A Mother’s Care Over Her Child

A Mothers Care Over Her Child

William Gouge
Of Domestical Duties
6.9-16, pp. 367-377.

§ 6.9. Of a Mother’s Care Over Her Child While It is in Her Womb.

The first age of a child is the infancy thereof. I will therefore first show how therein parents must procure the temporal good of their children, and then their spiritual good.

The first part of a child’s infancy is while it remains in the mother’s womb. Here therefore the duty lies principally upon the mother: who, so soon as she perceiveth a child to be conceived in her womb, ought to have an especial care thereof, that (so much as in her lies) the children may be safely brought forth. (The heathen philosopher, by light of nature, observed this to be a duty; and prescribed it to mothers.) A mother then must have a tender care over herself when she is with child: for the child being lodged in her, and receiving nourishment from her (as plants from the earth) her well-being tends much to the good and safety of the child: but the hurt that comes to her, makes the child the worse, if it be not a means to destroy it.

Why was the charge of abstaining from wine, strong drink, and unclean things, [Judg 13:4] given to Manoah’s wife, but because of the child which she conceived?
In this case there is a double bond to make mothers careful of themselves:

1. Their own good.
2. Their child’s good.

Husbands also in this case must be very tender over their wives, and helpful to them in all things needful, both in regard of that duty which they owe to their wives, and also of that they owe to their children. Why was Manoah so desirous to hear himself the forenamed direction which the angel gave to his wife? and why did the angel again repeat it to him, but to show it belonged to him to see her observe it?

Contrary, To Miscarry Through Negligence

1. They who through violence of passion, whether of grief, or anger, or through violent motion of the body, as by dancing, striving, running, galloping on horseback, or the like: or through distemper of the body, by eating things hurtful, by eating too much, by too much abstinence, by too much bashfulness in concealing their desires and longings (as we speak) cause any abortion or miscarriage, fall into the offence contrary to the forenamed duty. If women were persuaded that in conscience they are bound to the forenamed duty, they would, I think, be more careful of themselves. For if through their default, they themselves or their child miscarry, they make themselves guilty of that miscarriage: if both miscarry, they make themselves guilty of the blood of both; at least in the court of conscience before God.

Contrary, To Make Away a Child in the Womb

2. But they who purposely take things to make away their children in their womb, are in far higher degree guilty of blood: yea even of willful murder. For that which has received a soul formed in it by God, if it be unjustly cast away, shall be revenged.

So far forth as husbands are careless of their wives being with child, denying them things needful, they are accessory to the hurt, which the woman, or child takes, guilty of the sin, and liable to the judgment.

§ 6.10. Of Providing Things Needful for the Child, so Soon as It is Born: and of Cruelty Contrary Thereunto.

The next degree of a child’s infancy, is while it is in the swaddling bands, and remains a sucking child. In this also the care especially lies upon the mother: yet so as the father must afford what help he can.

The first duty here required is, that sufficient provision of all things needful for a child in that weakness be beforehand provided. What the particulars be, women better know, than I can express. For me, it is sufficient, to lay down the duty in general: which is commended unto us in that worthy pattern of the virgin Mary, who though she were very poor, and forced to travel far, and brought to bed in a strange place, where she was so little respected, as she was not afforded a place meet for a woman in her case, but was fain to content herself with a stable in a common inn, yet she provided for her child. For it is said, She wrapped him in swaddling clothes. [Luke 2:7]

Contrary is the practice of such lewd and unnatural women, as leave their newborn children under stalls, at men’s doors, in church porches, yea many times in open field. It is noted as a point of unnaturalness in the ostrich, to leave her eggs in the earth, and in the dust: in which respect she is said to be hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers. [Job 39:14,16] Much more hardened are the foresaid lewd woman. The eagle is counted an unnatural bird, because she thrusteth her young ones, which she has brought forth, out of her nest. Are not then such mothers much more unnatural? They often lay their children forth in public places, for others to show that mercy, which they themselves have not. The civil law judges this to be a kind of murder.

§ 6.11. Of Giving Suck to Children.

