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Baby Formula Among the Native Americans Ingredients of Formulas & Baby Foods Made by the Historic Northeastern Indian Peoples
Nursing was a feeding activity that could last over two years per child. The nutritional value of breast milk for a growing infant is unquestionably immense, and substitutes rarely come close to provided the same nourishment, including cow's milk. The immune building, brain-growing capabilities of this sustenance has come to light rather recently among the general public, making it a relatively new trend to strongly encourage new mothers to breast feed if possible. In turn, formula companies have also responded by offering new ingredients that mimic compounds originally only found in human milk, however such technology is rather new while the need for substitute breast milk is age old. So how did the Woodland Indian Peoples combat the inherent need of feeding an infant when mother's milk was unavailable?
As the question already states "breast milk as unavailable" would had actually been a rarity to begin with, only because if the natural mother was unable or unavailable to nurse, most likely a family member who had a child within the last couple of years would have been available (provided no taboos were in place to hinder the sharing of breast milk, which is of question in some communities). This is not to say Woodland Indian women had children frequently, as actually evidence shows that on average in early historic times, mothers had about 3 children before major European influences. It was though the Native People's custom to keep extensive ties to their relations, and the possibility of not one nursing woman in an extended family is very implausible. But there were circumstances that kept some infants from nursing women whether it be timing, distance, or taboos, and in these cases, a milk-like substance had to be created.
One such incident was recorded by Jesuit Missionary Gabriel Sagard, who published his notes in 1632. Sagard witnessed a Huron man whose wife had recently passed away, leaving him without a source of milk for his very young infant. Although the circumstances as to why another woman didn't nurse the child is not addressed, it is made clear that the father knew just how to save his child. Mixing corn and water, he puts this corn liquid into his mouth and using his lips as a natural protrusion the child will sense to open to or suckle from, feeds his child by forcing the liquid out of his mouth into the infant's. According to Arthur C. Parker, the Iroquois have memory of using gut sacks for bottles. The gut was inserted with a large, hollow feather quill to act as the nipple. Presumably, more methods and specialized vessels were employed in feeding nursing infants.
As noted earlier, formulas made of corn and water mixtures were abundantly observed. While corn was certainly the most available food of the horticultural Woodland communities, it was not the most nutritional, especially alone. To the corn and water mixture was usually added other ingredients. Walnut meats were boiled with the corn liquid, infusing the broth with protein, calcium, potassium, vitamin E, and omega-3 fatty acids, among other vitamins and minerals. Omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient human bodies do not produce, play a vital part in brain function, as well as normal growth and development. Walnuts, hickory nuts, and other nuts were pounded and boiled, releasing their rich oil and giving the water a milky appearance as the nuts imparted it with its nutritional elements. Southern New England mothers added boiled squash to their walnut milk, and the Iroquois fed hickory oil to their infants. An Iroquois baby food was made of ground hickory nuts or butternuts, to which powdered deer or bear meat was added (made by pounding dried meat), and the resulting meal cooked in water. Ground dry meat meal was a usual staple store food of the Native Peoples, being added to soups, puddings, and even breads; it was probably used in combination with other ingredients for baby food often. Another ingredient for some was wild rice. The Ojibwa (Chippewa), in the most northern reaches of their territory where access to corn was limited, they instead boiled finely ground wild rice meal with Maple sugar to create a pap.
Sources: -"Indian New England Before the Mayflower" by Howard S. Russell -"Parker on the Iroquois" by Arthur C. Parker -"The Indian Peoples of Eastern America: A Documentary History of the Sexes" by James Axtell -University of Maryland Medical Center. http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/omega-3-000316.htm#ixzz1syfGD68W
In response (to readers) who have pointed out wet nursing as the obvious answer:
Thank you for the comments... "This is often pointed out and has been noted to be done historically among some Native communities in history. However, and I should point this out for readers, it is just as important to note is that sometimes taboos warned against nursing children not born to oneself, or possibly not of the same clan (and taboos were/are serious business, as not following such could interfere negatively with the supernatural world responsible for the natural world, and therefore the human world),... in fact, some even felt that a woman having to feed more than one child at a single time was possibly even risky - a fear that she might not have enough to properly support the nutritious demands of the growing children. Some even warned that children made to share the same breasts would become overly competitive with each other in their adult life, which was frowned upon. And with that said, the opinion of twins has also varied widely between communities and time periods here in the Woodlands, from the "blessed" to possibly problematic. Partly for this reason, as noted, children were often purposely spaced by 3 or so years. The time as you can see having much to do with the breastfeeding of one child ending before a new child in born. With all this said, there were times a lactating woman may not be available, whether by distance or taboo, and with that, we have the accounts of how parents supported the nutrition of their infants with the same foods that nourished themselves. Indeed these women (and men) did take care of their babies... my favorite account is in fact of a man who made the formula for his infant child, and with his lips "blew" the nourishing substance into his baby's mouth to feed his child." -WIEP
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