I was wondering if any of you have elderly relatives who can remember back to the early 20th century whom you could talk to about nursing in public and in general how attitudes towards breastfeeding have changed over the years?
I have the impression that nursing in public, even with the full breast showing, was seen as acceptable behavior even in public in the early 20th century and became less acceptable through the 30’s and 40’s until it became unacceptable in the 50’s and 60’s, and then the “pro-breastfeeding” movement started - except maybe for the upper class. However, this is primarily gleaned from some old photos on the 'Net and some things my grandmother said while I was growing up (she raised me, so I got to hear a lot of her opinions and thoughts on being feminine :p). I’m going to try talking or emailing some of my DH’s older relatives (my only living elderly relative isn’t well enough to converse with) in an attempt to confirm or deny this, and I was wondering if anyone else would be willing to do the same?
I am very interested in this topic, so I am so glad you started this thread. This is a good topic to explore historically, since so much change happened to society in the 20th century. Unfortunately for me, all of my great-grandparents have passed away. My grandparents all bottle fed their children, as did my mother and mother-in-law. So I was the first women in generations to attempt breastfeeding. I was so determined, and had the full support of both my mother and MIL, who regretted missing out on nursing their babies, now that they were both wiser and more knowledgeable about breastmilk vs. formula. I hope that those here at CAF who have elderly relations will be able to get some interesting stories to share here!
we actually studied this in a family history class, in the 20s-30s with rise of “scientific” child-rearing experts, firm schedules, respect for professional nurses with “systems” there was a move against bf which does correlate with class as it was viewed as a low class (read immigrant) practice. It is no coincidence that the trend correlates with the rise in acceptance and “expert” advice pushing artificial contraception (mechanical, condoms and diaphragms) and acceptance even in religious leadership of those practices.
It also correlates with the trend among middle and upper class, and you can trace it through women’s magazines, clubs and the like, toward changing views of marriage, women’s roles, and so forth. Marriage as a partnership, women should have civic duties etc. not exempting rite to vote. All good things, but often pushed and advocated by the same groups pushing ill effects. The same anti-immigrant, anti-lower class attitudes (and their underlying anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic biases) are evident in the literature of the day, especially the other concurrent movement, under the general title of “race improvement” or eugenics of whom Margaret Sanger et al were the major players.
There was a resurgence of bf in general and in public after the war with the baby boom, and at least in our middle class neighborhood, all my mother’s friends and our parishioners did pbf since it was a common sight at every function where families gathered, but never in church. Cry rooms came up in churches in those years, and ladies lounges with chairs, and that was where they went, but always with toddlers in tow so we grew up seeing it as natural. But “scientific” baby formulas were pushed heavily by manufacturers in those years, and endorsed by doctors and that is a large factor in the move away from bf. When I say we grew up seeing our mothers bf as natural, I mean public in family gatherings, even among close friends, but not out in “public” public–dining areas, theaters etc. And many women still preferred to go into another room if men or older teens were present.
By the time I had my kids, early 70s, there was immense pressure by doctors, nurses and hospitals against bf and against natural childbirth, another emerging trend, and one had to fight strenuously to be allowed either. lamaze and similar classes were just starting (as was la leche) and not available in all areas, but grew quickly. You gals have a lot more support now. Back then if you did bf, esp in public, it was accepted but sometimes frowned upon and seen as more hippy, earth mother, and btw anti-feminist. Now this is anecdotal, but I don’t think it is mere coincidence that the same cohort of my friends, fellow students, coworkers, who embraced bf, natural childbirth, cloth diapers etc. are the same people who were ardent pro-lifers in the years before RvW speaking out against the intense lobbying and media blitz that preceeded that decision. these are also the same people who started early pro-life groups like Birthright
I am the first generation to be born in the US. My family comes from Italy.
Everybody nursed back then.
I actually remember an anecdote, I guess it took place in the 1920’s or so. My father’s aunt was supposedly a very deep sleeper. (probably had narcolepsy but no one knew at the time) One day she was sleeping while her new baby wailed in the bed beside her. Her husband’s brother came into the house and heard the wailing baby. He tried waking her, but it didn’t work. So what he did next was position the baby so he could latch on himself. No malice involved, just an uncle trying to help his little nephew.
My mom is about 2 years older than her next sibling. When she was about 2 1/2 she got lost in the small town. She had wandered away. She was found in the Church, talking to a mom who was nursing her baby. She tried to explain she had a mom who also nursed a baby.
I was born in 1969 and my mom was told in the hospital to not nurse me, formula was better. There was even a shot they would give to help dry the milk. She got no help from the nursing staff, until an older nurse on duty helped her.
But the fact that I nursed at all is a bit of anomaly. My DH was not nursed. His siblings were not nursed. None of my cousins were. None of my Dh’s cousins were. We are all a few years apart. Very sad.
On my mom’s side of the family, women nursed, but I’m not sure about the in public part. I’d guess not. My mom weaned us at around 6 months because the doctor said, “it would be easier”. But she has always been super supportive of breastfeeding as is my sister, who I saw breastfeed my nephews and nieces when I was young (we are 8 years apart in age). Having that experience certainly normalized breastfeeding to me, that and it just makes sense–that’s what they’re for!
My dad’s side of the family didn’t nurse. My grandmother was very anti breastfeeding when she was alive. I did find it fascinating when we went through her things to find one of those little booklets about how to breastfeed…no wonder women didn’t do it, there were instructions on how to wash the breasts, to make sure you scheduled feedings, and to start supplimenting with cereal very early and more. I need to try to get a copy of it.
The women in my husbands family didn’t breastfeed. He was started on cereal by 3 months–so says his baby book. MIL was pretty antibreastfeeding when I had the first few grandchildren. Then her daughter and other daughter in law had babies and breastfed. She’s changed her tune a bit. Great granny was trained as a nurse, but I don’t think she ever breastfed. I may get brave and ask her when we visit this summer.
