Dost though not see my baby at my breast,
That sucks the nurse asleep? 

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1564-1616)

Breast Milk

Goats as Wet Nurses


Goats have often been used to suckle human babies and infants. The Khoikhoi of southern Africa were reported to tie their babies to the bellies of female goats so that they could feed there.
 
In the 18th and 19th centuries, goats were widely used in Europe as alternatives to human wet nurses. This was a well-established practice in rural areas of France and Italy; Pierre Brouzet, the personal physician of Louis XV of France, wrote of how he had seen ‘some peasants who have no other nurses but ewes, and these peasants were as strong and vigorous as others.’
 
In 1816, a German writer named Conrad A. Zweirlein wrote a book called The Goat as the Best and Most Agreeable Wet Nurse, which popularised the use of the animals for many years.
In an attempt to cure babies born with congenital syphilis, goats would be fed mercury before being used to suckle the unfortunate infants. The mercury would accumulate in the goats' milk and was passed into the syphilitic babies when they suckled at the goats' teats. This method did have some effect of improving the infants' mortality rates, though the goats tended to die prematurely of mercury poisoning.
 
In France, homes for foundlings often employed large numbers of goats as they were considered less problematic than lower-class women when it came to feeding infants. In some institutions, nurses carried the infants to the goats; elsewhere, the goats came to the infants. Alphonse Le Roy described how goats were used at the foundling hospital in Aix-en-Provence in 1775: ‘The cribs are arranged in a large room in 2 ranks. Each goat which comes to feed enters bleating and goes to hunt the infant which has been given it, pushes back the covering with its horns and straddles the crib to give suck to the infant. Since that time they have raised very large numbers (of infants) in that hospital.’
 
In 19th-century Ireland, as Charles Henry F. Routh wrote in 1860, foundlings from Dublin were ‘sent to the mountains of Wicklow to feed upon the goats' milk. As the children grew older, the goats came to know them, and became very tame; so that the infant sought the goat, and was suckled by it as he would have been by a human wet nurse. These children throve remarkably well.’

The Romans preferred Greek wet nurses, because the child would imbibe cultural as well as physical sustenance.

HOMER (8TH CENTURY BC)

A little child born yesterday
A thing on mother's milk and kisses fed.

Mazomancy is fortune-telling by observing a nursing baby; from the Greek mazos, meaning breast.

Nursing Adults


The Virgin Mary apparently gave St Bernard milk from her own breast. There are two versions of the Lactation of St. Bernard. In the first, Mary appears to him in a prayer, and sprinkles milk from her breast on his lips to show him she is his ‘Mother’ and willing to mediate for him with her Son. In the second, he falls asleep between prayers and Mary puts her breast into his mouth so he can receive the wisdom of God.
 
Rubens, Vermeer and Caravaggio all painted the legend of Roman Charity, which was a fashionable theme for painters in the 17th & 18th centuries. The elderly Cimon has been sentenced to death by starvation; his daughter Pero visits him in prison and secretly breastfeeds him. Quite why these images of elderly men sucking the beasts of young women intrigued people so much, one can only speculate.
 
A similar scene takes place in The Grapes of Wrath, when Rosasharn nurses a starving man in a barn.

WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERY (1811-63)

...her grief at weaning the child was a sight that would have unmanned a Herod.

Sacred relics from the New Testament held at Byzantium included milk from the breast
of the Virgin Mary.

The Romans preferred Greek wet nurses, because the child would imbibe cultural as well as physical sustenance.

Mythology


Babies being fed by animals is a recurring theme in ancient mythology, Most famously, the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus were portrayed as being suckled by a she-wolf.
 
The Greek god Zeus was supposedly brought up by Amalthea, said to be either a goat who suckled him, or a nymph who fed him on goat’s milk. Telephus, the son of Heracles was suckled by a deer, Cyrus I of Persia was said to have been suckled by a dog, and mares apparently fed Croesus, Xerxes and Lysimachus.

THE BEATLES

Lady Madonna baby at your breast
Wonders how you manage to feed the rest.

Origin of The Milky Way


In Tintoretto's painting The Origin of the Milky Way, Zeus, Father of the Gods, immortalises his baby son Hercules, whose mother was the mortal Alcmene, by holding him to the breast of his sleeping wife Juno. Some of her milk spurted upwards to form the Milky Way; some fell downwards to create the lilies. You can’t see the lilies any more: the lower part of the original canvas is missing.

It is impossible to make cheese from human milk.

GUNTER GRASS

There must be reasons why we men are so hipped on breasts, as if we’d all been weaned too soon.

Galactorrhea is the spontaneous flow of milk from the breast unassociated with pregnancy or breastfeeding.

Fullfat or Semiskimmed


A kangaroo female can have two young, of different ages, both feeding on her milk at the same time. Joeys of different ages need different milk, so kangaroos can dispense both full fat and semi-skimmed milk simultaneously.

The kind of milk each joey gets depends on how hard they suck. Gently sucking new-borns get early stage dilute milk. Harder-sucking older joeys get the more nutritious milk they need. The first kind is thinner than human or cows’ milk: later stage milk is thick like seals’ milk. 

Feeding Two Species


Human breast milk contains simple sugars called oligosaccharides - they’re great for the bacteria in a baby’s gut but can’t be digested by the baby. So mothers are feeding both their child and another species.

The tailless tenrec of Madagascar has the most nipples with 29.

The platypus has no nipples and milk is secreted directly through the skin.

Hooded seals lactate for only four days: orangutans for 900 days.

Dolphin calves roll their tongues into straw-like shapes to make a watertight seal on the nipple; it keeps milk in and salty water out.