Friday, 10 April 2015

A-Z Challenge 2015: I is for Infant Mortality

A-Z Challenge 2015: Infant mortality
Infant mortality - a subject which genealogists come across with frightening regularity the further back you trace your family tree, where children died before the age of one.

Figures such as 350 babies out of a 1000 as late as 1842.

There are, of course, many reasons for this:
  • No plumbing (or only basic plumbing)
  • Feeding with unsuitable foods (I have an ancestor's little brother who wasted away from being fed milk from a cow with TB)
  • Lack of trained care
  • Busy mothers having to leave their baby unattended
  • Violent shaking of a baby to stop it crying
  • Infectious disease
  • Difficult births
  • Congenital defects
  • Babies being overlain in bed
  • Infanticide to conceal pregnancy
  • and doubtless many other reasons
But, among my research, I found another interesting theory.  Some believe that the tenderness that mothers feel towards their babies is only 250 years old.  In fact, far back on the family tree, you can see wealthier parents putting their newborns out to nurse for up to two years, sickly babies being baptised as "Creature", and children being given the name of a child who died earlier (very common in my West Country families).  Children being buried just as "a young child of John Doe" - no name, nothing. 

So mothers just didn't care if their child died?  I find that a little difficult to believe.

What do you think?

© 2015 Ros Haywood. All Rights Reserved


  1. I think, back then, it was more a matter of reality and basic facts. No woman went on and on about being pregnant and having a glow about them. They were pregnant-good let's work. I think they had so many children because they knew most would die and some just took it as reality but I also think many may have stifled their emotions because it was just a "woman" thing which is what men would say. In fact, many said "woman" thing even in the 1980's when it was something quite serious. My great grandmother had 17 children (in Germany). I know 4 died in one year from diphtheria. Only 4 made it to adult hood. 2 had the same name. She was one tough woman who was not the nicest of women. When my grandmother lost her 1 yr old due to war (bomb was coming down and they had to release the air out of their lungs so the lungs would not collapse but he was too little to know this), my great grandmother walked 10 km to care her her daughter in law and she was already in her early 80's. So I think she could relate and understood the sorrow

  2. I think having babies then was a woman's job - many people don't like their jobs especially if they are forced into doing them with absolutely no control over them. Interesting facts, thanks for sharing them.

  3. I think back then having babies was a woman's "job" - many people don't like their jobs, especially if they are forced to do them under terrible conditions with zero input into the situation. This actually doesn't surprise me...

  4. I just found a death certificate yesterday for a 1-day old baby that died from "violence at the hands of person unknown." Unwed mother -- makes me wonder if she was investigated.
    ~Visiting from AtoZ

  5. I can't believe anyone wouldn't care if they had carried that growing baby around for up to nine months inside them - even the animals I have known have "mourned" the passing of others. I am very intrigued by the term "creature" as a baptism name though! A thought provoking post, Ros.



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