Breastfeeding is the traditional way for babies to be fed.

There is a long history as to how and why Ojibwe women went away from the traditional way of feeding an infant through breastfeeding and switched over to formula.  The following article has a brief history of how this may have come to be.  A brief summary is that women were sent away to boarding schools where they were not taught the traditional ways and were taught that the traditional ways did not have value.  Then when their children were having children, they discouraged this second generation from breastfeeding as well - at the same time that formula companies were on an advertising binge.

Joan Dodgson, Roxanne Struthers
Health Care for Women International 
Vol. 24, Iss. 1, 2003

Click here for a PDF of the article traditional breastfeeding practicies of the ojibwe of northern minnesota

The article also discusses how traditionally breast milk is considered a gift and medicine from a mother to her child.  It describes how Ojibwe women used breast milk to treat both eye and ear infections in their infants.

Here is excerpt about feeding patterns:

Babies were put to the breast immediately after birth and nursed as often as they wanted.

  1. Children were nursed on demand. This suggests the Ojibwe understood the importance of colostrum in promoting infant health in the early postpartum. Unlike the Ojibwe, many cultures worldwide avoid feeding colostrum and offer prelacteal foods to newborns (Baumslag & Michels, 1995).
  2. Almost immediately after birth babies were securely wrapped and put into a cradleboard that had been especially made by a close family member: “My mother would always say to wrap up the babies tightly, and they are calmer. It helps to keep their spirit in; when they are not wrapped their spirits go this way and that.” The cradleboards were placed so babies could be a part of daily activities and were stood up so babies could view their surroundings. Babies often remained in the cradleboard during the day and at night slept with their mothers. As the baby grew, hammocks were also used for sleeping in the home and hung on trees while mothers worked outside. These practices facilitated the mother’s ability to feed her infant according to the infant’s schedule. Therefore, infants were fed frequently and the natural child spacing effect associated with frequent lactation occurred.
  3. Although additional foods were given to the growing child, breastfeeding pro- longed into the infant’s second year or more was the norm. This is consistent with other traditional cultures (Baumslag & Michels, 1995). Foods given dur- ing the first year included soups and soft foods, and jerky when teething.
  4. Ojibwe babies were weaned when the child determined it was the right time. The Ojibwe recognized that different children have different needs. However, elders agreed that weaning was required if the mother became pregnant while nursing. It was believed that to continue to breastfeed might hurt the pregnancy.
  5. Unlike some indigenous cultures, participants knew of no taboos regarding sexual intercourse during lactation.


Please also visit for more information about breastfeeding for native families.


Here is a link the Indian Health Service Breastfeeding site -


Check out the latest breastfeeding promotion materials as part of the Let's Move in Indian Country program