Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Fluid Bodies: Wet Nurses and Breastmilk Anxieties in Eighteenth-Century Madrid

From 1758 to 1781, 1,085 women took out advertisements in Madrid’s daily newspaper, the Diario (The Daily). Each of these women sought employment as a wet nurse but described their work in very different ways. Few studies about wet-nursing in early modern Europe have considered what these ads provide: the voices of the wet nurses themselves. Scholars have focused instead on the opinions and recommendations found in anti-wet-nursing literature, centering the perspectives of male, educated elites. What we know about breastmilk and, subsequently, early modern bodies shifts significantly when we consider the words and knowledge of the wet nurses of Madrid. Instead of anxieties about corrupt milk, social status, and religion found in prescriptive literature, I argue that through the inclusion of specifically chosen words in the advertisements in which they self-presented as effective breastmilk producers, nursing women resisted attacks on their profession and reassured parents about their breastmilk’s suitability.

On August 9, 1758, Madrid’s daily newspaper published María Romero’s advertisement soliciting a position as a wet nurse. In a couple of terse lines, Romero told readers that she was twenty-five years old and lived at the home of Don Agustín Guerra near Plaza Mayor. The advertisement stated further that she was of “robust health” and that her baby had died, leaving her with the breastmilk she had been producing for four months. In comparison, an unnamed woman used her advertisement to say that she was married, had two children, and lived just south of urban Madrid. A third, different still, requested employment in a “house of distinction.” She was a twenty-two-year-old widow of honorable parents and stated that her milk was of the “necessary qualities.”1

Between 1753 and 1781, 1,085 women sought employment as amas de criar (wet nurses) through the Diario. They did not all, however, classify their desired work in this way. Some called themselves wet nurses while others stated they were looking for an infant to feed or simply looking for an infant. Like María, some provided their names while others remained anonymous. Women sometimes included their age, how “old” their milk was, descriptions of their health or body, their marital status, or if they had children. Others did not. The voices of these women differentiate a group that the historiography has treated as largely homogenous. My questions thus focus on the women who worked as wet nurses. Why are they mostly silent in the existing [End Page 121] scholarship? How do we incorporate their voices with scant source material? What could they tell us about how ordinary individuals understood their bodies and the fluids they produced?

Examination of these women’s advertisements not only provides information about each individual but also brings forth the previously unexamined negotiation between parents and wet nurses over the quality of breastmilk. Much of what we know about wet-nursing and breastfeeding comes from sources such as medical treatises and prescriptive literature that represent the perspective of male elites. These intellectuals worried that milk from breasts other than those of the woman who bore the infant threatened traditional social and cultural boundaries (status, ethnicity, and religion) they sought to maintain. The exchanges between wet nurses and parents found in the pages of the Diario suggest, however, that wet nurses’ everyday knowledge often took precedence over the warnings of anti-wet-nursing literature and provides insight into how ordinary women influenced early modern understandings of bodies and bodily fluids. Wet nurses used the Diario to push back against the ever-present and reinvigorated threats calling for mothers to “give up their wet nurses.”2 Through asserting themselves as valid and effective milk producers, these women made public their availability and offered a counternarrative to male prescriptive writing that reassured parents about the food they provided for their babies.

Although common since antiquity, wet-nursing became increasingly prevalent in Europe throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, reaching its height in the mid-eighteenth century.3 Due to its popularity, groups of mostly educated, elite men wrote prescriptive treatises that condemned wet-nursing on religious, social, and medical grounds and argued in favor of maternal breastfeeding. Reasons for hiring a wet nurse, however, varied. Elite social norms dictated that mothers should not nurse their own children simply because it was the fashion of the time.4 Other women experienced difficulties breastfeeding or needed to return to work soon after giving birth.5 In some cases, because prolonged breastfeeding was held to be a form of birth control, parents who wanted more children quickly hired a wet nurse.6 Some women even hired a wet nurse so that they could work as wet nurses themselves.

Wet nurses appear in contemporary scholarship as the primary focus in a few major works and, more commonly, alongside related topics in studies of the family, women’s labor, medicine and technology, motherhood, and slavery. Most famously, historian George D. Sussman’s early work, Selling Mothers’ Milk, provides an in-depth study of wet-nursing in France. Using demographic and socioeconomic approaches, he asks foundational questions for Paris and Lyons: How common was wet-nursing? Why was it a popular practice? Why did parents send their babies away to the country to be nursed? Which women served as wet nurses?7 Following Sussman, medical historian Valerie Fildes’s well-known works, Breasts, Bottles and Babies and Wet Nursing: A History, provide sweeping overviews of the development of infant feeding and wet-nursing that span centuries and continents, putting into place the base knowledge for most succeeding studies on wet nurses.8 [End Page 122]

What we know about wet nurses has expanded greatly as scholars have considered the history of wet-nursing in Europe, the Americas, and the Caribbean. Labor historians have used demographic records to demonstrate that wet-nursing was a form of employment for poor and rural women, which took the form of domestic work or positions in foundling hospitals.9 The work of historians of the family and religion address the prescriptive advice (and warnings) given to families about the selection and use of a wet nurse and how religious and social customs influenced these decisions.10

Wet nurses also appear in histories of sexuality, motherhood, and women’s reproductive bodies. Scholars delve into the tensions between traditional constructions of motherhood, such as mother’s duty to breastfeed, and hiring a wet nurse.11 In a similar vein, historians of medicine and technology approach wet-nursing alongside histories of infant feeding technologies—they analyze wet nurses’ bodies as an early form of feeding technology that was eventually replaced by bottle feeding.12 Finally, scholars of slavery studying the histories of enslaved African women highlight the forced labor of these individuals as wet nurses for European families.13 This often meant that enslavers prevented mothers from nursing their own children.

As scholar of early modern Hispanic Literature Emilie L. Bergmann has noted, for early modern Spain, there are few studies on wet-nursing.14 These studies reveal historiographical trends similar to the ones already discussed. We see demographic studies that show wet-nursing was a seasonal, popular profession for women in Spain in households and in foundling hospitals.15 Bergmann’s study shows why this was the case: the “economic interest of producing male heirs,” an interest that required the suppression of maternal lactation and a wet nurse.16 Because there are so few studies, many questions remain about the experiences of these wet nurses in Spain.

My contributions to the existing literature are twofold. First, I move away from the general treatment of wet nurses as a homogenous group of nameless, lower-class women. This general trend in the historiography persists because of the difficulty in finding sources representative of wet nurses’ voices. Indeed, although scholars have discussed the continuous and reinvigorated eighteenth-century attempts to do away with wet-nursing, we have not asked how wet nurses might have resisted attacks on their profession.17 These women’s advertisements allow us to begin to answer this question using their own words.