Among other needful things, the milk of the breast is fit for young babes, and with it they are to be nourished. I think none doubt of the equity of this. It has in all ages, and in all countries, been accounted the best food that can be for young babes. The metaphor, which saint Peter uses, taken from young infants (in these words, As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word [1 Pet 2:2]) confirms as much. So does also the desire which such infants have to the milk of the breasts: and the ability, and promptness which is in them to suck: and God’s providence in causing a woman’s breasts to yield forth such milk: and the constant manner of nourishing little infants after this manner, commended in the scripture: and (to conclude) the natural instinct which many unreasonable creatures have thus to nourish their young ones.

They who on mere curiosity (where no urgent necessity requires) try whether their children may not as birds be nourished without suck, offend contrary to this duty; and reject that means which God has ordained as the best: and so oppose their shallow wit to his unsearchable wisdom.

§ 6.12. Of Mothers Giving Suck to Their Own Children.

Of nourishing children with breast milk, there is no great question: therefore I have with a touch passed it over. The chiefest question of doubt is concerning the party who is bound to this duty; namely, whether the mother be bound to do it herself or no.

Many strong arguments there be to press it upon the consciences of mothers, and to show that (so far as they are able) they are bound to give suck to their own children. Some are taken from the light of God’s word; and some from the light of nature.

God’s word does in many places by just consequence imply, that it is a bounden duty: in other places it does expressly commend it by the practice of holy women: and again in other places it takes it for a granted truth, and ruled case, not to be denied.

I. The consequences whereby the word implies this duty are these:

1. In the blessing given to Joseph thus speaks old Jacob, God shall bless thee with the blessing of the breasts, and of the womb. [Gen 49:25] By the blessing of the womb, what can be meant, but children? By the blessing of the breasts, what, but milk, whereby those children are nourished? As if he had said; I will bless you with such women, as shall both bear you children, and also give suck to them which they bear. The consequence then is this: As it is a blessing to have children of a true lawful wife; so to have those children nursed of the same wife their mother.

Objection. They have the blessing of breasts that have other women to nurse their children.

Answer. By the same reason it may be said, they have the blessing of the womb who have strange women to bear them children. But the joining of these two branches of blessing together, shows that both must be taken in the same kind: so that as the blessing of the womb is to have children of a man’s wife, so the blessing of the breasts is to have them nursed of his wife. If it be a blessing for the woman which bears the child to give it suck, then mothers are bound to perform this duty.

2. It is denounced as a curse, that women shall have a barren womb and dry breasts. [Hos 9:14] If it be a curse for women to have dry breasts, then may not women wittingly make them dry: which all mothers do, that give not suck to their children.

3. Manoah’s wife being promised to bear a son, had this charge given her: Drink no wine, nor strong drink, etc. those things were especially hurtful for her milk. It is therefore implied thereby, that she should so order her diet, as she might well nurse her child, and have good milk for him.

4. God by his good providence brought it to pass, that the mother of Moses [Exod 2:7] (though she were forced to cast out her child) should nurse her own child. Yea the mother herself was desirous to do it, and therefore appointed her daughter to watch who should take it up. These two circumstances imply that it appertains to a mother to nurse her children.

5. The apostle lays this down as a note of a good woman, who in her place has been careful to do her duty, and thereupon fit to do service in God’s church (If she have nourished her children, or word for word, If she have fed her children) [1 Tim 5:10] Now the proper food for young babes is breast milk, which, by the apostle’s rule, the mother must give.

6. The same apostle commands mothers to love their children. [Titus 2:4] How can a mother better express her love to her young babe, than by letting it suck of her own breasts? As this is a testimony of love, so it is a means of preferring and increasing love: for daily experience shows that mothers love those children best to whom they themselves give suck.

Sum these several consequences together, and we shall find the duty in question to be very strongly enforced thereby.

1. As a blessing it is promised, that mothers shall give suck to the children that they bear.

2. As a curse it is threatened, that women shall not be able to give suck.

3. An angel gave direction to a mother so to carry herself as she might have store of good milk for the child which she should bear.

