Why did my mother's generation not breastfeed?

(131 Posts)
sushidave Fri 01-Feb-13 14:27:55

I asked my mum why me and my siblings weren't breastfed and she said something vague about how it wasn't 'in fashion'. I've no reason to believe she had other reasons so am genuinely curious as to why BFing was seemingly so rare 40 years ago. Is what she said representative of women at the time?

I'm BFing my 7 week old DD, am fully indoctrinated in the Breast is Best message, and objectively find it hard to disagree with the evidence behind the message. And more simplistically, as mammals surely feeding is what breasts are FOR!

So if anyone has any insight (personal or otherwise) into the polar shift in attitudes and practice of BFing, I'd love to know. Could it be due to the same reasons behind the relatively low rates of BFing in the UK currently: time constraints, embarrassment, lack of support (though that could be a circular argument), perceptions of complexity, lack of family support?

I always thought it was because the formula companies peddled it as superior to breastmilk, less faff, good for "hungry babies" and without the ick factor of human body parts being involved.
Then they were stopped doing that and things slowly started to get better. I say slowly...I'm not convinced there has been a polar shift tbh

ginmakesitallok Fri 01-Feb-13 14:30:14

I remember hearing/reading somewhere that formula was seen as the perfect food for babies, and only women who couldn't afford it breastfed. Breastfeeding was seen as the cheaper option and women aspired to formula feed.

I am 33 and my mum bf (mostly mixed) for about six weeks I think, because I was such a "hungry baby". hmm - not at her, but at the lack of support that let her think a tiny baby feeding lot was in some way abnormal.

Ironically I remember my aunt (who was a few years younger than her) wearing a T shirt that had a stylised picture of a baby being bf on it (it was her scruffy T shirt grin). I always assumed the baby was blowing a huge bubble gum bubble, and was an adult before I figured out what the picture was.

HumphreyCobbler Fri 01-Feb-13 14:33:59

My mother tried with her first baby. They kept him in a nursery and fed him a bottle in the night, and brought him to her at four hourly intervals to feed him in the day. It is not surprising "she didn't have enough milk".

My MIL ignored all the formula propaganda and was told she was cruel for wanting to feed such a big baby, as he would be obviously hungry. They gave him a bottle without her consent.

Wigeon Fri 01-Feb-13 14:34:16

I wonder what the actual statistics are on BF rates in the 1960s / 70s / 80s? My mum BF me and my sister (born 1979 and 1982) and my MIL BF DH and his siblings (born 1975, 1979 and 1991).

HumphreyCobbler Fri 01-Feb-13 14:34:40

sorry, 'they' in both cases were the HCPs who looked after her in hospital.

motherinferior Fri 01-Feb-13 14:34:49

Some mothers did breastfeed 40 years ago. I am 49 and was brought up believing that I would...

bluemintygel Fri 01-Feb-13 14:35:03

My MIL says it's because babies were separated from mothers in hospital. Feeding was done to a strict schedule so the midwives would bring the baby to be fed every 3 hours. The midwifes didn't really encourage breastfeeding and told her she wasn't producing enough milk so she bottle fed.

My mum breastfed us all to varying degrees. She says when she was in hospital with my brother (this would be about 47 years ago) she was expected to keep to the same routines as the bottle fed babies, demand feeding wasn't encouraged at all, so perhaps it was quite hard for many mums to maintain their supply?

My MIL was given pethidine without her consent shock

SecretNutellaFix Fri 01-Feb-13 14:37:44

My mother was told formula was better as I was a small baby for being two weeks late, and they gave her a tablet to dry up her milk.

bluemintygel Fri 01-Feb-13 14:38:10

BTW my mum breastfed, as did my aunties and most of my mum's friends so it's always been normal to me.

Longdistance Fri 01-Feb-13 14:38:16

My dm bottle fed. It really was to do with a lot of brain washing of mw, mothers and alike by ff companies. That it was better for baby. My mum even had to add sugar to it confused

How the hell is that supposed to be better for a child is beyond me???

Anyway, the fights we had when I bf my dds. Needed to convince the old dear, but she came round in the end....even showing off.

FunnysInLaJardin Fri 01-Feb-13 14:38:19

My mum is 85 and tried to BF all of us. She succeeded with my middle sister but not with me or my eldest sister. I was always brought up to think that I would BF and as it turned out I couldn't properly BF my sons either.

