Birth spacing among commoners

Birth spacing among commoners
Ca. 1787. «The baptism of Saint Francis». Zacarías González Velázquez. © Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (Spain)

Birth spacing among commoners

VI Born to die and to be reborn


Catalina Zamorana and Lázaro García lived in Mieza, Salamanca province. If they followed the custom of their time, they probably married when the bride was about 20 years old, around 1598 or 1599. Between 1600 and 1621 they christened the following children at the parish of San Sebastián: Mateo, on 30 January 1600; Catalina, on 1 September 1602 (with the name of the mother); Isabel, on 12 March 1606; Ana, on 20 May 1609; Francisco, on 22 August 1611.

Ana, on 30 July 1614; this was an emergency baptism, solemnly completed on 29 August.

It is worth noting that the name Ana is recorded twice. This indicates that the first of the two Anas lived a short life and bequeathed her name to her younger sister. To christen a child with the name of a deceased sibling was very common at the time.

What could be the reasons for the intervals of more than two years between most of these births Why were the intervals between births notably longer among commoners than in the Royal Family and among aristocrats? Parish registers do not give the number of miscarriages, stillborn children, and infants that died unbaptised. Nor do we have numbers for abortions triggered by potions and herbs (the rue for example, not without reason associated with the Celestinas’ herbarium), or for infanticides.

Moreover, we must consider the contraceptive effect of breastfeeding. A woman who breastfeeds her baby is less likely to conceive than the one who employs a wet-nurse or feeds her child on pap. According to Bartolomé Bennassar, babies nurtured by their own mother’s milk had a better chance of surviving the dangers of earliest infancy. It is for this reason that infant mortality, high as it was in Spain, nevertheless ranked below countries like France where the use of wet nurses was more prevalent among the lower classes. [Wolfram Aichinger y Marie Stockinger]