Western societies benefited greatly from the slave trade. A slave’s primary responsibility was to increase productivity on plantations. Slaves typically labored long arduous hours in the sun with little compensation or reward for their hard labour. Their presence made traders and plantation owners more productive and made their living conditions more difficult. Slave tasks were expanded to household work, and female slaves became highly valued.
In addition to their plantation tasks, many female slaves were carried into their masters’ houses to cook, clean, and wash for them. If a mistress had too many children, the domestic servant was forced to assist in child care. After a while, female slaves were used to replace low-class women who were paid to breastfeed babies, a practice known as wet nursing.
White mothers avoid nursing, whereas black mothers are forced to wetnurse their children.
Wet nursing by slaves had become highly widespread in Europe by the 17th century. The practice quickly spread to America via British settlers. Many white mothers used the method to avoid nursing in the aim of keeping their stature and avoiding the “messy” side of motherhood. Breastfeeding was considered as a self-demeaning behavior, and women who were seen breastfeeding were typically thought to be uncultured, destitute, and despised.
When doctors at the time did everything they could to prove that nursing was a hazardous behavior for women, the practice became quite popular. Doctors are said to have been paid large sums of money to write such reports. The children of slaves grew healthy while many white families lost their children to bad health. This made many westerners force slave mothers to nurse their white children so that they may develop better and survive the early months of childhood.
During the 18th century, the practice of forcing black women to breastfeed had become widespread.