Newborn Care and Survival among Jews in Early Modern Poland

Zvi Eckstein, Anat Vaturi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


While there were discrepancies between Jewish law and custom and actual practice, the customs, beliefs, and norms governing post-partum breastfeeding and wet-nurse employment that were standardized as ‘good’ among Jews in early modern Poland favoured infant survival. In particular, the fact that Jewish religious precepts enjoined maternal breastfeeding from shortly after birth gave the new-born the benefit of the first milk, known as colostrum, which contains a range of antimicrobial elements as well as substances strengthening the immune system, of which medical knowledge only became aware in the nineteenth century. These practices thus constituted one of the factors that reduced infant and child death rates among Jews, which seem to have been lower than the corresponding rates among Christians. This contributed to the rapid rise of the Jewish population in Poland–Lithuania.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)122-139
Number of pages18
JournalPolin: Studies in Polish Jewry
StatePublished - 2024


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