Babies blossomed on medieval breast milk

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Medieval mothers breast-fed for up to 18 months and their babies thrived on the extra nutrition, a study shows.

Medieval mothers breast-fed for up to 18 months and their babies thrived on the extra nutrition, a study shows.

While modern mothers are advised to breast-feed for six months, a study by academics at Bradford and Oxford universities shows that babies in the 14th century drank their mothers' milk long after they began eating solids.

The scientists made the discoveries after testing on infant bones dating from between the 10th and 16th centuries revealed high levels of two nitrogen isotopes found in breast milk.

The remains came from the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy in the Yorkshire Wolds and were of ordinary peasants. While the adults faced a bleak struggle for survival, their babies appear to have grown as well as today's.

The Roman writer Soranus recommended lengthy breast-feeding in the first century AD and his advice in turn influenced medieval physicians.

But the Wharram Percy study is the first scientific evidence that the advice was followed by the general populace.

Dr Simon Mays, human skeletal biologist at English Heritage, said: "Breast ... milk contains important natural ingredients that strengthen the immune system. But, in medieval times, it also enabled children to avoid contaminated food and water."

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