Second, I examine how wet nurses understood the relationship between breast-milk and its transfer to infant bodies. Most current works discuss the backlash against wet-nursing in elite circles and point toward the anxieties and concerns about proper mothering that undergirded these prescriptive texts.18 Importantly, some also provide cursory yet incomplete discussions of how humoral theory informed concerns about breastmilk.19 Thus far, however, scholars only offer surface-level examinations of how exactly anti-wet-nursing writers could worry that the breastmilk of lower-class, so-called immoral women could corrupt the infants they nursed.20 Early modern knowledge about breastmilk and its effects on infants’ bodies thus has not been interrogated fully. For the purposes of this article, we first need to dig more deeply into the humoral body before we can return to these anxieties. [End Page 123]

The Humoral Body

Galenic humoral thinking was debated and challenged in medical discourse by the eighteenth century. Indeed, definitions of leche (milk) from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries show a shift among intellectuals from “cooked blood” that animals produced (1611) to a “pure chyle that is driven through the arteries to the breasts” (1734)—clearly eschewing humoral language.21 Among everyday individuals, however, humoral thinking still informed conceptions of the body, consumption, and breastfeeding.22 According to this theory, four humors composed the body: blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. These humors dictated individuals’ characteristics and personality, while an imbalance or corruption of the humors resulted in illness. The humors also “exhibited their own distinguishing characteristics and a preponderance of one or another helped determine a person’s physical and mental makeup.”23 An overbalance of phlegm made for a dull, subdued temperament, while an excess of yellow bile made for a quarrelsome nature. Too much black bile resulted in a gloomy personality, and a prevalence of blood meant the individual had a sanguine temperament. Good health required balance among the four humors, and medical practices were aimed at restoring that balance when it was lost.

Humoral understandings of the body in turn underpinned early modern knowledge about breastfeeding. Through menstruation, the female body released excess blood to maintain humoral balance. The cessation of menstruation during pregnancy raised questions about what happened to this surplus blood. Medical thinkers proposed that it became food for the fetus in the womb, traversing the body into the breasts where it changed in color and became milk after birth.24 Breastmilk then was a form of blood, a bodily humor, and an “intermediate between blood and solid food.”25 Following humoral classification, food also had hot, cold, wet, or dry characteristics in association with the four humors.26 Individuals thus were to make specific food selections to maintain their body’s natural humoral balance as food intake and bodily constitution were connected.27

This connection also applied to breastmilk, which was best when matched with the humoral composition of the infant. Breastfeeding not only provided children with sustenance but also transferred a woman’s qualities to the child she nursed, as blood was one of the four humors. The humoral body was thus an unstable entity, fluid in nature, determinant of individual constitution, and susceptible to external influence. Because many scholars start with a modern conception of the body, works about wet nurses overlook deeper concerns about the humoral nature of breastmilk.

In addition to an under-examination of early modern bodies, works concerning wet-nursing also have yet to address wet nurses’ voices in great depth.28 This is due in large part to the types of sources available—namely, anti-wet-nursing literature, diaries, correspondences, familial record books, records from foundling hospitals, midwifery manuals, medical and prescriptive texts, and demographic records (which occasionally use wet-nursing advertisements).29 Turning to the women who wet-nursed allows us [End Page 124] to examine why wet-nursing remained such a prolific practice not only in elite circles but also among the middling sort, despite the overwhelming backlash the practice received from prescriptive writers.30

The Diario

The advertisements of Madrid’s Diario provide a rich source for pulling wet nurses’ voices to the fore.31 The first issue of the newspaper laid out its functions and included a subsection about wet-nursing advertisements. The editor wrote that these advertisements would correct a problem: unsuitable wet nurses who were “most improper, contrary to that which is desired, of bad complexion, poor, of lowly birth, or who had bad milk, illnesses and indispositions that they communicated to the Soul [of the infant].”32 After laying responsibility for this tragedy on mothers who did not nurse their own children, the Diario begrudgingly acknowledged wet-nursing’s prevalence while attempting to regulate the business.

The remedy was simple. Women who desired work as a wet nurse would bring “a note” to the Diario “with the necessary circumstances.”33 This would allow for a wet nurse to find employment and for parents to find a suitable match. The Diario recommended that parents look for women who were “the most robust, and healthy for the health of the infants, the most decent and modest, in order that there would be good customs instilled by means of the first food.”34 From 1758 to 1781 the Diario printed wet-nursing advertisements weekly, sometimes publishing as many as five in a single day. In these advertisements, women provided what, to them, seemed the most relevant information about themselves and, more importantly, about their breastmilk.

The Diario printed all advertisements in the third person. Although wet-nursing advertisements also followed this format, they constitute the voices of the women who provided the information. This becomes evident when considering how the Diario collected the advertisements. It is unclear who oversaw preparing each advertisement for printing, but given the Diario’s instructions and other clues in the advertisements, we can discern a basic picture of the process. Women who sought employment brought a note with their information to the newspaper’s press. We cannot know for sure if the information was printed in the exact manner provided, but clues suggest that it was. A few advertisements contain editorial commentary that casts doubt upon the claims a woman made in her note. For example, in 1758 from June to December three advertisements have interjections: “woman of satisfaction, according to what her note says,” “she has milk of four months and it is (according to what she says) robust,” and “according to what she says in her note, she is of good complexion, and robust.”35

These insertions suggest that whoever prepared the advertisements for printing did not edit the wording of the women’s notes if their claims did not hold up. They instead added short phrases casting doubt on the information’s truthfulness. The variety of advertisements also implies preservation of authorship. Because the advertisements were not formulaic and included a wide range of information, it seems that the Diario [End Page 125] maintained the notes’ original language instead of streamlining them to fit a singular model. I suggest, then, that the terms used in the advertisements and their range of details provide insight into the perspectives of the women who wet-nursed and serve as evidence of their voices.

All the wet-nursing advertisements published in the Diario were brief, providing the reader with short phrases about the women soliciting employment. The shortest provided a location (either where the woman or her reference lived) and what kind of employment she sought.36 As the three women whose stories opened this article demonstrate, similarities between the advertisements ended after their notation of location and desire for employment. Some said they were an ama para or ama de criar or an ama. Others said they were a woman, a widow, a girl, a young person, a married woman, a youth, or they used their names.37 These anonymous agents and named individuals listed their desired work as looking for “employment as a wet nurse,” wanting “accommodation to breastfeed an infant,” “soliciting an infant,” “desiring to find a person that would give her an infant to nurse at her breasts,” “soliciting a house in which she would be given an infant to breastfeed,” “desiring to breastfeed an infant until it was weaned,” or simply “looking for an infant,” to name a few of the twenty-four variations of employment descriptions.38

Some women also specified where they wanted to work, usually meaning a choice between their own home or the house of the infant’s parents. Many women also provided additional information about their desired workplace. Some stated they wanted to nurse an infant outside of Madrid or in a house of “distinction.”39 Aside from who these women were, what they were looking to do, and where they wanted to work, the most detailed advertisements included additional descriptions of their breastmilk and their bodies. Most frequently, the ads contained the length of time the woman had been lactating, which ranged from a few weeks to over a year. Some went further and described their milk using phrases such as “total satisfaction,” “fresh,” “good,” “healthy,” “robust,” “well-complexioned,” or “very abundant.”40

In advertising their milk, however, women also had to advertise themselves. Commonly used descriptors included: “robust,” “healthy,” “of robust health,” “young,” “widowed,” “of good birth,” “of good blood,” a “first-time mother,” an “outsider.” Women also mentioned where they were from, their family background (“daughter of honorable parents”), and whether they had a child of their own.41 Every detail, each advertisement distinct from the rest, signaled something about the state of the women’s bodies and breastmilk that they thought would make them stand out and reassure parents.

