(From lacteo, to suckle). Suckling. The child should suck, if possible, during the first month; for the early milk is not only advantageous to the child, but the discharge prevents many inconveniences to the mother. If, however, from extreme debility, a deficiency of milk, or too short nipples, this is impossible, it should be consigned to a healthy young woman, whose milk is nearly of the age of the child.
In general, the health of women during suckling is better than at any other period of their lives. Their appetite is excellent; the sleep they have, sound and refreshing; their spirits free; their temper cheerful. If the nurse fails in any of these respects, suckling will be less beneficial either to herself or infant. If she fails in the greater number, particularly in appetite or sleep, she should decline the office.
When the new born child is to be suckled by the mother, it should be applied to the breast in ten or twelve hours after delivery; for the milk is by this means sooner and more easily supplied; fever and inflammation of the breasts more certainly prevented.
If the mother does not suckle her child, her breasts should be kept warm with flannels, or with a hare skin, to keep up a constant perspiration. If she does suckle, she should carefully cover the breasts when she first opens her bosom, and when the child is taken from it, as the cold air is sensibly felt in that tender organ, the skin quickly corrugated, to which pain, inflammation, and abscesses often succeed.
A wet nurse should be young, of a healthy habit and an active disposition, a mild temper, and whose breasts are well filled with milk. If the milk is good, it is sweetish to the taste, and totally free from saltness: to the eye it appears thin, and of a bluish cast. The regular recurrence of the menses is generally an objection; and it is often a very strong one. The inconveniencies arise from the child being slightly disordered at the commencement of the return; and the symptoms of teething are often aggravated by the irritation which these returns produce. The menses are sometimes supposed to be advantageous, and are said to renew the milk when it is old; but this is an idea without the slightest foundation.
A hired nurse is generally kept from her husband; but by this restriction the temper is often ruffled, and more injury than advantage is sustained by the infant. If the nurse's child is of the same age with that she suckles, she will not probably be again with child till the period of weaning arrives. If older, the greater is the probability of her being again pregnant, and the separation from her husband more necessary. A child may be safely weaned at seven months, but should not suck more than ten. Changes of nurses should, if possible, be avoided; yet this is rather the caution of experience, perhaps of prejudice, than of reason.
Nurses should eat, at least, one hearty meal of animal food, with a proper quantity of vegetables, every day. Thin broth, or milk, is more proper for their breakfasts and suppers than tea; and if the strength should seem to fail, a draught of good ale may be occasionally allowed; but spirituous liquors should be avoided.
Every mother should, for her own sake, as well as her infant's, attempt to suckle. Yet some constitutions are so peculiarly weak and nervous, that the dread of increasing these complaints is a frequent impediment. It should not, however, at least, hinder the attempt; for weak habits have suckled with advantage even to themselves. If, however,the milk is scanty; if, though copious, it is thin and watery; above all, if the child is restless and uneasy; if it frets and pines; a healthy nurse should be procured. But the experiment should first be made, and the attempt should not be given up unless the child suffers. Let every young mother, however, reflect, that if she cannot give up midnight orgies; if she cannot, when her child, by the most pathetic cries, demands, yield it a genial balmy food, uninjured by fatigue, agitation of mind, or indigestion, let her resign her task, or rather forsake her duty. This she may, in part, compensate; but to destroy the health, the constitution of her infant, by the opposite conduct, must for ever be a thorn in her heart; a crime which she Cannot Expiate Here, Perhaps Never.