Gouge (1575-1653): Nursing Babes

From Domestical Duties. 

Some headings are not the author’s.  There have also been some minor updating of old English words and punctuation.

Among other needful things, the milk of the breast is fit for young babes, and with it they are to be nourished. I think none doubt the equity of this. It has in all ages, and in all countries, been accounted the best food that can be for young babes. The metaphor, which the Apostle Peter uses, taken from young infants, in the words, “As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the word” (1 Peter 2:2) confirms as much. So does also:

  • the desire which such infants have to the milk of the breasts;
  • the ability and promptness which is in them to suck;
  • God’s providence in causing a woman’s breasts to yield forth such milk;
  • the constant manner of nourishing little infants after this manner, commended in the Scripture; and (to conclude)
  • the natural instinct which many unreasonable creatures have thus to nourish their young ones.

They who, on mere curiosity (where no urgent necessity requires) try whether their children may not as birds be nourished without suck, offend contrary to this duty and reject that means which God has ordained as the best, and so oppose their shallow wit to his unsearchable wisdom.

Mothers should nurse their own children

Of nourishing children with breast milk, there is no great question.  Therefore, I have with a touch passed it over. The chief question of doubt is concerning the party who is bound to this duty; namely, whether the mother be bound to do it herself or not.

There are many strong arguments to press it upon the consciences of mothers, and to show that (so far as they are able), they are bound to give suck to their own children. Some are taken from the light of God’s word, and some from the light of nature.

God’s Word implies in many places, by just consequence, that it is a bounden duty; in other places, it expressly commends it by the practice of holy women; and in other places, it takes it for a granted truth, and ruled case, not to be denied.

I.  The consequences whereby the Word implies this duty are these:

In the blessing given to Joseph: thus spoke old Jacob, “God shall bless thee with the blessing of the breasts, and of the womb” (Gen 49:25). By the “blessing of the womb”, what can be meant but children? By the blessing of the “breasts”, what, but milk, whereby those children are nourished, [can be meant]? –  as if he had said, “I will bless thee with such women, as shall both bear thee children, and also give suck to them which they bear.” The consequence then is this: As it is a blessing to have children of a true lawful wife, so to have those children nursed of the same wife their mother [must be a blessing).


They [that] have the blessing of breasts [may also refer to those women] that have other women to nurse their children.


  • By the same reason, it may be said [that] they have the blessing of the womb who have strange women to bear them children. But the joining of these two branches of blessing together shows that both must be taken in the same kind, so that, as the blessing of the womb is to have children of a man’s wife, so the blessing of the breasts is to have them nursed of his wife. If it be a blessing for the woman which bears the child to give it suck, then mothers are bound to perform this duty.
  • It is [furthermore] denounced as a curse that women shall have a barren womb and dry breasts (Hos 9:14). If it be a curse for women to have dry breasts, then may not women wittingly make them dry (which all mothers that do not give suck to their children do)?
  • Manoah’s wife, being promised to bear a son, had this charge given her: Drink no wine, nor strong drink, etc. Those were things especially hurtful for her milk. It is therefore implied thereby, that she should so order her diet, as she might well nurse her child and have good milk for him.
  • God, by His good providence, brought it to pass that the mother of Moses (Exod 2:7) (though she were forced to cast out her child) should nurse her own child. Yea, the mother herself was desirous to do it, and therefore appointed her daughter to watch who should take it up. These two circumstances imply that it appertains to a mother to nurse her children.
  • The Apostle lays this down as a note of a good woman, who in her place has been careful to do her duty, and thereupon fit to do service in God’s Church (if she has nourished her children, or, word for word, if she have fed her children, 1 Tim 5:10). Now the proper food for young babes is breast milk, which, by the Apostle’s rule, the mother must give.
  • The same Apostle commands mothers to love their children (Titus 2:4). How can a mother better express her love to her young babe than by letting it suck of her own breasts? As this is a testimony of love, so it is a means of preferring and increasing love: for daily experience shows that mothers love those children best to whom they themselves give suck.

Sum these several consequences together, and we shall find the duty in question to be very strongly enforced thereby.

  1. As a blessing, it is promised that mothers shall give suck to the children that they bear.
  2. As a curse, it is threatened that women shall not be able to give suck.
  3. An Angel gave direction to a mother so to carry herself as she might have store of good milk for the child which she should bear.
  4. God, by his special providence, manifested that the mother [of the child] was the best nurse for a child.
  5. It is the note of a good woman to perform this part of her calling, namely to nurse her own child.
  6. Women ought to do all the best duties of love that they can to their children.

Therefore, mothers ought to nurse their own children.