The advertisements of the Diario provide short yet significant pieces of information that differentiate this historiographically homogenous group of women. They complicate the idea that there was a single set of ideal characteristics to adhere to in hiring and serving as a wet nurse. The advertisements thus call into question the effectiveness of prescriptive literature and efforts like those of the Diario to impose a degree of regulation on wet-nursing. Even as mothers were encouraged to nurse their [End Page 126] own children, wet nurses made public their availability and suitability. Even as the Diario attempted to establish standardization and mediation, these women used an attempt at regulation for resistance and preservation. There is not a single standard visible in these advertisements; there are many. The prevalence of details pertaining to bodies and breastmilk suggest that these women were acutely aware how important it was to make this information accessible to potential employers.

Approaching their information, and thus wet-nursing, in terms of the Galenic body also enables a different reading of the language used both in the Diario and anti-wet-nursing literature. Terms embedded with humoral significance such as “well-complexioned,” “robust,” “fresh,” and of “total satisfaction” foreground breastmilk as the central point of negotiation in wet-nursing. Breastfeeding another woman’s infant, a complexly corporeal act, involved a negotiation of concerns and reassurances about breastmilk that, at its center, reveals an ongoing conversation about the nature of bodily fluids and what that meant for the well-being of infants. Through the inclusion of specifically chosen words and information in the advertisements, nursing women were able to make the condition of their breastmilk legible and assure parents of its quality and suitability, directly addressing breastmilk anxieties.

Selling Breastmilk in a Fluid Society

The Diario makes visible the wet-nursing network in Madrid. The vast number of advertisements attest to the efforts of women working as wet nurses to retain their livelihood in a less-than-welcoming climate through engaging with knowledge about breastfeeding. The purpose of the advertisements was to provide information about breastmilk. Unlike the humors, breastmilk was a food produced inside the body. Its production was invisible and hidden from supervision. Its composition was only knowable through external observations of the body, survival of offspring, testing the milk itself, and a wet nurse’s word.42 The words women used in the advertisements promoted the positive effects their breastmilk would have on the body of an infant. This article groups this information about breastmilk into three categories: lactation time, direct milk descriptors, and indirect milk descriptors. Paired with supplemental definitions from the eighteenth-century Diccionario de la lengua castellana and additional sources, this section demonstrates the ways that nursing women declared the qualities of their breastmilk safe and effective.

On May 3, 1758, an ama para criar advertised that she “had milk of 40 days”: “In the street of el Pozo, entering through the street of el Perro, four doors down, on the right-hand side, in the principal room, they will give notice of an Ama para criar, she has milk of 40 days.”43 Lactation time is the only information the wet nurse provided about herself or her milk, but it conveyed certain implications recognizable to parents looking for a wet nurse. Because 409 of the advertisements included lactation time, we can infer that nursing women were highly concerned with communicating how long they had been lactating. In the early modern era, breastmilk was conceptualized [End Page 127] in terms of “age.” A woman’s milk was best between two to eight months, or as close to the start of production as possible (although not during the first week).44 Advertising “younger” milk thus suggests that milk quality deteriorated the more it “aged.”

Certain early modern taboos about breastmilk and infant feeding help explain concern over the “age” of milk. Infants were prevented from suckling within the first few days after birth because colostrum, or first milk, was “considered unpurified and bad for the child.”45 Mothers were also not allowed to breastfeed until they fully recovered from labor and their vaginal discharge stopped flowing so that their unstable bodies would not corrupt their breastmilk.46 At the other end, unused milk that “lay stagnant in the breasts” too long became a site for infection and abscesses, resulting in milk fever.47 In this way, time—from the start of lactation to the day women advertised their services—communicated assumptions about the state of her breastmilk. The measure of forty days, a very recent birth, conveyed that this ama para criar possessed new milk, and because she promoted the shortness of her lactation period, she thought fresh milk was best.

In addition to lactation time, the advertisements contained information that we might consider generally as breastmilk descriptors. These are a variety of terms that offer insight into how nursing women conceptualized desirable breastmilk. On June 26, 1758, one advertisement stated: “In the street of el Medio-dia grande, a house that is called of the solitude, in the third room, there is a woman, who desires to be accommodated in order to nurse a boy, or a girl; she has her milk two months, and assures that it is of complete satisfaction.”48 The woman in this advertisement included both lactation time and a breastmilk descriptor: “of complete satisfaction.” Did she mean that the infant’s parents would be satisfied with their selection based on the visible physical or nutritional qualities of her milk? Or that it was humorally stable? We cannot know for sure what the woman intended; however, in all scenarios, “satisfaction” served as reassurance about the breastmilk.

The second advertisement in the category of breastmilk descriptors introduces the terms “fresh” and “very abundant.” Here breastmilk is characterized like a food item, valuable not only because of its recent production (thus, not yet subject to decay) but also because of the amount produced. Milk in abundance ensured that the infant would be well-fed for a long period of time: “A young Vizcaina woman, who recently came to this Court, desires to be accommodated in a house of form as an Ama de criar; she has fresh and very abundant milk; is of known people and has those who can recommend her; the Lister of the workers of the Obra of los Correos of the Puerta del Sol will give notice.”49 The author Don Lorenzo Hervás y Panduro’s discussion of wet-nursing in his work Historia de la vida del hombre (History of the Life of Mankind), published in eighteenth-century Madrid, can help us understand what this woman meant by “fresh.” Hervás y Panduro writes that ideal milk is “fresh, of the first few months” and that parents should look for this regardless of the age of their baby.50 This Vizcaina woman might have known that there would have been a large demand for fresh breastmilk, or she might have been signaling that her breasts [End Page 128] were healthy, and she had not developed milk fever or other illnesses that “older” milk caused. Either way, she mobilized knowledge and language familiar to those seeking a wet nurse. She also said her milk was “very abundant,” which speaks to a concern over the quantity of milk and not just its quality.

Wet nurses were either hired for a certain period, or, more commonly, to nurse the baby until they had been weaned. This woman wanted to make explicit that the infant she nursed would not run out of food and, perhaps, would be well-fed for a lengthy duration: “In the room that is inside of a School for children, in the Plazuela of San Miguel, they will give notice of an Ama, who lives in Vallecas, and desires to nurse any boy or girl in said place; she has milk of 5 months, she is robust, and well-complexioned.”51 This advertisement represents the third category found in the advertisements: indirect milk descriptors. “Robust” and “well-complexioned” are two popular descriptions found throughout the Diario. According to the Diccionario, robust was defined as “strong, vigorous . . . which is resistant to violence or contrary effectiveness,” and “that which is applied to one who has a thick body and strong limbs.”52 Complexion was a “temperament and graduation of the humors of the human body that constitute it as robust, or delicate, healthy, or sick.”53 To be “well-complexioned” meant “that which applies to that which has good complexion.”54

These two characteristics draw attention to the wet nurse’s body, characteristics that her breastmilk would transfer to the infant she nursed. A “robust” woman’s milk would make the baby sturdy with strong body parts, able to resist the violence of the world (whether actual physical harm or unseen assailants such as disease). To be “well-complexioned” laid claim to the quality of the wet nurse’s own humors, specifically blood. Her humors were robust, not delicate, and healthy, not sick. This wet nurse’s milk then, because of her exceptional humors, would serve to nurture a baby who would become robust and of good health—all qualities indirectly signaled by the descriptions of her body.

