One specific way in which Rousseau’s views on the family were influential during the revolutionary period was his argument that mothers should nurse their own children, rather than sending them out to wet-nurses. This view was very popular among women especially as it was seen by many as reinstating women in society, granting them a form of authority, which stemmed from their ability to nurture future citizens.
Despite Rousseau's lack of arguments and his reliance on romantic notions of the mother-infant relationship, many French women writers, including Manon Roland, agreed with him that breastfeeding one’s own child was a moral duty.
But these women were not immune to the sort of difficulties that mothers often experience when they breastfeed. That included Manon. Her difficulties were only minor – an illness early on which meant she was too weak to produce milk – and seems to have been able to avoid depression.. But she had to employ the services of her nurse while she was ill and her husband was in Paris on business, and this bothered her:
We mustn’t pretend otherwise: she will have the child more often than I at first, especially during this unfortunate convalescence when I am deprived of my strength. She will have her smiles, also. And I, although I will no longer be in pain, will not be repaid by her first caresses for which I would forget anything. This is still making me cry – I cannot forgive my own weakness. My child will not know my breast, she will not throw herself upon it with this urgency, so touching for mothers: why has my milk gone?!”
A few weeks later, Manon found a way of getting her milk back. She hired the services of a ‘femme à tirer’ a sort of lactation consultant, who came twice a day to massage her breasts and draw milk. Manon noted an improvement - a permanent drop of milk on the tip of her breasts – and hoped that the milk would soon thicken. In the end she succeeded in breastfeeding her daughter, keeping careful records of her growth, lest her milk was not rich enough.
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