne child: because her milke which is nothing else, but the bloud whitened (of which he was mad, and werewith hee had beene nourished the time hee staide in his Mothers wombe) will bee alwaies more naturall, and familiar unto him, than that of a stranger: and also by nursing hem her selfe, she shall be wholly accounted his mother: yet since they may be hindered by sicknes, or for that they are too weake and tender, of else because their Husbands will not suffer them, therefore I say, it will be very necessary to seeke out another Nurse: and every one knowes how hard a thing it is, to finde a good one, because they have been so ofthen beguiled, and deceived therin: which hath given mee occasion, first of all to shew some marks, whereby you may make some choise of one that is fit.

Now, in chusing of a a Nurse, there are sixe things to be considered: Her birth and Parentage: her person: her behavior: her mind: her milke: and her child.

First, Concerning her Lignage, she must come of a good stocke, or kinred: there being none of her race, whether it be grandfather, or grandmother, nay, not so much as one of her great grandfathers, or ancient progenitors, that hath ever been stayned, or spotted, either in bodie or mind: For, oftentimes we see, though the Parents be healthfull, and sound, yet their children be sometimes either sickly, or fooles, or else viciously given: who retaine such vices from their grandfather, or grandmother, yea, and sometimes from their great grandfathers; which troubleth many men, to theine from whence these accidents may proceed: For it is verie certaine, that there are many Children, which are diseased or deformed, either in bodie, or mind, whose parents are verie healthfull, and well featur'd: But yet, if you search farther, you shall find that some of their progenitors have been affected in the like manner.

Touching the Nurses person; for her age, she shall be chosen, when she is at her full growth; which is about five and twentie yeares of age, from which time, to the five and thirtieth yeare, is the age, wherein women are most temperate, healthfull, strong, and lusty: therefore one shall be chosen, that is getweene five and twentie, and five and thirtie yeares. Now, for her bodie, sho ought to be of a middle stature, neither too big, nor too little, nor too fat, nor too leane, nor yet too grosse, having good fleshy armes, and legges; and her flesh being hard and firm: she must not be deformed, neither squint-ey'd, lame, nor crump shouldred: she msut be one that is healthfull, and not subject to any disease: the complexion and colour of her bodie, must be lively, and rosie; she must not be spotted with rednesse, and especially she should not have red hair: and therefore, such as are of a browne complexion, are held to be best, whose haire is of a chest-nut colour, betweene yellow and blacke.

She must have a pleasing countenance, a bright and cleare eie, a well formed nose, neither crooked, nor of a bad smell, a ruddie mouth, and verie white teeth: She must deliver her words well, and distinctly, without stammering: and she must have strong and big necke: for thereby (as Hippocrates saith) may one judge, of the strength of the bodie. She must have a broad and large breast, garnished with two Paps of a reasonable bigness, neither limber, nor hanging down, but betweene hard and soft; full of Azure veines and Arteries, not being either knottie, of swolne bigger than they should be: the nipple which is in the midst of the breasts, ought to be somewhat eminent, and withall a ruddie colour like a Strawberie, it must be of a reasonable bignesse and thicknesse, and of a easie draught, that the child may take it the better, and sucke the easier.

She must not be with child, neither should she have her natural purgings; though Hippocrates seems to allow the contarie: relating the storie of a Nurse, whose bodie was full of Pustules, of which she was freed, as soon as she had her ordinary sicknesse: desiring (as some Interpreters would have it) to shew, that it is not without reasonk, for the Nurses health, that she should have her courses: thereby to coole and cleanse the bloud, whereof the milke is made.

She ought to be of a good behaviour, sober, and not given to drinking, or gluttonie, milde, without being angry, or fretfull: for there is nothing that sooner corrupts the bloud, of which the milke is made, than choller or sadnesse: and therefore she must be merry, playing and singing to the child, handling and using him gently; and one that will not refuse to give him the breast at any time, for feare least he crie. She must likewise be chast, not desiring after her husbands companie, and much lesse a strangers; because carnal copulation (as Galen saith) troubleth the bloud, and so by consequence the milke; also it diminisheth the quantatie thereof by provoking the naturall purgations; and also makes her have an ill smell, (as Aristotle saith) because they heat themselves verie much in this act: and which is wose, the Nurse thinking onely to take her sport a little, may therby proove with child.