“In the street of Toledo, in front of the Convent of the Religious Women of la Concepción Francisca, entryway of our Lady of Sanctuary, in the principle room they will give notice of a woman, who solicits the same as the antecedent; advertising, that she has good milk, is robust, widowed, and without child.”55 The woman in this advertisement first followed the trends of those previous. The directly advertised milk had “goodness” in its composition.56 The other two terms, however, described specific qualities of the woman herself that again informed indirectly about the quality of her breastmilk. “Widowed” could have been used to designate the absence of a sexual partner. The implication of sexual abstinence speaks to the stability of the breastmilk. Engaging in sexual intercourse while lactating was thought to over-exacerbate a woman’s passions, corrupting her breastmilk and the nursing infant.57 In designating herself as widowed, this woman flagged her sexual abstinence and, accordingly, the purity of her milk.58

Additional details about her reproductive status also provide information about the woman’s breastmilk: she was without a child of her own. This could mean either [End Page 129] that her own child died or that she hired another woman to nurse her child. The first explanation, that her child had died, would have been an admission that there was something inherently wrong with her milk or her mothering capabilities that resulted in her infant’s ability to thrive. This would have cast uncertainty and doubt on the quality of her services, so it seems unlikely that “without child” carried this implication.59 It likely signaled the quantity of milk the woman produced. Like the connotation of “abundant” in the previous advertisement, “without child” meant that the infant on the receiving end of this woman’s milk did not have to share, thus ensuring the baby received sufficient nutrients.

There were also advertisements in which women listed that they did have children, or at least were in the process of nursing: “In the street of the two Mancebos, in front of the School of Dio-sio, in the principle room lives a woman, who desires to be accommodated anywhere as an Ama de criar, she is nursing at present a very robust baby girl of 5 months, and also all of the circumstances that one may wish in order for this effect come together in her.”60 This woman used the vitality of the infant she was currently nursing to promote the efficacy of her breastmilk. She stated that the baby girl was “very robust.” She then followed with the statement that her body and milk contained all the “circumstances that one may wish in order for this effect” to occur in another infant. With this, the wet nurse claimed bodily and humoral responsibility for the baby’s “robustness.” It is unclear if the baby in this advertisement was the woman’s own, but there were other advertisements published in the Diario in which women stated that they did have children.61 These two examples serve as evidence that both having and not having a child could be interpreted as advantageous.

In addition to a woman’s marital and reproductive state, many women included their ages in the advertisements: “In the Place of Moraleja la Mayor there is a woman, who solicits any infant to nurse; she is 35 years old, her milk of 3 months, and she is a youth of robust health: they will give notice in this court in the first handkerchief shop that there is below the street of Los Angeles, passing the store of Guarnicionero.”62 Of the ages listed in the advertisements of the Diario, this thirty-five-year-old woman was ten years older than the average of twenty-five. Whether this particular woman thought her age put her at a disadvantage is unknowable, but the rest of the details she included in the advertisement seem to serve as a counterpoint to this fact. She stipulated that she had only been lactating for three months—well within the supposedly desired time frame—and the advertisement ends with the statement that she was of “robust health.” The use of robust as a milk descriptor has already been discussed. In this case the woman used it to describe her health, conveying the stability of her breastmilk through the state of her body.

“A woman, of the age of 16 years, solicits an infant for her house; advertising, that her milk is two months old, and she is a healthy, robust, known, woman, and of good blood: they will give notice in the street Angosta of San Bernardo, in the house of Christ, and her name is Esperanza Adorno.”63 At sixteen, Esperanza Adorno is among the youngest and one of the few named women to appear in the Diario.64 Her milk [End Page 130] was only two months old, and she used four different descriptors: “healthy,” “robust,” “known,” and “of good blood.” The Diccionario defined “healthy” as “that which is in the perfect state of health, without lesion nor any sickness; that which by design is used to conserve health or life, such as: healthy food or medicine.”65 Both parts of this definition provide insight into Esperanza’s use of the word. The first stipulated that her body was in a “perfect state of health,” without any illness. This conveyed the same of her milk, which would “conserve the health or life” of a nursing infant.

Of equal significance in this advertisement, however, is Esperanza’s statement that she was de buena sangre (of good blood). “Good blood” marked two things. Healthwise, it signaled that her bodily humor blood was balanced, which is significant because blood was presumed to be transformed into breastmilk. Equally, “good blood” almost certainly referred to the Spanish concept of limpieza de sangre (blood purity). In indicating that she had good lineage, Esperanza indicated she was a Christian, from a family that had always been Christian, and that had never married outside of those confines. Pure, Old Christian blood was of the utmost importance socially but carried even greater weight in the realm of wet-nursing. Women from other religions (Judaism and Islam) were forbidden to nurse the babies of Christian women. This concern dates from the medieval regulation of commingling among Christians, Muslims, and Jewish communities, a regulation that survived for centuries. The fear was that breastmilk would corrupt the soul of the infant as a mother’s milk was thought to transfer their religion to their infants.66 Thus, in claiming that she was of Christian lineage, Esperanza signaled that the infant in her care would receive her Christian virtues.

The wet-nursing advertisements of the Diario are significant both for their variety of details and for the multiple wet-nursing scenarios they reveal. Analyzing their terms provides a glimpse into the women’s conceptions of wet-nursing and how they mobilized the Diario to promote their profession through short yet complexly layered information about their breastmilk. Lactation times, milk descriptors, and body descriptors relayed information about the health of the body, humoral fluids, and, thus, breastmilk. The focus on breastmilk in turn demonstrates women’s awareness of how it affected infants. This concern with the fluidity of breastmilk and its effect on infants’ bodies is also evident in those advertisements posted in search of a wet nurse.

Buying “Good” Humors

Of the set of 1,095 wet-nursing advertisements in the Diario between 1758 and 1781, 10 were submitted by people looking for a wet nurse. Although admittedly not a large sample size, they show, when placed in conversation with the advertisements of nursing women, that those looking for wet nurses employed identical terminology to describe their preferences. These advertisements therefore reveal a mutual concern between the parents and nursing women with the quality of breastmilk and the success women had promoting themselves using these terms. The parents looking for wet nurses stipulated that they sought milk that was “abundant,” “fresh,” and “of few months,” all ideals that [End Page 131] nursing women communicated. These words exhibit the ways that parents expressed certain anxieties about breastmilk—its “age,” the amount produced, its composition, and its humoral stability—and sought to find women who could produce their ideal breastmilk.