II.  Some of the most worthy patterns in whose example this duty is commended to mothers are these.

  1. Sarah gave suck to Isaac (Gen 21:7). This example is to be noted especially of the greater [prominent] sort, [such] as rich men’s wives, honourable men’s wives, and the like. For Sarah was an honourable woman, a princess, a rich man’s wife, a beautiful woman, aged and well grown in years, and a mistress of a family.  Are not these [the very same] excuses pretended by many mothers for not nursing children themselves?
  1. The virgin Mary gave suck to Jesus. This example is to be noted especially of the meaner sort, for the virgin Mary was young, poor, persecuted, forced to remove and fly with her child from country to country.  Are not these excuses pretended by other mothers?

These two patterns do not only commend the duty, but also strip all mothers that are negligent therein of all excuse.

To these may be added the examples of Hannah (1 Sam 1:22), of David’s mother (Psa 22:9), and of many others. What if also I add the example of that true, natural, affectionate mother who stood before Solomon’s throne to plead for her child? She thus said of herself, “I arose to give my son suck,” etc., 1 Kgs 3:21). If this had not been a good motherly duty, she would not then and there have pleaded it.

III.  The places of Scripture which take this duty for a matter granted, and for a ruled case, are such as these.

  1. Where Sarah said, “Who would have said to Abram that Sarah should have given children suck? (Gen 21:7). In this phrase, she sets forth God’s blessing in giving Abram a son by her. Now in that she expressed the blessing under this phrase of giving suck, she took it for granted that the mother which bears children must give them suck.
  2. Where David said, “Thou didst make me hope upon my mother’s breasts” (Psa 22:9), he not only implies that his mother gave him suck, but by that phrase makes it a ruled case that the child which sucks must hang upon the mother’s breast.
  3. Where Solomon said, “O that thou wert as my brother that sucked the breasts of my mother” (Song 8:1), he also takes it for granted that brothers and sisters, as they come out of the same womb, so they should suck the same breasts, even the breasts of her out of whose womb they came – their own mother’s breasts.
  4. Where the woman said to Christ, “Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked” (Luke 11:27), she took it for granted (as was an usual practice in those days) that the paps of that woman, whose womb bear him, gave him suck.

These arguments we have from the light of God’s Word. We may also [consider] God’s works and the light of nature, as:

  1. God has given to women two breasts fit to contain and hold milk: and nipples unto them fit to have milk drawn from them. Why are these thus given? To lay them forth for ostentation? There is no warrant for that in all of God’s Word. They are directly given for the child’s food that comes out of the womb; for until a child be born, there is no milk in the breasts: anon [it follows that] after it is born, milk ordinarily flows into the breasts: yea, a great part of the meat [food] which they [i.e., the mothers] eat turns into milk. [Those that do not follow] this admirable work of God’s providence, that dry up this spring and suffer not their children to partake of the benefits of it, do so in vain.
  2. That nourishment whereon the child fed in the mother’s womb, and whereby it was there sustained, turns into milk, and comes into the breasts when the child comes out of the womb. Whence we may gather, that of all women’s milk, that woman’s milk is fittest for the child, out of whose womb the child came.
  3. Together with the milk passes some smack of the affection and disposition of the mother: which makes mothers to love such children best as they have given suck unto: yea and often such children that have sucked their mother’s breasts love their mothers best: yea, we may observe many who have sucked other’s milk to love those nurses all the days of their life.
  4. Other [creatures] are nourished by the same [mother] of which they are bred. The earth, out of which plants grow, ministers nourishment to the said plants: trees that bring forth fruit yield sap to that fruit, whereby it grows to ripeness. [Even] “unreasonable” creatures (among them the most savage wild beasts, as tigers and [serpents], yea [even] sea-monsters) give suck to their young ones; whereupon the Prophet said of women that give not suck to their children that they are more cruel than those sea-monsters. [They are ] like the ostriches in the wilderness (Lam 4:3), for the cruel ostrich and the hateful cuckoo are the two kind of creatures which are noted to leave their young ones for others to nourish.  The ostrich leaves her eggs in the dust and the cuckoo leaves hers in other birds’ nests. Other creatures (if nature afford them not milk and “homes”) feed their young ones [in] other ways, yet by themselves [i.e., them only].
  5. I shall add another argument which daily experience confirms, namely, God’s blessing upon this motherly duty. Children that are nursed by their mothers commonly prosper best. Mothers are most tender over them, and cannot endure to let them lie crying without taking them up and stilling them; whereas nurses will let them cry and cry again if they be about any business of their own. For who are commonly chosen to be nurses? Often poor country women, which have much work to do and little help, and so are forced to let the child lie and cry many times until it burst [i.e., cry] again. Children nursed by their mothers are, for the most part, more cleanly and neatly brought up, freer from diseases; not so many die; I am sure [that] few, through negligence, [are] cast away. The number of “nurse children” that die every year is very great. It has been observed in many country villages that from time to time [such babes] die there. Are not mothers that might have nursed their own children if they would, [an] accessory to the death of those that are cast away by the nurse’s negligence?

