14. About Mother's Milk

by Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty

Descriptive Title

About Mother's Milk


Chapter Fourteen of Cardinal Mindszenty's book, The Mother.

Larger Work

The Mother



Publisher & Date

Radio Replies Press, 1949

If we were to follow the old custom of putting a caption at the head of this chapter we would not be at a loss for one. In the first Book of Kings we read: "And mother Anna stayed at home, and gave her son suck, till she weaned him." According to the law, nine months was the time required for a mother to feed her child at the breast. In South America children are suckled as long as three and four years. There it might be possible for the little rogue to steal the cigarette from his mother's lips, and then turn back to her breast!

The starry heavens show the milky way of innumerable stars extending from the far North to the deep South. So on earth, the milky way of mother's milk had its beginning with the first woman, the mother of man, and has come down to us from generation to generation. A pagan fable relates that Amaltheia nourishes in a mysterious manner the peoples through the centuries with milk and honey.

Masterpiece Of The Creator

While gestation is taking place in the woman, both mother and child are nourished by the same blood stream. Now after birth, this task of nourishing the child is taken over by the mother's milk. Then the blood of the mother produces the milk in the mother's breasts and it in turn changes to life-giving blood in the child. The mother actually nourishes the child with her own blood, as long as the child is breast-fed. During the first days after birth, the milk, so called first milk, is more liquid and contains more acid than the normal milk which is formed after eight or twelve days. It is this milk, which must not be withheld, for it is of irreplaceable value for the child's growth and health. And then, corresponding with the growth of the suckling babe, the milk of the mother changes. After the separation at birth mother and child still retain a certain unity.

It must, however, be admitted that the mother's milk is not always good for the child. The mother herself can harm the milk. According to medical findings, seven cigarettes a day have a very harmful influence on the compounding of the milk. The milk in such a case may act as a direct poison on the child. Ever true and always sound is this proposition: "Mother's milk has been prepared for the infant by God Himself. His wisdom has placed in this milk all the nourishing substances, which are necessary for the child. Divine Providence fills her breasts, and she carries this sweet burden and has no relief until the child has been suckled. Mother's milk truly is a masterpiece of the Creator."

This milk contains such nourishing properties that the suckling child doubles its weight in six months time. During the first days it gains about 30 grams, but after the second week it increases in weight from 150 to 200 grams weekly. Every drop is a blessing. The food of the infant is prepared by nature in abundant measure and is of excellent quality. There is no need to mix and warm it. No more is produced than required.

Mother's milk does not only contain foodstuffs, but is at the same time the best medicine. It builds up resistance against many childrens' diseases. It is more precious than any other food. It is so good that the infant sucks its finger, or some other like object, expecting the milk to flow. Mother's milk is a pledge of good heredity in the family. Wonderful properties are ascribed to it by various peoples. For example, in China the young mother drinks milk from the mother-in-law. Among the Eskimos it is customary for the mother to offer her breast to the young men when they return home from a successful hunting excursion. A deep meaning is hidden in the fact that when St. Catherine was martyred, it was not blood, but milk that gushed forth from her body.

The Blessing Of Nursing The Child

Every mother should therefore feed her child at the breast, if at all possible. This is also of great benefit to herself. Feeding the child brings her health back sooner. It is also helpful in calming her nerves, and her entire bodily health is improved. Nursing the child is a blessing for the mother. She retains her youthfulness. It ennobles her, makes her more receptive, and gives her a finer, purer disposition. It is told of a fallen girl that she and her nine months old baby were placed in an institution. Feeding her child made her so serious and conscious of her responsibility that it was no longer necessary to keep her confined in the institution.

Mother's milk is also most beneficial to the infant. It is particularly helpful for its small, frail organs. This milk is the source of love, which will not be exhausted until death. A breast-fed girl will later on have an easier time in giving birth, and mother's milk will not be wanting to her and her children's children. And this intimacy of mother and child is a great blessing. She will never be so closely united with her child again. Her body, her soul, her desires and longings, her hopes and fears, will never impart themselves to the child so easily and naturally as at the time of feeding. The breast of the mother is the only soil whereon the suckling babe can thrive. Every artificial means employed, be it ever so valuable, can never take the place of mother's milk. Every mother has her milk. Nature never produces bad milk, nor is there a milk that is harmful in itself. Doctor Zborovszky rates the number of mothers incapable of feeding their children at one per cent.

Only mother's milk is really suitable for the child. Therefore the life of the child can easily be jeopardized when the mother refuses to feed her infant. Although it has been customary for ladies of distinction to employ a wet-nurse, it certainly is not of advantage to the child. In the year 1870, at Paris, seventy-seven out of a hundred children died, because they were not fed at the mother's breast, or were artificially fed, or a wet-nurse was employed. But while the city was besieged, the mothers were obliged to feed their own children, because no wet-nurses were to be had. It was remarkable, considering the fact that the city was in dire straits, lacking food and other necessities, that only sixteen died out of a hundred. In 1908, only eleven per cent of the children, who were breast-fed, died, while the percentage was 27.7 among artificially fed children.

