So I have a bit more news about my day at Avon HQ in April. The day starts with coffee with the incomparable Ms. Eloisa James! That’s it – April 13th will officially contain more excitement before breakfast than I typically see in a year.

It’s just a few weeks away – I can’t believe it. I’m excited, but also a bit anxious about being away from my kids overnight for the first time. Especially my baby, for a combination of emotional and physiological reasons.

That (and a CP’s WIP) got me thinking about breastfeeding in historical romance. I like a romance heroine nursing her baby, because I think our society can always use another positive image of breastfeeding. I mean, just a few months ago a woman got kicked off a Delta airlines flight for nursing her child and refusing the flight attendant’s demand that she cover her kid with a blanket (the airline has since apologized).

Although I’m by no means a political “lactivist,” I’m always happy to see any affirmation of nursing, even in a romance novel. But historically speaking, most upper class ladies employed wet nurses. I’ve read different reasons as to why – one being because they could become pregnant again faster and produce more potential heirs. I was doing some searching online and found this fascinating 1612 document on “Choosing a Wet Nurse.” Among other qualifications, a suitable wet nurse must have a thick neck, and preferably chestnut hair – definitely not red. One particularly fun excerpt:

She must have a pleasing countenance, a bright and cleare eie, a well formed nose, neither crooked, nor of a bad smell, a ruddie mouth, and verie white teeth: She must deliver her words well, and distinctly, without stammering: and she must have strong and big necke: for thereby (as Hippocrates saith) may one judge, of the strength of the bodie. She must have a broad and large breast, garnished with two Paps of a reasonable bigness, neither limber, nor hanging down, but betweene hard and soft; full of Azure veines and Arteries, not being either knottie, of swolne bigger than they should be: the nipple which is in the midst of the breasts, ought to be somewhat eminent, and withall a ruddie colour like a Strawberie, it must be of a reasonable bignesse and thicknesse, and of a easie draught, that the child may take it the better, and sucke the easier.

Can you imagine enduring such an inspection? “Hmm. These veins are more sapphire than azure, and the nipple – oh, definitely not Strawberie. More of a Plum colour. Wholly unsuitable. Next!”

Anyway, I open the topic to you. How do you feel about breastfeeding in romance novels? Is this one of those cases where a modern sensibility trumps historical accuracy? And what kind of latte should I order with Ms. Eloisa?

12 comments to “Cafe au Lait”

  1. AprilsMom
    · March 23rd, 2007 at 9:59 am · Link

    Dear Eve, LOL. That list of qualifications was probably drawn up by a noble woman who really DID want to breastfeed her child, not turn it over to a wet nurse. “Hmmm–throw in very white teeth, too. Not too many people have those! By the time we find a suitable candidate, my baby won’t need her.” Hope you have a wonderful time at Avon HQ!

  2. Sara
    · March 23rd, 2007 at 10:14 am · Link

    I really love breastfeeding in novels, especially when the higher class lady bucks tradition and enjoys the bonding experience of nursing her child. That said, my heroine will be using a wetnurse because she and my hero have a love scene during the time when she would be nursing, and I’m not sure how to deal with the milk. I think that’s something I’ll wait to tackle until I’ve personally dealt with it.
    As you’ve observed, I’m more of a hot chocolate girl myself, but I think any latte should be fine as long as it’s not cafe au lait de sein.

  3. CM
    · March 23rd, 2007 at 10:49 am · Link

    Yes for breastfeeding. Your heroines are already different from the norm. What’s a little extra difference on top of all that?

  4. Maggie Robinson
    · March 23rd, 2007 at 12:01 pm · Link

    Interesting excerpt—but I would have flunked at breastfeeding my OWN kids if I had to follow those rules!

    What was that movie where the guy adds milk from a baby’s bottle to his coffee and then finds out it was breast milk? My mind wanders.

    I think nursing is important (if you can do it) and should be incorporated into books, whether it’s historically accurate or not. So much other crap gets shoved in; why not breastfeeding?

    I can imagine the separation anxiety you’re going to feel, but have an absolutely perfect day in New York for the rest of us!

    And I’d be ordering tea, with lemon.

  5. Ericka Scott
    · March 23rd, 2007 at 12:24 pm · Link

    Caramel frappachino, tea with sugar and cream, or, gasp, diet soda — not a hot coffee drinker at any times, especially not in the morning!

    As for breastfeeding in an historical novel, you could have her sneaking it in. . .you know, hubby hired the wet nurse, but every time his back is turned, she sneaks away to snuggle with the baby and bond. Sigh.

    I’m just soooo glad that my youngest (2.5) is such a snuggley boy. I still get to rock him to sleep before nap and for a few minutes at night before he gets into his bedtime routine of countdowns, hugs, and smoochey noisey kisses.

    Yep, I can definitely see why you’d miss your kids ~ I know I would too!

  6. Sara
    · March 23rd, 2007 at 12:28 pm · Link

    That’s from Look Who’s Talking, Maggie. The same scene popped into my mind! 😉

  7. Alice Audrey
    · March 23rd, 2007 at 6:45 pm · Link

    I guess I would have to go by what is needed for the story itself. If breastfeeding gets in the way, I’d drop it. Otherwise I’d keep it.


  8. Tessa Dare
    · March 23rd, 2007 at 6:53 pm · Link

    Aprilsmom! So great to see you! Don’t be a stranger.

    Actually, this wasn’t really a question I’m dealing with in my own writing – I don’t think any of my books will get that far. (Not the ones I have planned, anyway.)I certainly doubt I’d make a huge issue of it if I did.

    I just wondered what the rest of you thought when you read novels with women breastfeeding, even when it’s not really historically accurate.

  9. Lindsey
    · March 24th, 2007 at 8:39 am · Link

    I’m willing to suspend my disbelief (or qualms about historical accuracy) for breastfeeding. There’s a reason these women are heroines and have stories worth telling, and it’s not because they bow to convention.

    Maybe it’s a gap in my reading, but I can’t think of any heroines who use a wet nurse. Are there any?

  10. Gillian
    · March 24th, 2007 at 12:05 pm · Link

    One of Mary Balogh’s Christmas stories has a heroine who nurses, with the husband watching her. It’s tender and erotic and wonderful.

    I’d be drinking tea, as coffee would send me running to the bathroom (arghh)…so, as I asked before, young lady– what are you wearing to this shin-dig?
    Did you take that Avon Saks card and go shopping? (and NOT buy things for the kids?)

    Wait til you hit 40. Love my babies I do, but you’ll be dancing your way to the airport.

    Hugs- Gillian

  11. Leigh
    · March 26th, 2007 at 5:15 pm · Link

    I remember in the PBS movie ‘Berkely Square’ the crazy American woman (married to an Englishman) insisted on breastfeeding her babies. It wasn’t a super big deal.

    As for being historically accurate-I bet more women breastfed than the historians know or tell us. I am totally willing to believe a character doing it if it fits her personality.

    Sara’s first comment about the love scene cracked me up but also freaked me out. I’m due with my first in Aug and I wonder how we’ll deal with the same thing… lol

  12. Tessa Dare
    · March 26th, 2007 at 9:18 pm · Link

    Ladyleigh! Thanks for stopping by!

    Don’t worry about what will happen during sex after your little one is born. You’ll be too tired to have sex, anyway. 🙂

    I can’t think of specific examples, but I know I’ve read scenes before where the heroine kinda “nurses” the hero – I don’t know. I find that a little weird. Perhaps others find it erotic? (Well, evidently someone does, or it wouldn’t have been in the book!)