The Mead Johnson company was particularly aggressive in its pursuit of medical clients for its baby formulae.
This relationship was described as “enlightened self-interest and co-operation” between the manufacturer and the medical profession.
There is no doubt that concerns about infant mortality rates in the USA at the end of the nineteenth century played a role in motivating the medical profession to find new, safe ways of providing nourishment to small babies.
I just can’t work out why there was so little effort to try and work with human lactation. Wet nurses were (perhaps rightly) widely condemned, but lactation advice seemed to consist solely of offering something else to feed the baby. This complementary feeding almost inevitably led to weaning because of reduced ( or further reduced) feeding at the breast and then reduced stimulation to make more milk.
What about human milk banks? They seem not to have been thought of … formula was the substitute.
Milk sharing must have been endemic, just from the view of infant survival. And it’s a different phenomenon to wet-nursing: a trusted friend or family member provides the milk (and perhaps the breast), rather than a financial transaction. It is an act of trust between mothers. And then there’s the safety of having milk provided to your baby, that another mother is giving her baby. Many of you will know of the special “cousin” or sibling relationship that milk-sharing confers on babies as they grow up in Islamic cultures.
Dr Virginia Thorley is a Lactation Consultant, ABA counsellor and historian who has written about milk sharing:http://www.virginiathorley.com/Links.html
A pervasive and general mistrust of the functioning of women’s bodies was certainly at play: breastmilk couldn’t be trusted to be consistently wholesome (not surprising given the prescribed conditions necessary for this), women’s bodies were unlikely to be able to produce enough of the stuff, and if there wasn’t enough, you had to give something else instead.
The parallels with men managing childbirth are obvious. Why trust nature when intervention could help so much? Also consider the manipulation of nature with regard to the regulation of rivers and mechanisation of agriculture…
Formula was apparently more attractive because medical practitioners were able to manipulate its contents according to “the baby’s needs”. The implication is that mothers were harder to manipulate! You bet.
But also there was a fundamental distrust of mothers’ ability to care for their babies in general. “Maternal education” was seen as vital to improving infant survival. This was done by means of pamphlets and booklets being produced. But the paediatrician or family physician was seen as the authoritative key to infant well-being. And as he knew little about lactation physiology, most mothers would be bottle-feeding before long.
Is it me?
Probs it is me.
It’s like when you notice women with prams everywhere when you’re pregnant.
Seems to me there’s a bit of beating up of breastfeeding supporters and advocates going on.
Allegedly they (we) are making women feel guilty about not breastfeeding.
Even when a woman has had a bilateral mastectomy for breast cancer (if you must know) … see Emily Wax http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/oct/18/breastfeeding-mothers-formula-breast-cancer%5D
A couple of my thoughts on this:
1.96% of women in Australia initiate breastfeeding. In my professional experience, first-time mothers who plan to bottle-feed their babies from the go-get are as rare as inverted nipples*. I’m guess I’m saying this is a very small group of women to be getting an awful lot of words written about them. They in no way should be judged for their decision, but I would hope that their decision is an informed one.
2.Women who are feeding their babies at least some formula are more and more numerous as time goes by…85% of Australian mothers, in fact, just before their babies turn six months old. So formula feeding to some extent in our culture is not a rare occurrence, although as to why this is….it’s complicated. But women who are formula feeding shoudn’t really feel like a marginalised group. By six months they are firmly in the majority.
Lactation Consultants and midwives and peer counsellors who provide care for women and their newborn babies really want to help the 96% of mothers fulfil their goal of breast-feeding their babies. Women need some/none/mega amounts of support to do this.
Some breast-feeding supporters are over-enthusiastic in the way they explain breastfeeding, or in the way they explain the benefits of breastfeeding. It’s all a pretty embarrassing scenario really, with breasts and nipples and crying babies and stuff.
And it’s also in the context of recovering from childbirth (with maybe one third of women recovering from major abdominal surgery), no sleep, managing visitors and a lack of privacy in hospital, perhaps a lack of general support from home too…
All in all it’s a very challenging environment to be teaching people about a new life skill. No wonder misundertandings arise.
Breastfeeding supporters know that this postnatal environment is a tough gig. It’s neither “technologic nor dramatic”.
They (we) do it because they feel privileged to be a part of this time with a family and their new baby – and all the promise it holds. Many do it because they themselves had difficulties with their own first or subsequent babies. Some do it because they feel that this time is one of the most important in a new family’s life, even though it’s the cinderella of maternity care (few doctors are interested or present, many midwives are more interested in labour and childbirth, it’s all happening in a pretty tricky environment,as I mentioned earlier, of sleep deprivation, post-operative pain, sore bums, bloody pads and renogotiated family relationships).
I’m saying that we’re not in it for the recognition or the laughs.
But we believe that if women set out to do something like breastfeed their baby, we’ll help them to, even when it gets tough.
Because they, and their babies are worth the effort.
*very uncommon indeed.
I’ve just spent a good many hours reading a book about the history of infant feeding in the USA.
Mothers and Medicine: a social history of infant feeding 1890-1950. By Rima D.Apple
It has been interesting to learn about the way breastfeeding was viewed at the end of the nineteenth century, just as artificial baby formula was being developed. Although this is definitely a history of the US experience, we can allow reflections on breastfeeding in Australia where many broad cultural themes were similar, such as the role of science and medicine in everyday life, and the lived experience of women.
The “cult of true motherhood” or the “cult of domesticity” described how women were viewed in the latter part of the nineteenth century: women were defined by their role as mothers, and were entirely responsible for the well-being of their children. Kind of nice to have the recognition, but at times it would have been a tough load to carry.
In the nineteenth century in the United States, breastfeeding was generally seen as the best way to feed a baby, but the lactating breast was also seen as a sensitive and unpredictable organ: milk supply could be effected by anything from a “fretful temper” to a “fright”, and breastfeeding was likely to overtax the mother’s well-being, causing a “general weariness and fatigue”. Lactating women were encouraged to eat well, exercise a little and cultivate a serene disposition(!).
Go on…breastfeed…just make sure you do it perfectly. Oh, and good luck.
The second best way to feed your baby (should your unpredictable breasts not do your asking, despite your serenity) was for another woman to feed your baby. But wet-nursing was also problematic: how to ensure that this woman from the working class would be eating well, maintaining some serenity and not wasting her precious milk on her own infant? Never mind the enduring view of character being conferred by a baby’s food source.
Infant mortality rates were alarming, criticism of wet nurses widespread. The medical and scientific solution to the problem was to further develop baby formula. Bottle feeding was seen as a thing able to be manipulated by science, unlike the vagaries and uncertainties of that most female of activities: lactation.
And so began an era of medical advice for infant feeding. While mothers were very special people who were expected to take responsibility for their children’s upbringing, they would need a little bit of help from medicine if breastfeeding wasn’t working. That help would be in a bottle of baby formula, perhaps suggested by a doctor qualified in the newest of medical specialties: paediatrics.