“The Porter of the Convent of the RR. PP. Capuchins of Patience will give notice of a Gentleman, who needs an Ama to breastfeed an infant . . . who has milk of few months, and if she were widowed, better.”67 This gentleman’s preference for milk of “few months” corresponds in meaning to the women who included lactation time in their advertisements. I have argued previously that women’s inclusion of their milk’s “age” showed that they understood concerns about how long they had been lactating and the dangers “older” milk posed to an infant. It is clear through the preference for milk “of few months” that the “age” of milk was also a source of anxiety for parents.

“In the first hovel of San Phelipe el Real; corner of the street of the post; they will give notice of a house in which they solicit an Ama to nurse a baby boy; advertising, that she should be widowed, or at the least without family.”68 This advertisement and the one above include stipulations for a widowed woman. As we have seen, nursing women probably included this detail to suggest sexual abstinence and thus the purity of their breastmilk. Parents’ preference for widowed women shows an anxiety about breastmilk’s humoral qualities. Unstable milk, corrupted by unbridled passions, posed a danger to newborns. Thus, parents attempted to avoid this threat and sought the humorally stable breastmilk of widowed women. This stipulation could also suggest a concern about time availability and commitment. A widowed woman “without family,” presumably meaning without children, could devote all her time and breastmilk to the infant she nursed.

“Looking for an Ama to nurse a baby boy, who should be abundant of milk, and who should be good, and not have another infant to nurse.”69 “In the neighborhood of the street of las Infantas, immediately next to the Press of the Diario, they will give notice of a house, where they need an Ama to nurse a baby girl; but they warn, she has to have fresh milk.”70 These final two advertisements feature the terms abundant and fresh. These words indicate certain worries about the quantity of breastmilk and its alimentary qualities. “Abundant,” along with the stipulation of only nursing one infant, suggests that parents wanted to ensure that the wet nurse did not run out of food. Preference for a large quantity of milk could also suggest that parents only wanted to go through the meticulous process of finding suitable breastmilk once. While “abundant” signaled an anxiety about an amount, “fresh,” again, conveyed a preference for new milk or a woman currently nursing an infant. Parents thus also preferred wet nurses who had given birth a few months before being hired and sought the newest and “freshest” milk for their newborns.

Advertisements posted in search of a wet nurse demonstrate that parents had specific preferences when it came to the breastmilk they purchased for their infants. The corresponding terms used in the advertisements of nursing women reveal similar concerns about breastmilk. These two sections have demonstrated that anxieties about [End Page 132] breastmilk—the changes it enacted in the body of an infant and parents’ ability to monitor it—determined wet nurse preferences. We can see that parents engaged with the same terms that women used as they self-presented as effective milk producers in the advertisements. Conversations about breastmilk and the condition of wet nurses’ bodies, however, did not take place exclusively within the pages of the Diario. The same language and anxieties were also present in the more traditionally discussed anti-wet-nursing literature.

Prescribing Proper Practice

In Madrid in 1786, Jaime Bonélls, a doctor at the Académico de las Reales Academias de Ciencias, published his medical treatise, Perjuicios de Poner los Niños en Ama (Dangers of Putting Children out to Wet Nurse). Bonélls wrote the Perjuicios to “persuade mothers of the obligation and advantages of breastfeeding their own children.”71 He argued that mothers who did not breastfeed their own children “violate natural laws and consequently those of religion.”72 Instead of reading this treatise solely for its position on wet-nursing, I place Bonélls in dialogue with the advertisements of the Diario. It is clear that he employed the same words and phrases as nursing women to discuss breastmilk. His text, then, expands our understandings of early modern anxieties about bodily fluids—their ability to traverse boundaries and bodies—and suggests that an anti-wet-nursing stance was a complex manifestation of deeper anxieties about the nature of breastmilk.

Typical of most anti-wet-nursing literature and also evident in the opening vignette of the Diario, Bonélls condemned the practice, and then, as an acknowledgment of its vitality, advised parents how to find a suitable wet nurse. The section of the Perjuicios devoted to this task places Bonélls in conversation with the advertisements of the Diario. He used the same type of humoral vocabulary as we have found in both types of advertisements—that is, relying on external physical appearances and specifying terms to signal desirable traits. In the Perjuicios Bonélls discussed the inner workings of the relationship between breastmilk and bodies in more detail than the advertisements and can thus expand our understanding of breastmilk anxieties.

Bonélls asks, “Who is able to doubt that if parents are obligated to look after these goods [titles and haciendas] of their children, much more are they [obligated] to raise them healthy and robust?”73 He then outlines the qualities necessary to sustain a “healthy” and “robust” infant. He describes suitable breastmilk as “buttery, sweet, without odor, of a blueish-white color, of medium and uniform consistency, more clear than thick, semi-diaphanous, entirely soluble in water without being made effervescent,” and it “should be slow to coagulate over fire.”74 Similarly, Bonélls stipulates that the body of a wet nurse should be “of a proportionate size in stature and conformation, have a fresh complexion and of good color . . . a clean mouth . . . medium, consistent, and elastic breasts without hardness or scars.”75 These detailed excerpts provide specifics about breastmilk and bodies, which in turn offers a more detailed understanding of [End Page 133] what terms such as “well-complexioned,” “robust,” and “fresh” in the advertisements may have signaled.

His descriptions resonate with anxieties about the dangers of bodily fluids that the advertisements of the Diario suggest. Individuals used the advertisements to avoid these dangers by identifying “good” breastmilk through certain markers and clues from a woman’s body and her bodily fluids. An opening vignette within the Perjuicios affirms this, “The physical temperaments of a good wet nurse are discerned from her milk and from her body.”76 The best example of this relationship is Bonélls’s discussion of menstruating wet nurses. In this section, he advises parents to find “a healthy wet nurse” because of the dangers that menstruation posed to weak women: “if a woman of weak and sickly complexion menstruates while nursing, then there is not so much an effect on the abundance of blood as of the thinness and acridness of their humors; therefore it follows that this wet nurse will deteriorate and weaken; that her milk, which already could not possibly be very good, becomes of poorer quality; and that the menstrual evacuation is made at the expense of the milk.”77 This excerpt provides an understanding of the fungibility of women’s bodily fluids. Bonélls explains that the evacuation of menstrual blood would lessen the amount of good blood available to produce milk. Thus, if women who were already weak menstruated while breastfeeding, they posed a danger to their milk and the infant they nursed. This way it was possible to know how the evacuation of one bodily fluid could determine a woman’s overall bodily health.

Bonélls also stipulates that knowing whether a wet nurse was menstruating also indicated the quality of her breastmilk. He writes, “Thus the touchstone for knowing if menstruation is harmful or not in wet nurses is the state of their health and of their milk; if it is diminished or spoiled, then that one is impaired,” but if the wet nurses are “good and strong, and their milk does not vary, neither in quantity nor in quality, as it happens to healthy and robust women” then they are desirable wet nurses.78 Like the advertisements of the Diario, Bonélls advised a way of knowing the body and its humoral fluids through external markers and signifiers of good health, underlining the centrality of bodily worries and breastmilk anxieties in the process of choosing a wet nurse.