4. God by his special providence manifested that the proper mother was the best nurse for a child.

5. It is the note of a good woman to perform this part of her particular calling, namely to nurse her own child.

6. Women ought to do all the best duties of love that they can to their children.
Therefore mothers ought to nurse their own children.

II. Some of the most worthy patterns in whose example this duty is commended to mothers are these.

1. Sarah gave suck to Isaac. [Gen 21:7] This example is to be noted especially of the greater sort: as rich men’s wives, honourable men’s wives, and the like. For Sarah was an honourable woman, a princess, a rich man’s wife, a beautiful woman, aged and well grown in years, and a mistress of a family.

Are not these excuses pretended by many mothers for not nursing children themselves?

2. The virgin Mary gave suck to Jesus. This example is to be noted especially of the meaner sort, for the virgin Mary was young, poor, persecuted, forced to remove and fly with her child from country to country. Are not these excuses pretended by other mothers?

These two patterns do not only commend the duty, but also strip all mothers that are negligent therein, of all excuse.

To these may be added the examples of Hannah, [1 Sam 1:22] of David’s mother, [Ps 22:9] and of many others. What if also I add the example of that true, natural, affectionate mother who stood before Solomon’s throne to plead for her child? she thus says of herself, I arose to give my son suck, etc. [1 Kings 3:21] If this had not been a good motherly duty, she would not then and there have pleaded it.

III. The places of scripture which take this duty for a matter granted, and for a ruled case, are such as these.

1. Where Sarah says, Who would have said to Abram that Sarah should have given children suck? [Gen 21:7] In this phrase she sets forth God’s blessing in giving Abram a son by her. Now in that she expresses the blessing under this phrase of giving suck, she takes it for grant, that the mother which bears children must give them suck.

2. Where David says, thou didst make me hope upon my mother’s breasts, [Ps 22:9] he does not only imply that his mother gave him suck, but by the phrase makes it a ruled case that the child which sucks must hang upon the mother’s breast.

3. Where Solomon says, O that thou wert as my brother that sucked the breasts of my mother, [Song 8:1] he takes it also for grant, that brothers and sisters, as they come out of the same womb, so they should suck the same breasts, even the breasts of her out of whose womb they came, their own mother’s breasts.

4. Where the woman said to Christ, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked, [Luke 11:27] she takes it for grant (as it was an usual practice in those days) that the paps of that woman, whose womb bear him, gave him suck.

These arguments we have from the light of God’s word: other we may have from God’s works and the light of nature, as—

1. God has given to women two breasts fit to contain and hold milk: and nipples unto them fit to have milk drawn from them. Why are these thus given? to lay them forth for ostentation? There is no warrant for that in all God’s word. They are directly given for the child’s food that comes out of the womb; for till the child be born, there is no milk in the breasts: anon after it is born, milk ordinarily flows into the breasts: yea a great part of the meat which they eat turns into milk. They make this admirable work of God’s providence to be in vain, that dry up this spring, and suffer not their children to partake of the benefits of it.

2. That nourishment whereon the child fed in the mother’s womb, and whereby it was there sustained, turns into milk, and comes into the breasts when the child comes out of the womb. Whence we may gather, that of all women’s milk, that woman’s milk is fittest for the child, out of whose womb the child came.

3. Together with the milk passes some smack of the affection and disposition of the mother: which makes mothers to love such children best as they have given suck unto: yea and ofttimes such children as have sucked their mother’s breasts, love their mothers best: yea we may observe many who have sucked other’s milk, to love those nurses all the days of their life.

4. Other things are nourished by the same that they are bred. The earth out of which plants grow, ministers nourishment to the said plants: trees that bring forth fruit yield sap to that fruit, whereby it grows to ripeness: unreasonable creatures, and among them the most savage wild beasts, as tigers and dragons, yea sea-monsters give suck to their young ones; whereupon the prophet says of women that give not suck to their children, that they are more cruel than those sea-monsters, Like the ostriches in the wilderness: [Lam 4:3] for the cruel ostrich and the hateful cuckoo are the two kind of creatures which are noted to leave their young ones for others to nourish; the ostrich leaves her eggs in the dust: the cuckoo leaves hers in other birds’ nests. Other creatures (if nature afford them not milk and dugs, as to birds it does not) feed their young ones other ways, yet by themselves.