OhIWishThereWasABook Fri 01-Feb-13 14:38:56

Big bf fan, my mum didn't as was very worried about me bf. I wonder in her case if it wasn't a bit of a women's lib thing for her. For the first time women could pass on the feeding onto someone else and not be tied to the house. Also agree with gin that formula was seen as the posher substance.

NorbertDentressangle Fri 01-Feb-13 14:40:01

I wonder if it was also partly due to it fitting in with the fact that in the early 70s there was huge popularity in the introduction of 'modern', convenience foods and the 'space-age' technology of just adding water to create a food/drink and reheating ready meals etc.

(eg. Rise and Shine orange 'juice' made by adding water to a powder, boil in a bag Vesta curries, puddings where you add water/milk to a powder etc)

Convenience food was seen as the way forward and the ultra stylish way to eat. Formula maybe fitted that image?

rosiesmartypants Fri 01-Feb-13 14:40:20

My mum is very anti-breast feeding (she's 71), and for all I don't really know where the attitude comes from, she told me last year that when I was born that her GP told her "it was OK for the cows in the field, but not for human beings"...how attitudes have changed.

She was also disgusted last year that my cousin's wife was still BF her 1 year old. I can see I m going to get tonnes of support....

momb Fri 01-Feb-13 14:47:49

My Mum found it sore after the first couple of days so they gave her epsom salts to dry up the milk and put me on a bottle. She henceforth believed that she 'couldn't' BF so all my brothers were bottle fed.
When I carried on feeding my ED through cracked nipples and supply issues and mastitis and kept going for over a year, she thought I was mad, but has subsequently told me that after the first visit when ED was new, when I was obviously struggling but just kept on going until it came right, she went home and cried her heart out, as she had never been given the opportunity to keep going and now realizes she could have fed us all :-(

PatTheHammer Fri 01-Feb-13 14:55:15

I think the common practice of taking the baby to the nursery at night in hospitals must have had a huge impact.

When my brother was born in 1977 my mum was asked to stay 10 days in hospital (as standard), he was taken to the nursery every night. Subsequently her milk 'never came in' and on the advice of the midwives she bottle-fed.
By 1983 when my sister was born she was in and out of hospital quickly and successfully fed my sister for about 4 months, virtually unheard of for people to feed much over 6 months, babies were weaned at 12-16 weeks routinely and women were advised not to carry on giving the baby so much milk (!).

All of these factors and education/changing attitudes of midwives have got to have had a major impact.

In my Grandparents generation my Nan has said there was still a kind of class-thing going on. Working class people breast-fed. Better off people used formula (a replacement for the wet-nurse of years before!). Don't know if there's much truth in this though.

BTW, my mother and grandmother were both supportive when mine were BF, although my Mum was sceptical about feeding DS till he self-weaned at 17mths.

5madthings Fri 01-Feb-13 14:57:03

My mum got crap advice likje only 5mins on each breast and only every four hours and she was also made to put iodene on her nipples to sterile them....

5madthings Fri 01-Feb-13 14:57:19

Sterilize them that should be.

noblegiraffe Fri 01-Feb-13 14:58:55

My mum gave birth in a military hospital 3 times, and she said that each time the baby was removed from the mother, put in a nursery and every 4 hours there would be an announcement 'Mrs X, your baby is due a feed' and she would have to troop off to the nursery. The nurses were anti breastfeeding as it was far less hassle for them if the babies were bottle fed.

She didn't succeed feeding the eldest, I think the nurses basically forced her to put him on the bottle. She did bf younger 2 for a few months, which astonishes me given that 4 hourly feeding from birth goes against all the advice.

Jenny70 Fri 01-Feb-13 15:02:03

Formula was new & exciting, it was an era of scientific leaps in many areas and new techology was instantly trusted & wanted (tv, pill, moon landing, computers, mobile phones)... so people were primed to accept new things = good.

Then with the marketing making you feel like you were a poorer mother if you didn't invest in formula, midwives telling you your milk was no good and others telling you to just do it, it must have been a hard message to ignore.

In some cultures, breastfeeding is also lower class, higjer class people would get wet nurses (pre formula), so having baby bottle fed was seen as sign of wealth and status.

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