Although Bonélls took time to discuss the ideal wet nurse to prevent parents from harming their children, he wrote his medical treatise to dissuade elite mothers from using a wet nurse. The Perjuicios reads, “The milk can be good and the wet nurse bad, the body can be healthy, and the heart sick.”79 Bonélls argued that despite measures taken to reassure and “know” the quality of both the wet nurse’s body and breastmilk, both were objects of deception and uncertainty. Regardless of efforts to discover the qualities of humoral fluids, for Bonélls, the reality remained that it was impossible to know. His solution, then, to promote maternal breastfeeding, was a manifestation of his own anxieties about fluids. Bonélls’s deeper concerns about the nature of breastmilk, specifically its ability to traverse traditional boundaries, can help us to interrogate his staunch anti-wet-nursing stance. His insistence that bodily fluids were untrustworthy [End Page 134] and deceptive led him to believe that mother’s breastmilk must be best. Why, then, did Bonélls have these anxieties if parents accepted the information nursing women provided in the advertisements?

Bonélls’s distrust of the breastmilk of lower-status wet nurses, despite its ability to meet all of his requirements, indicates that the Perjuicios reflected specific social-status anxieties. His treatise was written for elite mothers in fear of lower-ranking women’s corruptive milk. Bonélls did not, however, express the same concern for babies of lower status—that their mothers’ milk was inherently dangerous. In other words, Bonélls encouraged elite milk for elite babies and lower-status milk for lower-status babies. Elite status in Spain hinged on individuals’ and families’ claim to limpieza de sangre. It seems that Bonélls believed that breastmilk could corrupt the “cleanliness” of infants’ blood if the social status of the wet nurse did not match the social status of the infant. I suggest, then, that through his promotion of maternal breastfeeding, Bonélls sought to reify the social boundaries that, in his mind, bodies upheld and wet-nursing threatened.


Ama para criar, woman, widow, girl, young person, married woman, youth, Esperanza: all of these identifications diversify the women who worked as wet nurses in eighteenth-century Madrid. These women spoke in different terms, expressed varied concerns and conceptualizations of what good breastmilk entailed, and pushed back against attempts to cast them and their milk as undesirable or dangerous. Privileging their perspectives opens up unexplored aspects of wet-nursing that call our attention to the humoral qualities of breastmilk. These women’s descriptions of their bodies and milk were responses to complex societal anxieties about breastmilk and wet-nursing. Stemming from early modern understandings of the body and its fluids, these anxieties underpinned parents’ concerns for their infants and anti-wet-nursing literature.

Parents expressed their anxieties in the Diario through their advertisements posted for a wet nurse. Nursing women in turn quelled parents’ anxieties. This negotiation over breastmilk suggests that those hiring wet nurses did not have qualms about the practice itself, only a concern that their infants received the most suitable breastmilk. The anxiety over wet-nursing present in prolific anti-wet-nursing tracts, then, should be interrogated as a more specific anxiety about the humoral characteristics of breast-milk. Reading the Perjuicios as a manifestation of fluid anxieties allows us to see how, for Bonélls, breastmilk posed a threat to existing social orders.

Recent studies provide initial insight into the ways in which breastmilk could threaten or form bonds across traditional social stratification. Historian Debra Blumenthal and scholar of Spanish Literature Emilie Bergmann have argued that breastfeeding and wet-nursing in medieval and early modern Spain were used to create kinship ties and as a form of social advancement.80 It seems likely that these bonds were understood through a bodily link or connectivity that breastmilk created, often referred to as milk [End Page 135] kinship.81 Preliminary inquiry into this question affirms and further complicates what Blumenthal and Bergmann argue. For example, in 1590, Alonso de Escobar Gascon applied for admittance into the religious military order of La Orden de Calatrava. His genealogical records were included with his application materials to verify limpieza de sangre, which was required for entry. After first writing that he was born in Madrid, Alonso noted that he was the hermano de leche (milk brother) of Prince Don Felipe. Bracketed off in the left-hand margin of the page was a note that said Alonso’s mother, Doña Franca de Torquemada, was the wet nurse of the prince and that she nursed him for seven months.82

This source suggests that infants nursed with the same milk were understood to have some sort of bodily connection that was used for social advancement, but further research is needed to understand this relationship. Ultimately, breastmilk was a threat, or a linkage, because it traversed bodies and was fungible with blood in the female body. It enacted changes in the bodies of infants. It was thought to preserve Christian souls and could, perhaps, create legitimate kinship bonds. All of this suggests that bodies and fluids were complexly interconnected with the ordering of everyday life.

Celia Crifasi

Celia Crifasi is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her research focuses on the intersection of the history of Christianity, medicine, women, gender, and the family; and on race and ethnicity in the early modern Spanish Atlantic world. She also serves as an academic advisor in the Ogden Honors College at Louisiana State University.


Thank you to the editors and anonymous reviewers of the Journal of Women’s History for pushing this piece in new directions with their helpful edits and thoughtful feedback. For their time, insightful guidance, and support that made this article possible and better, I am grateful to Leslie Tuttle, Jim Sweet, Lee Palmer Wandel, Samantha Cabusora, Mandonesia Carter, Melissa Guarisco, Alice C. M. Kwok, Meghan O’Donnell, Charlotte Whatley, Anna Crifasi, and Dolores Dietrich.

1. Biblioteca Nacional de España (BNE), Diario, February 13, 1758, 4; June 27, 1758, 3–4; August 9, 1758, 4.

2. Londa Shiebinger, “Why Mammals Are Called Mammals: Gender Politics in Eighteenth-Century Natural History,” American Historical Review 98, no. 2 (April 1993): 383.

3. Valerie Fildes, Wet Nursing: A History from Antiquity to the Present (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1998); and Carolyn Dean, “Savage Breast / Salvaged Breast: Allegory, Colonization, and Wet Nursing in Peru, 1532–1825,” in Early Modern Visual Allegory: Embodying Meaning, ed. Cristelle Louise Baskins and Lisa Rosenthal (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 265–279, 275.

4. Valerie Fildes, Breasts, Bottles and Babies: A History of Infant Feeding (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1986), 102.

5. Fildes, Wet Nursing.

6. Dorothy McLaren, “Nature’s Contraceptive. Wet-Nursing and Prolonged Lactation: The Case of Chesham, Buckinghamshire, 1578–1601,” Medical History 23, no. 4 (1979): 426–441; and Leslie Tuttle, Conceiving the Old Regime (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

7. George D. Sussman, Selling Mothers’ Milk: The Wet Nursing Business in France 1715–1914 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982), ix, 8.