The Strange Circle

Alban Stolz warns against the practice of entrusting children to the care of strangers such as wet-nurses. He prefers artificial feeding to wet-nurses, for it is in a way unnatural for a mother to nurse strange children. God has given her this treasure for her own children, and it should not be sold for money. Oftentimes the food that belongs to and is needed by her own child is sold to strangers. Even from a moral standpoint, one should hesitate to call upon such persons. Are these wet-nurses always lawfully married? Are they perhaps mothers with a questionable past? Might there not be a danger that the child catch some disease in feeding at her breast, a disease which is the result of her sins? Such a woman should certainly be subjected to medical examination, before she be allowed to have children entrusted to her care.

And even though there be no danger of disease, still the child is removed from its natural relationship to the mother, and as a result will be alienated from her. The great facts of life have been exemplified in two paintings by the artist Greuze. One picture shows mother giving her child to a wet-nurse; the other is the picture of a young man returning home from his travels: he is not calling on his mother, but on the wet-nurse.

In case a mother cannot feed her child, and there is no wet-nurse to be had, then artificial feeding is necessary. At best it is a poor substitute. During the first year of life, the death rate is seven per cent greater among artificially fed babies than among those fed naturally. According to Muckermann, 100,000 more children could be kept alive each year if they were breast-fed.

The great Catholic moral theologians, among them St. Alphonsus, the friend of children and of the common people, have laid down the principle that: the mother is obliged to feed her own child.

It is not necessary to be a Christian to follow these prescriptions. In ancient Sparta, a pagan nation, they promulgated a law making it obligatory for the mother to nurse her own child. The argument that it is not proper for a woman of distinction to feed her child is nonsensical and not true. The laws of nature, established by God, have a nobility of their own which such supposedly noble people forget. Queen Blanche of France, mother of St. Louis the king, refused to permit another woman to nurse her son, even when she was sick. Madame Curie, discoverer of radium, and twice winner of the Nobel prize, did not consider it beneath her dignity to nurse her children in spite of her work. The most beautiful example of all is Mary, who fed the Infant Jesus at her breast. The Christian Middle Ages, took her as an example. In fact, her milk was given special veneration. The great artists have loved to picture Mary nursing the Divine Infant.

The woman of faith knows that she takes God's place in regard to her child. This dignity should not be given heedlessly to another. It is a wonderful thing to give birth to a child. It is far more wonderful and more difficult to rear and educate it correctly and well. A true mother will never permit the blood of a stranger to enter the veins of her child; nor the smile of a strange woman to awaken the soul of her child; nor a stranger to teach her child to lisp its first words when feeding at her breast. There is not only question of nourishing the body; mother's milk is also nourishment for the soul. Similar to the pelican, she nourishes her young offspring with her own blood.

The Indian Woman

The American traveler William Kirby was on his way home from an expedition along Hudson Bay. There he found an Indian woman covered with wounds and completely exhausted. He immediately bound up her wounds and had her taken care of. Then he put various questions to her. For he was surprised to find her in these parts with a suckling babe in her arms, since she belonged to a certain Indian tribe, which lived several hundred miles away. She told him her story. Her tribe had gone to war with another tribe, and she with others was obliged to flee. Finally, becoming exhausted, she had remained behind with her child. That was how she happened to be in this particular region.

"And the wounds?" asked he. "Did you receive them in battle?"

"Oh, no," she replied smilingly. "I have inflicted these wounds upon myself." She pointed to a home-made fish-hook lying nearby.

"The flesh on the fish-hook I took from my arm just before you came." He looked at her with horror.

She continued her story, "I have not eaten for three days, my breasts are dried up. The child is near death from starvation. What could I do? I tore the flesh from my body for bait to catch a few fish so that I might again give nourishment to my child."

What astonishing mother love on the part of a wild Indian woman! The mother is undoubtedly the greatest treasure on earth for the child. You can see the peace that suddenly settles on the countenance of the squalling youngster, when its little mouth has finally found its mother's breast.

I have not in mind the Madonna of the cubist Pablo Picasso, but the Madonna delta Sedia by Raphael, the prince of artists. The history of that picture is a charming one. During a rest between work, the men are seated in the Vatican courtyard. The women are bringing lunch to the workers. Among them there is one with a babe in her arms. While the men are eating, the child also asserts its rights. The mother rests herself to nurse the infant. This touches the soul of Raphael. He watches the impatience and finally the smile of the youngster, and the quiet peacefulness of the mother. His artist's soul is stirred. He grasps his brush and pallette and creates his most beautiful picture of the Madonna. By this picture he wished to tell all the world: "The mother is most beautiful when she takes her infant upon her lap, presses her breast to its lips and stills its hunger."

This item 1474 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org