‘Should women breastfeed each other’s babies?’
Cambridge Festival of Ideas
Old Library, Pembroke College, Cambridge, CB2 1RF
26 October, 6-7.30pm
The question, ‘Should women breastfeed each other’s babies?’, has its roots in current medical recommendations that mothers should breastfeed exclusively for six months of a baby’s life. A recent study in the Lancet suggested that breastfeeding exclusively could prevent 800,000 child deaths per year, and stop an additional 22,000 annual deaths from breast cancer. A study of 6,000 Brazilian babies over three decades found that those that had been breastfed had higher IQs, spent longer in school and earned more than those who had not. How an infant should be fed is a question encompassing a complex web of social and cultural as well as biological factors. Infant health is one important consideration, but there are a host of other reasons why a woman might not be able to breastfeed. This debate asks whether milk-sharing or what has historically been known as wet nursing, might be a suitable, if culturally unfamiliar, alternative.
The virtues of breast milk and repercussions of infant feeding have been contested for centuries. This debate brings together Professor Tim Parkin a historian of ancient Rome (University of Manchester); Dr Leah Astbury a social historian of early modern England (University of Cambridge); Dr Alice Reid a demographer of fertility, mortality and health in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (University of Cambridge); Dr Charlotte Faircloth a sociologist of parenting (University of Roehampton) and Gillian Weaver former president of the European Milk Bank Association, to consider the ways in which individuals have approached questions of infant feeding in the past and present.
Following the successful ‘Is menstruation healthy?’ (2014) and ‘Should we be having babies at 20?’ (2015) debates at the Festival of Ideas, the debate is organised by Leah Astbury and Lauren Kassell, and is supported by two research projects. Generation to Reproduction, directed by Nick Hopwood, is reassessing the history of reproduction from ancient fertility rites to IVF. The Casebooks Project, directed by Lauren Kassell, is preparing a digital edition of 80,000 seventeenth-century medical records. Generation and Casebooks are supported by major awards from the Wellcome Trust.
There is no charge for this event but booking is required.