On these and other like reasons heathen women, and very savages, have in all ages been moved to nurse their own children: and some heathen philosophers have urged and pressed the necessity of this duty. Never was it more neglected than among those that bear the name of Christians.

Let mothers know of what rank or degree so ever they be, that (apart from the case of necessity) they have no warrant to put forth their children to others to nurse. We read not in all the Scripture of any holy women that ever did it.

Various objections to mothers nursing answered

1. Objection:

    Many nurses are mentioned in Scripture, as Rebekah’s nurse (Gen 24:59), Mephibosheth’s nurse (2 Sam 4:4), Joash his nurse (2 Kings 11:2), and others.


  1. Such nurses mentioned in Scripture were commonly dry nurses. Rebekah’s nurse went with her before she was married, [so] how can it be thought that she was a milk nurse? Could they tell when Rebekah should have a child? or when she had one, that Deborah (the nurse there mentioned, Gen 35:8) should have milk for her? It is said that Naomi became nurse to Ruth’s child (Ruth 4:16). Now, Naomi was old, long before this she was past child-bearing, without an husband for many years: how then was it possible that she should give suck? She was therefore a dry nurse, as other nurses mentioned in Scripture.
  2. The mothers of those children which are said to have nurses (if those nurses were milk nurses) might be dead: or if living, not able to give suck for want of milk, nipple, or for some other like defect: or if [they were] able, sinned in putting forth their children.
  3. Though it be said that there were nurses, yet is it no where said, that a mother put forth her child to suck.

2. Objection:

    Pharaoh’s daughter put forth the child which she took for her own to nurse (Exod 2:7).


She bare not this child, nor was the natural mother of it, so as this is nothing to the purpose. Yea it [turns this argument] against the objectors, in that the true mother of this child nursed it.

3. Objection:

    The metaphor taken from nurses is often used, and applied to God (Num 11:12), and to God’s ministers (1 Thess 2:7).


  1. The using of a thing by way of comparison and resemblance does not simply justify it: instance the parable of the unfit steward, and of a thief (Luke 16:1).
  2. The metaphor may be taken from a dry nurse as well as a milk nurse: for the comparisons are not used of giving suck, but of bearing and carrying [babes] in arms, as dry nurses used to carry children.
  3. The metaphors are most fitly taken from mothers that are nurses to their own children.

4. Objection:

    Many mothers have not such skill in giving suck as nurses have.


  1. Let them learn seeing it is their duty.

5. Objection:

    Mothers that are of great wealth and high place cannot endure the pain of nursing, nor take the pains in handling young children as must be handled.


  1. The greatest [women] must do that duty which God requires at their hands, though it be with pain. Note Sarah’s example before recorded.
  2. By this it appears that, if such women could [have someone else] bear their children in the womb nine months, and endure the pain of travail for them, they would hire [others to so do that]. But seeing that they do the one (namely, bear and bring forth their own children with hard labour), why should they not do the other? If they say there is an unavoidable necessity of bearing and bringing forth their children, I answer: conscience ought to move them to nurse those children, which necessity forces them to bring forth. God by this latter [activity] of nursing children makes [a] trial of women, whether they will, for conscience sake, do that duty. But because God knew that many will do no more than [what] necessity lays upon them, He has made it a matter of impossibility for women to bear and bring forth their children by another [woman].
  3. If women would, with cheerfulness, set themselves to perform this duty, much of the supposed pains would be lessened.
  4. Though they put not forth their children to nurse, they may, for their ease, entertain a nurse, so they give suck themselves.

6. Objection:

    A mother that has a trade, or that has the care of a house, will neglect much [other] business by nursing her child, and her husband will save more by giving half a crown a week to a nurse, than if his wife gave the child suck.


  1. No outward business appertaining to a mother can be more acceptable to God than the nursing of her child. This is the most proper work of her special calling; therefore, all other business must give place to this, and this [duty] must not be left [i.e., neglected] for any other business.
  2. As for the husband’s saving by putting the child forth to nurse, no gain may give a dispensation against a bounden duty.

7. Objection:

    It will break tender, fair women and make them look old, too soon.


  1. God’s ordinance must not give place to women’s niceness. Sarah was fair and old; the virgin Mary was fair and young.
  2. Drying up a woman’s milk will [no] more break her than her child’s sucking of it: for it is a means both of better health, and also of greater strength, to bear children and give them suck. Barren women and bearing women which put forth [hire out] their children to suck are most subject to sickness and weakness. The drawing forth of a woman’s milk by her child is a means to get and preserve a good stomach, which is a great preservative of good health.

8. Objection:

    Husbands are disturbed in the night time, and hindered of their sleep by their wives’ giving suck to their children.


