A brief history of breastfeeding

by Christina on December 15, 2014

After learning that my mom and her four siblings were all formula fed, I started doing a little research. It turns out, most of my generation’s grandmothers did not breastfeed their children.

Here is a great article summarizing this interesting history:

 It talks about how in the 1940s, breastfeeding was on a serious decline:

“During the 1950s and 1960s, the trend in breast-feeding was steadily downward, and by the early 1970s, only 25% of infants were breast-fed at age 1 wk and only 14% between 2 and 3 mo of age.”

It wasn’t until the 1970s that breastfeeding started making a comeback:

“From 1930 through the 1960s, breast-feeding declined and cow’s milk and beikost were introduced into the diet at earlier and earlier ages. Although commercially prepared formulas, including iron-fortified formulas replaced home-prepared formulas, few infants were breast-fed or formula fed after 4–6 mo of age. Iron deficiency was prevalent. From 1970 through 1999, a resurgence of breast-feeding was associated with a prolongation of formula feeding and an increase in usage of iron-fortified formulas.”

It also talks about how cow milk consumption has changed so much since the 1970s. Today, it’s not recommended until at least 1 year of age, since we now know it doesn’t have the proper nutritional proportions for a growing human baby and is associated with iron-deficiency anemia.

“Because it was not yet appreciated that feeding of homogenized, pasteurized cow’s milk to young infants could predispose to dehydration during illness and to development of iron deficiency, there seemed therefore little reason not to change at an early age from feeding formula to feeding fresh cow’s milk. Cow’s milk was considerably less expensive than infant formula, required no mixing and was a staple item in the home. Moreover, many parents probably considered that the ability of an infant to tolerate at a young age a diet more closely approaching that of older children was an index of infant development and maturity.”

Check out the full article for more!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Scott December 16, 2014 at 12:20 am

I was born in 1952, my sister is 3 years older. My Mom didn’t breastfeed us, in fact she told me she wanted to but was actively discouraged from doing so by the medical staff at the hospital. They apparently thought it was quaint and backward. My sister and I had food allergies, we couldn’t keep anything down and the only thing we could keep down was homogenized milk, which is a pretty meager diet. My sister and I are both very nearsighted, probably from not getting EFAs that are now put in formula, and we both had continuing problems with food allergies. The comment on dehydration is also interesting, I became dehydrated, and my mother thought that it led to my getting polio. So I would definitely breastfeed your children, and don’t be in a hurry to stop it. My son breastfed until almost 2, I think it was, and he’s very healthy, although he used to have some food allergies. As near as I can gather, hardly anybody back then breastfed their babies.
Just my 2 cents.


Christina January 9, 2015 at 2:31 pm

Thanks so much for your comment, Scott! It’s really interesting how things have changed so much and that the medical staff back then would discourage breastfeeding.



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