Concerning her mind: Let her be sage, wife, discreet, that she may take care of her little one, and not lay him in any place, where he may indanger himselfe, to be either sicke, or stifled: For, there are more Nurses then should be, which are such beasts, and so careless; who having their child sucke in the night, as they lie with them in the bed, do oftentimes fall a sleep upon them, and so stifle them. And she must also have discretion, to judge somewhat neare, what her little one crieth after, it being not able otherwise to expresse what it would have: Observing (as Galen saith) the childs disposition, that so she may give him that, which he craves or desires, or else take away such things as shall offend him: playing with him, kissing him, dancing him gently in her armes, and singing withall: and she must likewise open him often, to lay and keep him drie and cleane.

Of the conditions which are required in good Milke.

The choice of good Milke is, that it be of a middle substance, that is to say, such as shal be neither too watrish, nor too thicke: For that which is too watrish and thin, may cause the child to have a scowring, and besides, it yeeldeth no good nutriment: And the Milke which is too thicke, is easily crudled, and not so soon digested, and so causeth obstructions, from whence the matter of the stone is bred. As for the quantitie of Milke: a Nurse should rather have too much, then too little: because when there is but little, it will be hard for the child to draw it; when as if there be plentie, it will come the easier, and even then thrust out it selfe. Moreover, if the child should sucke the breast drie; then that which shall come in the roome of it, cannot be well concocted so soone: Besides, if the child should chance to have an Ague, then would he sucke, and consume a great deale. Againe, the Nurse besides a sufficient quantitie for the nourishing of the child, must have some to milke into his eyes, if he should chance to have any imperfection there: as either heat, pimples, or itching, that so it may be cooled.

As for the colour, it must be white according to the common saying: (As white as Milke) for the Milke which is blewishm make shew of Melancholy, as the yellow doth of Choller, and the reddish, that it is not well concocted and signifies either that there is a weakness in the breasts, or else an ill qualitie of the bloud whereof it is made, which has not been concocted and corrected by the natuall heat of the paps.

Besides, good Milke ought not to have any strong smell, but rather a sweet sent, which smelleth neither hote, nor sower, nor yet adust, for such smels shew, that the bloud, of which it is made, is overheated or putride.

And concerning the Tast; that Milke which has a sweet favour is much commended: as contrarywise, that which is either sharp, sower, or bitter, is to be refused, and therefore not chosen for good.

Now the triall thereof may be made in this sort; as to know whether it be of a good substance: let the nurse milke some few drops of it, upon a looking glasse, or other sleeke thing: and if in holding it gently aside, it flows and runs presently, and keepe not together a little, then it is a signe that the milke is watrish, and too thinne, If it stand still, and will not runne at all, then it shews that the milke is too thick and fat: But if it runne lasurely, not staying eyther too long, or flowing too soone, upon the said smooth body: it sheweth that the milke is of a middle substance, and ought to bee reckoned and chosen for the beast.

The quantity of the milke may be knowne thus: if there remaine some in the breast after the child hath done sucking : and againe, if in opening the child you find him bepissed: But you must have an eye that your nurse be none of these Cooseners (for there be some) that give the child water to drinke in secret, and others, which wet the childs bed: But such Nurses deserve to be whipt, and their knavery may be easily decried, both by the eye and the sent, and likewise descerned by the tast.

Now the observation, which is taken from the Nurses child, for the choice of a fit Nurse, is concerning his age: For if her child be above seven or eight months old, then her milke will bee too stale afterwards: and besides it would be a doubt, whether shee would have milke enough to nurse him, that should be put unto her.

Againe, if the child be but fifteene daies or a month olde, that shews, that her milke is too new, and that it is not as yet purified: because the mother is not wholly purged and clensed.

So Ancien commands, that a child should not be put to sucke a Woman, till at least two moneths after her delivery; and at the farthest not after eight.

And because the sexe of the Nurses child must likewise bee observed, Aegineta wiseth, that is should rather be a man child then a maid child because the milke is hotter, better concocted; and not for excrementitious; And he addeth farther, that it is fit (whether it be a boy or a wench) that the mother have born her burthen, the full time. For those that are commonly delivered, before their time, for the most part are not sound, but sickly: though there be many healthfull women, which goe with their children but seven Moneths.

From Childbirth or The Happy Deliverie of Women by James Guillemeau, London 1612. Reproduced by DaCapo Press, The English Experience series, no. 464, 1972.

Transcribed by Jacquelyn J. Smith


Transcribed for research purposes.
Duncan's Cavalier Webpages: