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As we shall see, neither supposition is supported by the facts. Folklore has it that the medieval child spent his first year or so wrapped in swaddling, stuck in a cradle, and virtually ignored. This raises the question of how thick-skinned the average medieval parent had to be in order to disregard the persistent cries of hungry, wet and lonely babies.

The reality of medieval infant care is a trifle more complex. In cultures such as England in the High Middle Ages , babies were often swaddled, theoretically to help their arms and legs grow straight. Swaddling involved wrapping the infant in linen strips with his legs together and his arms close to his body. This, of course, immobilized him and made him much easier to keep out of trouble.

But infants were not swaddled continuously. They were changed regularly and released from their bonds to crawl around. The swaddling might come off altogether when the child was old enough to sit up on his own. Furthermore, swaddling was not necessarily the norm in all medieval cultures.


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Gerald of Wales remarked that Irish children were never swaddled, and seemed to grow strong and handsome just the same. Whether swaddled or not, the infant probably spent much of its time in the cradle when it was home. Busy peasant mothers might tie unswaddled babies into the cradle, allowing them to move within it but keeping them from crawling into trouble.

But mothers often carried their babies about in their arms on their errands outside the home. Infants were even to be found near their parents as they labored in the fields at the busiest harvest times, on the ground or secured in a tree. Babies who were not swaddled were very often simply naked or wrapped in blankets against the cold. They may have been clad in simple gowns.

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There is little evidence for any other clothing , and since the child would quickly outgrow anything sewn especially for it, a variety of baby clothing was not an economic feasibility in poorer homes. An infant's mother was ordinarily its primary caregiver, particularly in poorer families. Other family members might assist, but the mother usually fed the child since she was physically equipped for it. Peasants didn't often have the luxury of hiring a full-time nurse, although if the mother died or was too ill to nurse the baby herself, a wet nurse could often be found.

Even in households that could afford to hire a wet nurse, it was not unknown for mothers to nurse their children themselves, which was a practice encouraged by the Church. Medieval parents sometimes found alternatives to breastfeeding their children, but there is no evidence that this was a common occurrence. Rather, families resorted to such ingenuity when the mother was dead or too ill to breastfeed, and when no wet nurse could be found. Alternate methods of feeding the child included soaking bread in milk for the child to ingest, soaking a rag in milk for the child to suckle, or pouring milk into his mouth from a horn.

All were more difficult for a mother than simply putting a child to her breast, and it would appear that—in less affluent homes—if a mother could nurse her child, she did. However, among the nobility and wealthier town folk, wet nurses were quite common and frequently stayed on once the infant was weaned to care for him through his early childhood years.

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This presents the picture of a medieval "yuppie syndrome," where parents lose touch with their offspring in favor of banquets, tourneys, and court intrigue, and someone else raises their child. This may indeed have been the case in some families, but parents could and did take an active interest in the welfare and daily activities of their children. They were also known to take great care in choosing the nurse and treated her well for the ultimate benefit of the child.

Whether a child received its food and care from its own mother or a nurse, it is difficult to make a case for a lack of tenderness between the two. Today, mothers report that nursing their children is a highly satisfying emotional experience. It seems unreasonable to assume that only modern mothers feel a biological bond that in more likelihood has occurred for thousands of years.

It was observed that a nurse took the place of the mother in many respects, and this included providing affection to the baby in her charge. Bartholomaeus Anglicus described the activities nurses commonly performed: consoling children when they fell or were sick, bathing and anointing them, singing them to sleep, even chewing meat for them.

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Evidently, there is no reason to assume the average medieval child suffered for lack of affection, even if there was a reason to believe his fragile life would not last a year. Death came in many guises for the littlest members of medieval society. With the invention of the microscope centuries in the future, there was no understanding of germs as the cause of disease. There were also no antibiotics or vaccines. Diseases that a shot or a tablet can eradicate today claimed all too many young lives in the Middle Ages. If for whatever reason a baby could not be nursed, his chances of contracting illness increased; this was due to the unsanitary methods devised for getting food into him and the lack of beneficial breast milk to help him fight disease.

Sex, Society and Medieval Women by N. M. Heckel

Children succumbed to other dangers. In cultures that practiced swaddling infants or tying them into a cradle to keep them out of trouble, babies were known to die in fires when they were so confined. Submitted by Dawn Santarlasci not verified on September 23, - pm.

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Submitted by Denise Conti not verified on September 29, - pm. Submitted by Danielle Kaller not verified on October 1, - am. Submitted by Olynda not verified on October 2, - pm. Submitted by John Benson not verified on October 31, - pm. An Italian family looking for lost baggage, Ellis Island, Tompkins Square Branch, View all posts by Megan Margino.

Comments Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. Italian Submitted by Ian Marlet not verified on August 18, - am.

I am researching an italian case at the moment. Thanks for the tips! I would like to search birth and death records in Bonefro, Italy between and The Archivio de Campobasso , Stato civile, had records before only. I hope you can help. Thank you. I never knew him because he died in the MV Mamutu where the Japanese troops bombed in Weven never met his family. Really want to find out if he did have siblings apart from Jack.. Please help me..

I'm actually the grand child of Joseph Michael Regione.. Ancestry Search Submitted by Chelsea not verified on October 10, - am. I did a quick search through my ancestry. I'm thinking you may even be the person that put it up there! If not I can download and try to get you in touch with the person.

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There is no other information besides the things you already know, but I'd suggest instead of looking for records of a Pedro, you may turn your search to the name Pietro. Pedro is more commonly used in Spanish families, where Pietro is the name for Peter in Italian. The records on Ancestry indicate that his son Peter also died in the attack.

It would make sense that he named a child Peter, after his own name. I wish you the best of luck in your search! It can be painstaking with these Italian records! His supposed birth name was Santino Lari,and the orphanage gave him the name of Nibbi.

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Does anyone know about this? Hi Norleen, I live not far from Lucca. If you could be a little bit more precise, I could try and get more info about your grandfather. In Italy there are restriction on the cases of orphans My Grandfather from Lucca Submitted by bob sacco not verified on September 12, - am. Is there an online database I can search? Can someone from the area help guide me as how to go about finding the information?

Thanks in advance for the consideration. Best, Bob. I will appreciate any help grind relatives in Bologna, Italy. How do I begin? I want to make a summer pilgrimage to their home town. Gialanella Submitted by Conni Gialanella not verified on February 18, - pm. He married Antonia Caruso, born 16 May in Italy.