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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
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