8. Fildes, Breasts, Bottles, and Babies; and Fildes, Wet Nursing.

9. Carmen Sarasúa, Criados, nodrizas y amos: El servicio doméstico en la formación del mercado de trabajo Madrileño, 1758–1868 (Madrid: Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, 1994); Heath Dillard, Daughters of the Reconquest: Women in Castilian Town Society, 1100–1300 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984); and Claude Larquié, “Les milieux nourriciers des enfants Madrilènes au XVIIe siècle,” Mélanges de La Casa de Velázquez 19 (1983): 221–242; Joan Sherwood, Poverty in Eighteenth-Century Spain: The Women and Children of the Inclusa (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988); Rebecca Lynn Winer, “The Mother and the Dida: Female Employers and Wet Nurses in Fourteenth-Century Barcelona,” in Medieval and Renaissance Lactations Images, Rhetorics, Practices, ed. Jutta Gisela Sperling (London: Routledge, 2013), 55–78; and Fildes, Wet Nursing.

10. Avner Giladi, Infants, Parents and Wet Nurses: Medieval Islamic Views on Breastfeeding and Their Social Implications (Leiden: Brill, 1999); Tuttle, Conceiving the Old Regime; Elisheva Baumgarten, Mothers and Children: Jewish Family Life in Medieval Europe (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004); and Marilyn Yalom, A History of the Breast (New York: Knopf, 1997).

11. Emilie L. Bergmann, “Milking the Poor: Wet-Nursing and the Sexual Economy of Early Modern Spain,” in Marriage and Sexuality in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia, ed. Eukene Lacarra Lanz (New York: Routledge, 2002), 90–116; and Mariselle Meléndez, Deviant and Useful Citizens: The Cultural Production of the Female Body in Eighteenth-Century Peru (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2011). See also Ruth Perry, “Colonizing the Breast: Sexuality and Maternity in Eighteenth-Century England,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 2, no. 2 (October 1991): 204–234; Mary Fissell, “Remaking the Maternal Body in England, 1680–1730,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 26, no. 1 (January 2017): 114–139; Dorothy McLaren, “Fertility, Infant Mortality, and Breast Feeding in the Seventeenth Century,” Medical History 22, no. 4 (1978): 378–396; Winer, “The Mother and the Dida”; Marylynn Salmon, “The Cultural Significance of Breastfeeding and Infant Care in Early Modern England and America,” Journal of Social History 28, no. 2 (Winter 1994): 247–269; and Baumgarten, Mothers and Children.

12. Janet Golden, A Social History of Wet Nursing in America: From Breast to Bottle (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Joan Sherwood, Infection of the Innocents: Wet Nurses, Infants, and Syphilis in France, 1780–1900 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010); McLaren, “Nature’s Contraceptive”; and Fildes, Breasts, Bottles and Babies.

13. Michelle A. McKinley, Fractional Freedoms: Slavery, Intimacy, and Legal Mobilization in Colonial Lima, 1600–1700 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016); Camilia Cowling, Conceiving Freedom: Women of Color, Gender, and the Abolition of Slavery in Havana and Rio de Janeiro (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013). See also Alison Krögel, “Mercenary Milk, Pernicious Nursemaids, Heedless Mothers: Anti-Wet Nurse Rhetoric in the Satirical Ordenanzas Del Baratillo de Mexico (1734),” Dieciocho: Hispanic Enlightenment 37 no. 2 (Fall 2014): 233–248; Stephanie Jones-Rogers, “‘[S]he could . . . spare one ample breast for the profit of her owner’: White Mothers and Enslaved Wet Nurses’ Invisible Labor in American Slave Markets,” Slavery & Abolition 38, no. 2 (April 3, 2017): 337–355; and Meléndez, Deviant and Useful Citizens. These histories also often include discussions of indigenous wet nurses.

14. Bergmann, “Milking the Poor.”

15. Larquié, “Les milieux nourriciers”; Dillard, Daughters of the Reconquest; Sherwood, Poverty in Eighteenth-Century Spain; Sarasúa, Criados, nodrizas y amos; Eukene Lacarra Lanz, ed., Marriage and Sexuality in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia (New York: Routledge, 2002); Meléndez, Deviant and Useful Citizens; and Winer, “The Mother and the Dida.”

16. Bergmann, “Milking the Poor,” 108.

17. Schiebinger, “Why Mammals Are Called Mammals.”

18. Fildes, Breasts, Bottles and Babies.

19. Alain Saint-Saëns, ed., Religion, Body and Gender in Early Modern Spain (San Francisco: Mellen Research University Press, 1991), 98; Barbara Orland, “White Blood and Red Milk: Analogical Reasoning in Medical Practice and Experimental Physiology (1560–1730),” in Blood, Sweat and Tears: The Changing Concepts of Physiology from Antiquity into Early Modern Europe, ed. Manfred Horstmanshoff, Helen King, and Claus Zittel (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 443–478.

20. Giladi, Infants, Parents and Wet Nurses; Fildes, Breasts, Bottles and Babies and Wet Nursing: A History; Lanz, Marriage and Sexuality in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia.

21. Sebastián de Covarrubias Orozco, Tesoro de la lengua castellana, o española (Madrid: Luis Sanchez, 1611), 517; and Diccionario de Autoridades, Tomo IV (Real Academia Española, 1734), s.v. “leche.”

22. Gail Kern Paster, The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993).

23. E. C. Spary, Eating the Enlightenment: Food and the Sciences in Paris, 1670–1760 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 13.

24. Orland, “White Blood and Red Milk,” 449; and Saint-Saëns, Religion, Body and Gender in Early Modern Spain, 98.

25. Orland, “White Blood and Red Milk,” 454.

26. Jodi Campbell, At the First Table: Food and Social Identity in Early Modern Spain (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2017), 29.

27. Campbell, At the First Table, 29.

28. Notably, Debra Blumenthal’s and Joan Sherwood’s works are two of the few existing studies that treats this aspect of wet nursing. See Debra Blumenthal, “‘With My Daughter’s Milk’: Wet Nurses and the Rhetoric of Lactation in Valencian Court Records,” in Medieval and Renaissance Lactations: Images, Rhetorics, Practice, ed. Jutta Gisela Sperling (London: Routledge, 2013), 101–114; Sherwood, Infection of the Innocents.

29. Scholars have yet to examine the words used in wet nursing advertisements and only use them for statistical and demographic information. Golden, A Social History of Wet Nursing in America; and Sarasúa, Criados, nodrizas y amos.

30. Tuttle, Conceiving the Old Regime, 133.

31. The BNE has digital copies of the Diario that run from February 1758 to December 1781. It ceased publication from June 1776 to December 1777 and from 1782 to 1786. It began publication again in July of 1786 with the new title Diario curioso, erudito, económico y commercial. The issues of the Diario used in this study are from its original run dates, 1758–1781.

32. BNE, Diario, February 1, 1758, 20.

33. BNE, Diario, February 1, 1758, 21.

34. BNE, Diario, February 1, 1758, 20.

35. BNE, Diario, November 30, 1758, 4; December 5, 1758, 4.

36. BNE, Diario, February 22, 1758, 4.

37. “Una muger” is used 450 times. See BNE, Diario, June 23, 1758. “Una viuda” is used 78 times. See BNE, Diario, May 31, June 28, July 20, 1758; June 23, 1759; May 18, 1762; April 7, 1773; January 5, 1781. “Una muchacha” is used once. See BNE, Diario, February 23, 1758. “Una joven” is used 27 times. See BNE, Diario, September 15, 1758; August 12, 1763; March 7, 1772; and January 4, 1779. “Una señora” is used twice. See BNE, Diario, July 20, 1758; and October 18, 1766. “Una moza” is used 9 times. See BNE, Diario, October 23, November 13, and 24, 1758, and November 9, 1765.