My mother who was born in 1950 and all her siblings were breastfeed. All 11 of them and mom was a twin in the middle. However they were “lower” class. They were farmers who rented their land. Didn’t have electricity until 1953 and never had running water. I would guess that my grandparents were also breast fed being in rather rural areas and farming but I will have to ask my mom. Grandpa was born 1913 and Grandma 1920.
My father was born in 1951 and was not breast fed. He was the oldest and they were poor too. We figure that Grandma gave him Carnation powdered milk or just regular cows milk. (the cows milk would have been from the cows on the farm. But when my mom had her babies she was against her breastfeeding saying you can’t measure how much they are getting if you breastfeed. I don’t know whether either grandparents on that side were breastfed, but I would probably say they were since they were born 1920 and 1924 to families that had not been in America very long. (my father’s grandma spoke mostly German. And Grandpa’s grandfather immigrated from Belgium).
I wouldn’t be surprised. People had so many babies back then. Now babies are so rare, every time I see one I just stare at it because it’s so unusual. I’ve never seen a woman breastfeed in public. It would definitely be shocking.
My mom complains about this too. the doctors made her births late 70s and 80s a livining nightmare. I think she has horror stories from at least the first 3 births. By the time she had me she knew to wait until the last moment to go into the hospital. Mom declares her C-section the best birth she ever had. (Twins one breach and the other curled into the breach baby’s tummy) because she was out under a general. But compared to her other births this was an improvement. (For my older sister the doctor gave mom such a big episiotomy that her contractions stopped and the baby just fell out, another broke her water early on in her labor even though he has 40+ hour labors and my older brother had a huge hematoma on his head from slamming into her pelvis for 20+ hours:mad:).
Luckily we all go the benefit of mommies milk.
wow - just curious as to where you live. I guess I see babies and breastfeeding all the time due to the fact that we live in a community with a lot of young families. Babies everywhere!!
I’m just envisioning you staring at a baby in the scenario you gave, and it’s giving me a chuckle for some reason. No malice involved there - it’s just the way you worded it I think - like babies are an endangered species:eek: I hope people in your neighborhood start having babies again:thumbsup:
I live in a big city in Canada. Actually recently I went to a tourist attraction, and there were a few families there with young. I remember noticing it and being astonished because I don’t remember the last time I saw that many babies/toddlers in one place.
I remember a while back when I still went to Church there was a family there with 4 little ones and a baby (very well dressed and well behaved too). I remember being really shocked because that was the only time I saw a large family.
I wish my mom was still alive so I could ask her about it…
Neither myself nor my siblings were breastfed. We were born in the period from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. My mom did tell me that she never considered breastfeeding because, “It was just something no one did,” in her social circle. I don’t think it was something her sisters did either but I really don’t know. (Mom was the youngest of nine and was born in 1932. She was born at home and grew up on a farm that didn’t have electricity until she was in high school and I have no idea whether her mother nursed her babies or not.
The impression I got was that my paternal grandmother did not her her babies. But she was a city girl who emigrated to this country at age nine. Nursing was less common in the city. I do remember some relative commenting on the fact that formula was a problem and people often had to make their own if a mother died or otherwise couldn’t nurse her child.
My MIL (who is also no longer with us) did nurse her children, but only for the first month. She said she did so because she wanted her babies to have the immunities (until they could be vaccinated, I guess.) But after they were a month old a she would switch to bottles. She commented that, “You know they tell you not to prop the bottles but I always did. It would have been too time consuming otherwise.” MIL was not Catholic but she did have eight children.
My own friends and siblings started having children in the late 1970s and on into the 1980s. By then breastfeeding was back in fashion and most of my peers did nurse their babies. It was unusual for anyone to nurse more than 10 to 12months because by then most women were expected to be back at work or school. As far as “nursing in public” was concerned, it was was something that was done in homes or in quiet corners in restaurants. But it was still something to be done privately and usually only when babies were under six months. If a baby could hold a bottle then that was what they got in public. Some women would nurse in church but it was more common that mothers would take the child out to nurse.
I asked some older ladies in my church about this a few years ago. They said everybody breastfed and there was no problem with nursing in public. It was in the midwest where there were lots of farming families.
Wow, imagine that! I grew up in the midwest and I didn’t know about breastfeeding until I was well into my teens. It wasn’t taught in sex ed, nor did anyone explain to me the actual function of breasts. Can you believe it? It took me witnessing a mother breastfeeding and wondering what in the world was she doing to her baby!?
Then someone finally explained to me about breastfeeding, and of course by then I was thoroughly confused about why women normally didn’t do it anymore, and why no one ever bothered to explain this to me before. In fact, the embarassment of my family in explaining it to me reinforced this notion that it was a shameful thing. So that is my elders story from the midwest. Pretty pathetic. But then my parents were born in the 50s…:shrug:
I was born in 1948 and was breastfed. Everybody on my mother’s side breastfed their babies (old Italian families). I breastfed mine, but my MIL gave me a very hard time about it and she made me very nervous. Her husband, my FIL, thought it was great. My husband thinks it’s the only way to feed babies, he was very supportive. (I think part of that was that he didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night to feed babies, but he denies that.) My MIL sort of lost the battle because all 3 of her DIL’s breastfed, so she got used to it. This was in the 70’s. My daughter continued the breastfeeding tradition, and she would nurse in public. She didn’t care what people thought. Plus, she had enough milk to feed the neighborhood, so she would express the leftovers and donate it to a milk bank for preemie babies. We are a breastfeeding family, and at least one of us was all too happy to share nature’s perfect food with other babies who needed it:D
And we did all of this without the help of LaLeche:D