5. Shall I add another argument which daily experience confirms, namely God’s blessing upon this motherly duty: commonly such children as are nursed by their mothers, prosper best. Mothers are most tender over them, and cannot endure to let them lie crying out, without taking them up and stilling them; as nurses will let them cry and cry again, if they be about any business of their own. For who are commonly chosen to be nurses? even poor country women which have much work to do and little help; and so are forced to let the child lie and cry, many times till it burst again. Children nursed by their mothers are for the most part more cleanly, and neatly brought up, freer from diseases; not so many die; I am sure not so many through negligence cast away. The number of nurse children that die every year is very great. It has been observed in many country villages, that the most part, that from time to time die there, are nurse children. Are not mothers that might have nursed their own children if they would, accessory to the death of those that are cast away by the nurse’s negligence?

On these and other like reasons heathen women, and very savages, have in all ages been moved to nurse their own children: and some heathen philosophers have urged and pressed the necessity of this duty. Never was it more neglected, than among those that bear the name of Christians.

Let mothers know of what rank or degree soever they be, that (out of the case of necessity) they have no warrant to put forth their children to others to nurse. We read not in all the scripture of any holy women that ever did it.

§ 6.13. Of the Objections for Putting Children Forth to Nurse.

Objection 1. Many nurses are mentioned in scripture, as Rebekah’s nurse, [Gen 24:59] Mephibosheth’s nurse, [2 Sam 4:4] Joash his nurse, [2 Kings 11:2] and others.
Answer 1. Such nurses mentioned in scripture were commonly dry nurses. Rebekah’s nurse went with her before she was married: how can it be thought that she was a milk nurse? Could they tell when Rebekah should have a child? or when she had one, that Deborah (the nurse there mentioned) [Gen 35:8] should have milk for her? It is said that Naomi became nurse to Ruth’s child: [Ruth 4:16] now Naomi was old, long before this she was past childbearing, without an husband for many years: how then was it possible that she should give suck? She was therefore a dry nurse, as other nurses mentioned in scripture.

Answer 2. The mothers of those children which are said to have nurses (if those nurses were milk nurses) might be dead: or if living, not able to give suck for want of milk, nipple, or for some other like defect: or if able, sin in putting forth their children.

Answer 3. Though it be said that there were nurses, yet is it no where said, that a mother put forth her child to suck.

Objection 2. Pharaoh’s daughter put forth the child which she took for her own to nurse. [Exod 2:7]

Answer 1. She bare not this child, nor was the natural mother of it, so as this is nothing to the purpose. Yea it makes against the objectors, in that the true mother of this child nursed it.

Objection 3. The metaphor taken from nurses is often used, and applied to God, [Num 11:12] and to God’s ministers. [1 Thess 2:7]

Answer 1. The using of a thing by way of comparison and resemblance does not simply justify it: instance the parable of the unfit steward, and of a thief. [Luke 16:1]

Answer 2. The metaphor may be taken from a dry nurse as well as a milk nurse: for the comparisons are not used of giving suck, but of bearing and carrying in arms, as dry nurses used to carry children.

Answer 3. The metaphors are most fitly taken from mothers that are nurses to their own children.

Objection 4. Many mothers have not such skill in giving suck as nurses have.

Answer. Let them learn seeing it is their duty.

Objection 5. Mothers that are of great wealth and high place cannot endure the pain of nursing, nor take the pains in handling young children as they must be handled.

Answer 1. The greatest that be must set themselves to do that duty which God requires at their hands, though it be with pain and pains. Note Sarah’s example before recorded.

Answer 2. By this it appears, that if other women could bear their children in the womb nine months, and endure the pain of travail for them, they would hire them to do it. But seeing they do the one (namely bear and bring forth their own children with hard labour) why should they not do the other? If they say there is an unavoidable necessity of bearing and bringing forth their children; I answer, that conscience ought to move them to nurse those children, which necessity forceth them to bring forth. God by this latter of nursing children makes trial of women whether they will for conscience sake, do that duty which they may if they will put off. But because God knew that many will do no more than necessity lays upon them, he has made it a matter of impossibility for women to bear and bring forth their children by another.

