Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Question & Answer Column- A Reader Asks About Infant Care in the 19th Century

As part of our blog contest last month we invited readers to submit their questions to us about the museum or life in the 19th Century. We will take some time this month to answer each of them.

Our first question deals with infant care.

Nell Asks: My question is about infant care in 19th century America. What did they eat? What were the norms around breastfeeding? Who cared for babies and very young children? What did they wear?

Answer: Breast feeding was the norm for infants up to 18 months of age. Sometimes less if a mothers was not particularly productive. In these cases wet nurses were available for hire.

Mothers cared for babies and young children unless of course the mother died in child birth which was not infrequent. In that case, a wet nurse was hired and siblings or female relatives cared for the child.

Babies wore cloth diapers, a diaper cover, a gown, and a piece of flannel wrapped around the mid section plus various caps, flannel for winter and cool weather cotton and linen for warmer weather.

As part of our Stages of Life Program at The Foster-Tufts House this year, we have a hand made baby layette available for you to see & touch.

Have a question? drop us a line through the email link or via our comments. We will answer all that we receive!


  1. Thanks for answering my question. I would love to take a look at that infant layette.

    I watched a wonderful documentary about a midwife in Maine in the post-Revolutionary War era. It was called "A Midwife's Tale" and was based on the book of the same title by Laurel Ulrich. I wonder if there is any comparable documentary about the 19th century?

    By the way, did you ever announce your giveaway winner? I couldn't find a post about it. I'm still hoping to come visit your museum one of these days. Thanks!

  2. Hi Nell!

    The Layette was actually handmade by our seamstresses in the village so that visitors can touch it and see up close what babies would have worn. It's one of our many hands on activities this year and I was tickled that your question went along so well with it.

    In addition to the Stages of Life exhibit we also have a midwifery program at Kieffer's Place at the museum. All of our midwives were reading that book this spring! It's a fabulous book and documentary.

    And thanks for the reminder about the winner post! I had emailed the winner but forgot to post it!