38. “Emplearse por Ama de criar” is used 31 times. See BNE, Diario, July 5, 1758. “Acomodarse para criar un niño,” BNE, Diario, May 31, June 26, July 28, 1758; March 13, April 20, June 2 and 12, 1759; and November 6, 1760. “Solicita una cria,” BNE, Diario, July 5, August 21 and 29, October 2, 1758; June 18, 1760; March 20 and 22, April 27, August 17, 18, 20, and 23, November 22 and 23, 1764; February 11 and 22, October 8 and 30, December 3 and 12, 1765. “Desea encontrar persona que la de una creature para criarla à sus pechos, BNE, Diario, September 15, 1758. “Solicita una casa en donde la dén para criar un niño a niña,” BNE, Diario, September 19, 1758. “Desea criar de destete algun niño,” BNE, Diario, July 4, 1758, and March 29, 1760. “Busca una cria,” BNE, Diario, November 17, 1760; July 6, 1764; April 11 and December 18, 1765.

39. “Forma” is used 112 times. See BNE, Diario, February 13, October 5, 1758; February 17, 1761; and April 24, 1762. “Distinción” is used 18 times. See BNE, Diario, February 23, 1758; May 19, 1760; January 17, 1762; and February 16, 1764.

40. “De toda satisfaccion,” BNE, Diario, May 10, 1758; October 23 and 26, 1769. “Fresca” is used 21 times. See BNE, Diario, June 21 and September 19, 1758; November 11, 1763; and May 30, 1768. “Buena” is used 19 times. See BNE, Diario, July 18, 1758; March 23, 1759; and May 9, 1776. “Sana,” BNE, Diario, September 27, 1758, and June 18, 1759. “Robusta” is used 45 times. See, BNE Diario, October 2, 1758. “Bien complexionada,” BNE, Diario, October 5, 10, and 25, and November 30, 1758. “Muy abundante,” BNE, Diario, November 11, 1763.

41. “Robusta,” BNE, Diario, July 19, September 6 and 15, October 2 and 21, 1758; September 5, 1761; March 20, 1764; and March 23, 1778. “Sana,” BNE, Diario, July 19, September 6 and 15, November 13, 1758; March 26 and May 4, 1762; November 18, 1763; March 20 and 22, 1764. “Salud robusta or robusta salud,” BNE, Diario, (2) August 9, 1758. “Joven” is used 27 times. See BNE, Diario, September 15, 1758; August 12, 1763; March 7, 1772; and January 4, 1779. “Viuda” is used 78 times. See BNE, Diario, May 31, June 28, July 20, 1758; June 23, 1759; May 18, 1762; April 7, 1773; January 5, 1781. “Bien nacida,” BNE, Diario, October 5, 1758. “De buena sangre,” BNE, Diario, March 20, 1764. “Con la circunstancia de ser primeriza,” BNE, Diario, June 18, 1759. “Forastera,” BNE, Diario, August 8, September 15, October 23, 1758; March 22, August 29, 1760; and January 17, 1762. “Hija de padres honorados,” BNE, Diario, June 27, 1758. “De gente conocida,” BNE, Diario, November 11, 1763.

42. Parents were instructed to conduct the “nail test.” “According to this test, the parent was advised to place a drop [of breastmilk] on a fingernail, and ensure that it spread gently, rather than running off immediately or thickening like honey.” Colin Heywood, A History of Childhood: Children and Childhood in the West from Medieval to Modern Times, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2018), 140.

43. BNE, Diario, May 3, 1758.

44. Fildes, Breasts, Bottles and Babies, 176.

45. Fildes, Breasts, Bottles and Babies, 83.

46. Fildes, Breasts, Bottles and Babies, 84–85.

47. Fildes, Breasts, Bottles and Babies, 86.

48. BNE, Diario, June 26, 1758.

49. BNE, Diario, November 11, 1763.

50. Don Lorenzo Hervás y Panduro, Historia de la vida del hombre (Madrid: Imprenta de Aznár, 1789), 241.

51. BNE, Diario, October 25, 1758.

52. La Real Academia Española, Diccionario de la lengua castellana (Madrid: Impresora de La Real Academia, 1803), 755.

53. Real Academia, Diccionario, 213.

54. Real Academia, Diccionario, 213.

55. BNE, Diario, August 1, 1761.

56. Real Academia, Diccionario, 146.

57. Tuttle, Conceiving the Old Regime, 94.

58. Another way to denote sexual abstinence was to include the phrase marido ausente (absent husband), BNE, Diario, October 11, 1758, and March 9, 1764.

59. Ideal wet nurses had two to three children and did not have any miscarriages or stillborn children as “this would be evidence of some fault in the nurse’s body” or “would indicate some fault in the nurse’s constitution.” Additionally, a woman whose child had died could not wet nurse “because it would be bad for the child.” Fildes, A History of Wet nursing, 175–176.

60. BNE, Diario, May 18, 1758.

61. BNE, Diario, February 13, 1758.

62. BNE, Diario, August 9, 1758.

63. BNE, Diario, March 20, 1764.

64. Sixteen is the youngest age that appears in the advertisements while forty is the oldest.

65. Real Academia, Diccionario, 775.

66. John David Penniman, Raised on Christian Milk: Food and the Formation of the Soul in Early Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017).

67. BNE, Diario, July 5, 1760.

68. BNE, Diario, January 3, 1761.

69. BNE, Diario, July 28, 1758.

70. BNE, Diario, September 12, 1758.

71. Jaime Bonélls, Perjuicios que acarrean al genero humano y al estado las madres que rehusan criar á sus hijos, y medios para contener el abuso de ponerlos en Ama (Madrid: Miguel Escribano, 1786), 10.

72. Bonélls, Perjuicios, 18.

73. Bonélls, Perjuicios, 68.

74. Bonélls, Perjuicios, 119.

75. Bonélls, Perjuicios, 119–121.

76. Bonélls, Perjuicios, 118.

77. Bonélls, Perjuicios, 112.

78. Bonélls, Perjuicios, 113.

79. Bonélls, Perjuicios, 118.

80. Blumenthal, “‘With My Daughter’s Milk’”; and Bergmann, “Milking the Poor.”

81. Giladi, Infants, Parents and Wet Nurses; Peter Parkes, “Milk Kinship in Southeast Europe. Alternative Social Structures and Foster Relations in the Caucasus and the Balkans,” European Association of Social Anthropologists 12, no. 3 (October 2004): 341–358.

82. Archivo Histórico Nacional, OM-Religiosos_Calatrava, Exp. 314BIS (Calatrava Religiosos), genealogical records of Alonso de Escobar Gascon (1590).