Breaking the Social Stereotypes of the 19th Century French Poor

Care of the Children

Eponine Home

The Hospice
The Care
The Wetnurse
The Government

Charity Home
The Church
Frederic Ozanam
Government Aid
Women in Need

Women and Poverty
Living Conditions
Inside the Family
Making Ends   Meet


Initial Care: The admitted children received clothing. For infants, this consisted of a bonnet, short shirts, a sleeved undershirt, and swaddling clothes made of linen or wool. The swaddling were preferred by the wet nurse and other caregivers because the babies wrapped in the swaddling took up less room, and they required less attention than the freely moving ones. The children were also examined by the hospice doctor, who determined if they were healthy or ill the morning after admission. The healthy children stayed in the nursery or the dormitory, while the sick children went to the infirmary. Also on the morning after admission, all children were baptized.

Care Prior to the Wet Nurse: Prior to being assigned to a wet nurse the infants in actuality received very little care. They were fed usually about once a day either with breast milk or with cow or goat's milk. The children did receive care when they were sick by the resident doctor.

With the Wet Nurse: Once the child was in custody of the wet nurse, she was fully responsible for the child's care. Sometimes, the child received wonderful, while at other times the child was neglected and merely used to receive money from the state.

Artist unknown. Nourricerie Modéle. 1887.

To view whole picture, click image.

Feeding: In the hospice the infants were either fed by a wet nurse, or given either cow's or goat's milk. However, there were never enough wet nurses to go around for the infants, so the doctors recommended artificial feeding through bottles an animals milk. The question was what animal was the best. Doctor Parrot in 1882 stated that the milk was a she-ass was the most suitable because it was the most similar to breast milk since it had a high level of lactose, a low amount of casein, and was less "buttery" than other types of milk (Guardia). In actuality though, she -ass was not the milk most commonly used because the price rose way above most women's means. The doctors said that the second most preferable option was goat's milk. The best goat milk came from those which were, "white, hornless, two years old, tall but with a short neck, quite plump, with large teats, a light step and thick trotter" (Guardia). There were also problem with the goat milk. As imaged the specific goat needed was a problem, but also the milk could only be taken from the goat for four months during the year. So, in practice, cow's milk, which was the least easily digested milk by the infant, was used most commonly. Sometimes this milk was given to the child through a bottle, but infants also commonly suckled straight from the animal itself. This was done for several reasons including that the wet nurse was unqualified for the position and received the job through abuses in the system, the wet nurse was afraid of contracting a disease from the infant, or the wet nurse was overburdened with children. Suckling from an animal though was a good alternative to breast milk because it prevented the adulteration or cooling of the milk and it allowed a possible return to the breast (Guardia).

Attention with the Wet Nurse: Problems with wet nurse: Sending children to wet nurse who were unhealthy, had no milk, or cared for more than one child was the result of an increase in the number of abandoned babies while the number of wet nurse remained the same (Fuchs 15). Wet nurses for abandoned children received very low pay, that is one reason so many looked for individual families (Fuchs 185). In the country, everyone in the household who was able to work, was expected to work. Therefore, during the day the wet-nurses, "...left the nurslings in the house all day, either alone or in the care of an older child who was often not more than six years old and thus too young for labor in the fields (Fuchs 216).


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Created by Devon Hill, © 2001