Childbirth and Infancy
Digital History ID 628
Adriaen Van Der Donck
The legal officer of a Dutch estate in New Netherlands describes childbirth in that area.
...When the time of their delivery is near...they depart alone to a secluded place near a brook, or stream of water, where they can be protected from the winds, and prepare a shelter for themselves with mats and covering, where, provided with provisions necessary for them, they await their delivery without the company or aid of any person. After their children are born, and if they are males, although the weather be ever so cold and freezing, they immerse them some time in the water, which, they say, makes them strong brave men and hardy hunters. After the immersion they wrap their children in warm clothing....
The native Indian women of every grade always nurse their own children, nor do we know of any who have trusted that parental duty to others....When they suckle or are pregnant, they in those cases practice the strictest abstinence, because, as they say, it is beneficial to their offspring, and to nursing children. In the meantime, their women are not precise or offended, if their husbands have foreign associations, but they observe the former custom so religiously, that they hold it to be disgraceful for a woman to recede from it before her child is weaned, which they usually do when their children are a year old, and those who wean their children before that period are despised. During a certain season, their women seclude themselves, and do not appear abroad or permit themselves to be seen of men.
Source: Adriaen Van der Donck, Description of the New Netherlands (1655), trans. by Jeremiah Johnson, Collections of the New-York Historical Society, 2nd series, volume 1 (1841).
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