  1. By this reason [it would also follows that] neither mothers, or other nurses which have husbands, should give suck to children.
  2. Seeing children come from the loins of the father, as well as out of the womb of the mother, they [i.e., fathers] must be content to endure some disturbance as well as their wives, and so much the rather that they may the more pity their wives, and afford unto them what help they can.

9. Objection:

    Many husbands will not suffer [allow] their wives to nurse their children themselves.


Because it is a bounden duty, wives must use all the means they can by themselves or others to persuade their husbands to let them perform it.  They must take heed that they make not this a pretext to cover their own sloth and loathness to this duty.  They must not make themselves [an] accessory to their husband’s fault by providing a nurse and sending the child away themselves. If their husbands will stand upon their authority, and be persuaded by no means to the contrary, the wives must be mere patients [inactive participants] in suffering the child to be taken away.

10. Objection:

    Many poor women maintain their house by nursing other folks’ children.


If they were not that way employed, they might take pains in some other thing. But the gain of one may not make another neglect her duty.

11. Objection:

    Some mothers cannot give suck.  Some have no milk [while] others cannot [nurse] very well (in that they have no nipples, or have sore breasts, or are sickly, or have such a disease, [that if] the child, if it should suck of their milk, would draw to itself, and so the sucking might prove very dangerous to the child.)


  1. God requires no impossibilities. Therefore, in propounding the duty I put in this caution [i.e., condition] : so far as they are able.
  2. God requires mercy and not sacrifice (Hos 6:6, Matt 9:12). If therefore in truth it be so, that the mother’s giving suck to the child will be dangerous to herself or to the child, she may and ought to forbear: for giving suck is but as sacrifice to preventing of danger, which is mercy. But women must take heed that they pretend not inability and danger without just cause. Some are themselves the cause of wanting [lacking] milk because they will not let it be drawn down, or because they will not use means (for there are means) to get and increase milk. There are means also to raise nipples where the breasts are very flat. Refusing to give suck many times causes some “sickness” in a woman, including sore breasts, which might be prevented with the child’s sucking. If the soreness be only in the nipples, an enduring mother, with a little more pain, may safely give the child suck. Many mothers have given their children suck when blood hath run by the mouth of the child due to sore nipples, and yet both mother and child [have] done very well.

12 Objection:

    Divers children being nursed by the mother have died one after another.


Due and thorough search must be made by those that are skillful. If any cause be found in the mother, then the rule holds: mercy and not sacrifice.  But if none can be found, the issue must be referred to God’s providence: and the uncertain event must not be an hindrance to a known duty.

The father’s duty in encouraging his wife to nurse

The duty which on a father’s part in this respect is required is that he encourage his wife, and help her with all needful things for the performance of this duty. It is noted of Elkanah that he suffered his wife to tarry at home while she gave suck to her son, and would not force her to go up to the tabernacle as his other wife did, but gave her all the ease and content he could, saying to her, “Do what seemeth thee good” (1 Sam 1:23). And of Abraham, it is noted that after Sarah finished giving the child suck, he made a great feast, even the day that Isaac was weaned (Gen 21:8). One end [purpose] of this was to testify his rejoicing for God’s blessing on her motherly duty so well performed.

Sins associated with not nursing


Contrary to this duty do all such mothers offend who, when no necessity requires [otherwise, they] put forth their children to be nursed by others.

  • Some do it for ease and quiet, because they cannot endure to have their sleep broken, or to hear their child wrangle and cry.
  • Others do it for niceness, because they are loath to open their breasts or to soil their clothes.
  • Others upon pride, conceiting that their beauty would be impaired, and they look old too soon.
  • Others upon gain, because they can have a child nursed abroad cheaper than at home, where, at least, they must hire a maid the more.
  • Others upon pleasure, that they might more freely ride abroad and meet [other women for] their gossips.
  • Others upon other respects: all who argue much self-love, with little love to their child, to be counted but half-mothers: for nursing a child is as much as bearing and bringing it forth.


To the forenamed fault of mothers do all such fathers make themselves [an] accessory, as:

  • forbidding their wives to nurse their children;
  • being a grief to them by their complaints of trouble, disquiet and expense;
  • providing not [for] things needful; or
  • do not encourage them all they can to do it.

The mother’s pains is the greatest; it is in comparison but a small thing that fathers must endure therein. Their fault therefore must be the greater if [in] any way they be an occasion of their child’s putting forth to nurse, which I have the rather noted. Hence husbands for the most part are the cause that their wives [do] not nurse their own children, partly by suffering, and partly by egging them on, to put out their children. If husbands were willing that their wives should perform this duty, and would persuade and encourage them thereto, and afford them what helps they could, where one mother now nurses her child, twenty would do so.