Black Breastfeeding History 101 – Americans Have an Ugly Truth to Face
More than 150 years ago, enslaved black women were forced to feed and raise the children of their masters. Under strict guidelines black slaves were required, unwillingly, to wet-nurse these [white] children giving them priority over their own. The alternative, of course, was to be beaten or whipped.
Oil on Panel 12x12
This woman was a paid wet nurse, after the time when slavery was abolished. As many black women suffered loss of their infants, lactation would give them the ability to work in this way.
The black and white babies were not allowed to share the same breast as it was compared to whites not being able to drink from the same water faucet. The infant mortality rate during this time was 28-50% and some records show that mothers may have smothered their own babies to spare them from a life of slavery.
If all of this is not horrifying enough, shortly after slavery was abolished many black women suffered from infant loss due to impoverished living that led to the lack of the necessary maternity care. Some of these women sought employment as a paid wet nurse and were often asked to sit for a professional portrait with the white child who they were nursing.
Stay tune for more upcoming paintings.