Answer 3. If women would with cheerfulness set themselves to perform this duty, much of the supposed pain and pains would be lessened.

Answer 4. Though they put not forth their children to nurse, they may for their ease entertain a nurse, so they give suck themselves.

Objection 6. A mother that has a trade, or that has the care of an house, will neglect much business by nursing her child: and her husband will save more by giving half a crown a week to a nurse, than if his wife gave the child suck.

Answer. No outward business appertaining to a mother can be more acceptable to God than the nursing of her child: this is the most proper work of her special calling, therefore all other business must give place to this, and this must not be left for any other business.

As for the husband’s saving by putting the child forth to nurse, no gain may give a dispensation against a bounden duty.

Objection 7. It will break tender fair women, and make them look old too soon.

Answer 1. God’s ordinance must not give place to women’s niceness. Sarah was fair and old: the virgin Mary was fair and young.

Answer 2. Drying up a woman’s milk will more break her, than her child’s sucking of it: for it is a means both of better health, and also of greater strength, as to bear children, so to give them suck. Barren women and bearing women which put forth their children to suck, are most subject to sickness and weakness. The drawing forth of a woman’s milk by her child is a means to get and preserve a good stomach, which is a great preservative of good health.

Objection 8. Husbands are disturbed in the night time, and hindered of their sleep by their wives’ giving suck to their children.

Answer 1. By this reason neither mothers nor other nurses which have husbands, should give suck to children.

Answer 2. Seeing children come from the loins of the father, as well as out of the womb of the mother, they must be content to endure some disturbance as well as their wives, and so much the rather that they may the more pity their wives, and afford unto them what help they can.

Objection 9. Many husbands will not suffer their wives to nurse their children themselves.

Answer. Because it is a bounden duty, wives must use all the means they can by themselves or others to persuade their husbands to let them perform it: they must take heed that they make not this a pretext to cover their own sloth, and loathness to this duty: they may not make themselves accessory to their husband’s fault by providing a nurse, and sending the child away themselves: if their husbands will stand upon their authority, and be persuaded by no means to the contrary, they must be mere patients in suffering the child to be taken away.

Objection 10. Many poor women maintain their house by nursing other folks’ children.

Answer. If they were not that way employed, they might take pains in some other thing. But the gain of one may not make another neglect her duty.

Objection 11. Some mothers cannot give suck, they have no milk: others cannot very well, in that they have no nipples, or they have sore breasts, or are sickly, or it may be that they have such a disease, as the child, if it should suck of their milk, would draw to itself, and so the sucking might prove very dangerous to the child.

Answer 1. God requires no impossibilities: wherefore in propounding the duty I put in this caution so far as they are able.

Answer 2. God requires mercy and not sacrifice: [Hos 6:6; Matt 9:13] if therefore in truth it be so that the mother’s giving suck to the child will be dangerous to herself or to the child, she may and ought to forbear: for giving suck is but as sacrifice to preventing of danger, which is mercy. But women must take heed that they pretend not inability, and danger without just cause. Some are themselves the cause of wanting milk because they will not let it be drawn down; or because they will not use means (for means there are) to get and increase milk. There are means also to raise nipples where the breasts are very flat. Refusing to give suck many times causes some sickishness in a woman, and sore breasts, which might be prevented with the child’s sucking. If the soreness be only in the nipples, a mother with enduring a little more pain may safely give the child suck. Many mothers have given their children suck when blood has run by the mouth of the child by reason of sore nipples, and yet both mother and child done very well.

Objection 12. Divers children being nursed by the mother have died one after another.

Answer. Due and thorough search must be made by those that are skillful: and if any cause be found in the mother, then the rule holds, Mercy and not sacrifice: but if none can be found, the issue must be referred to God’s providence: and the uncertain event must not be an hindrance to a known duty.

Thus the answering of the forenamed objections makes the point so much the more clear.

§ 6.14. Of the Father’s Duty in Encouraging His Wife to Nurse Her Child.

