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New South Wales - Glossary Term

Baby Farming (1867 - )


The term 'baby farming' was used in the nineteenth century to describe the fostering of infants, for a fee. It usually involved an infant being put into the care of a wet-nurse, who would breastfeed the infant. Otherwise, the child was fed artificially with cow's milk, which was a very difficult and dangerous practice before refrigeration, clean water supplies or infant formula, so many infants died in care. However the term developed nastier overtones after some sensational cases reported in the British press in 1867, in which women were accused of starving babies to death for profit.


The term appeared in Australian newspaper articles by the end of that year. A number of Australian women and their husbands were prosecuted for murdering their charges in the late 19th century. The New South Wales Royal Commission into the Decline of the Birth Rate raised baby-farming as an issue, and the Child Protection Act 1902 was introduced to regulate and ensure the safety of 'nursing homes'.

Prepared by: Naomi Parry