History of Childcare

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Sharon Moss
History of Childcare Institutions and Qualifications

1/1/2011
Assignment 1.2 “Really Useful Knowledge”

History of Childcare Institutions and Qualifications

During this essay I will be outlining the history of childcare institutions and qualifications and how they have developed in relation to the needs of the country, family needs and society. I will be looking at the following occupations wet nurses, governesses, nannies and nursery nurses and how qualifications have developed within these roles. I shall them to the qualifications of the present day and how gender and social class have impacted on these professions. Also I shall consider how the curriculum content has changed to meet the demands of the ever changing role of the childcare worker and how it relates to my teaching practice currently and in the future.

When focusing on childcare a fundamental starting point is considering the role of the wet nurse and why she was popular and in demand. Wet nursing can date back as far as Moses. When the princess found baby Moses floating down the Nile she asked Miriam to find a wet nurse. In Ancient Egypt poor women used to supplement their income by becoming wet nurses for the upper class citizens or mothers who could not produce enough milk. Contracts were drawn up between them to “ensure the wet nurse provided good milk; preventing the wet nurse from nursing other children, having sex, or becoming pregnant” (history-wet-nursing, 2011).

In many cultures wet nurses were an ancient tradition, for example within the Chinese culture, before the Second World War, wet nursing was common practice. The Communists tried to outlaw the practice but in the 21st century it has become a status symbol and due to the melamine milk scandal this ancient profession has seen a revival. Wet nurses in China today -

“must leave their own children, maintain a special diet, and undergo training in certain cases. Furthermore, if the babies that they nurse do not grow 20 grams each day, the wet nurses are fined by their employers.” (history-wet-nursing, 2011)

During the Victorian era it was common place for the upper classes to employ a wet nurse as once more this was seen as a status symbol. Other reasons were that women of this era were usually married to authoritarian husbands who believed that breast feeding interfered with sex and the women themselves assumed that it would disfigure their breasts. Furthermore, during this time infant mortality was high and upper class families were encouraged to have large families to ensure the survival of an heir. Breast feeding provided a form of contraception and prevented ovulation thus, spacing out pregnancies. It wasn’t uncommon for babies to be sent to a wet nurse’s home for 18 to 24 months in order for the mother to become pregnant again. Often a wet nurse could be feeding many children including their own (sometimes to their detriment) and was either paid as well as a labourer or received nothing at all.

Morisot, The Wet Nurse (1880)

According to Valerie Fildes there were three types of wet nurses “the parish nurse who took in parish infants and was usually receiving poor relief herself; the nurses of the London Foundling Hospital who worked under the supervision of inspectors; the privately employed nurse, for whom wet-nursing was a significant and continuing occupation for which she received a good wage both in money and in kind: often she was cared for by her nurse-children in later life and received the occasional bequest from them.” (Fildes, 1988, p. 143)

The qualities required for a wet nurse by the Victorians were worked out in enormous detail. She should have an attractive face, clear eyes, well made nose, red mouth, white teeth and a deep chest. The shape of her breasts was very important and their size shape and colour were all taken...
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