The duty which on a father’s part in this respect is required, is that he encourage his wife, and help her with all needful things for the performance of this duty. It is noted of Elkanah, that he suffered his wife to tarry at home while she gave suck to her son, and would not force her to go up to the tabernacle as his other wife did, but gave her all the ease and content he could, saying to her, “Do what seemeth thee good.” [1 Sam 1:23] And of Abraham it is noted, that after Sarah had done giving the child suck, “he made a great feast,” even “the day that Isaac was weaned:” [Gen 21:8] one end whereof was to testify his rejoicing for God’s blessing on her motherly duty so well performed.

§ 6.15. Of the Faults Contrary to a Mother’s Nursing Her Child.

Contrary to this duty do all such mothers offend, as for any by-respects when no necessity requires put forth their children to be nursed by others.

1. Some do it for ease and quiet, because they cannot endure to have their sleep broken, or to hear their child wrangle and cry.

2. Others do it for niceness, because they are loath to open their breasts, or to soil their clothes.

3. Others upon pride, conceiting that their beauty would be impaired, and they look old too soon.

4. Others upon gain, because they can have a child cheaper nursed abroad than at home, where, at least, they must hire a maid the more.

5. Others upon pleasure, that they might more freely ride abroad, and meet their gossips.

6. Others upon other by-respects: all which do argue much self-love: little love to their child, and little respect to God. They can be counted but half-mothers: for nursing a child is as much as bearing and bringing it forth.

§ 6.16. Of a Father’s Fault in Hindering His Wife’s Nursing of Her Child.

To the forenamed fault of mothers do all such fathers make themselves accessory, as forbid their wives to nurse their children, or are a grief to them by their complaints of trouble, disquiet and expense: or afford not things needful, or do not encourage them all they can to do it. The mother’s both pain and pains is the greatest: it is in comparison but a small thing that fathers can endure therein. Their fault therefore must needs be the greater, if any way they be an occasion of their child’s putting forth to nurse: which I have the rather noted, because husbands for the most part are the cause that their wives nurse not their own children: and that partly by suffering, and partly by egging them on to put out their children. If husbands were willing that their wives should perform this duty, and would persuade and encourage them thereto, and afford them what helps they could, where one mother now nurseth her child, twenty would do it.



“When the child has been born, let the mother herself breastfeed it, if she in any way has the strength and ability to do so. This demands love for the child and increases mutual love between the mother and the child. It is by far the best thing for children who, as newborn infants, strongly crave this “sincere” milk (1 Peter 2:2). To that end, God has given the mother two breasts that are filled with milk. If a mother needlessly lets her breasts dry up, she spoils the work of God’s providence, which provokes the Lord. Nature teaches the opposite; even irrational animals—jackals—offer their breasts and nurse their young (Lam. 4:3). The blessings of breasts are particularly desirable (Gen. 49:25). Drying breasts were considered a curse (Hosea 9:14). A princess like Sarah nursed her own son (Gen. 21:7). David and the Lord Christ sucked their mothers’ breasts (Ps. 22:10; Luke 11:27). We do not have a single example of a God-fearing mother in the Word of the Lord who did not nurse her children herself. The “nurses” of whom we read that were used for children (Gen. 24:59; 35:8; 2 Sam. 4:4) were in all likelihood caretakers without breast-feeding duties, like Naomi for Ruth’s child (Ruth 4:6). They were employed when mothers died in child birth or were for some reason incapable of performing that duty.” (Jacobus Koelman (1631-1695), The Duties of Parents (1679), p. 38).

One thought on “A Mother’s Care Over Her Child

  1. “The baptism of your children, as it laid a strong and lasting obligation upon them to live in the fear of God, so it brought you under the most powerful engagements imaginable to bring them up in that fear. The child you gave up to God to be dedicated to him, and admitted a member of Christ’s visible church, was in God’s name given back to you, with the same charge that Pharaoh’s daughter gave to Moses’s mother, “Take this child and nurse it for me” (Ex. 2:9); and in nursing it for God, you nurse it for better preferment than that of being called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” —Matthew Henry, A Church in the House: A Sermon Concerning Family Religion.

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