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?

Bert2e Fri 01-Feb-13 15:03:25

You might want to read The Politics of Breastfeeding by Gabrielle Palmer for a historical overview!

turkeyboots Fri 01-Feb-13 15:12:10

In the west of Ireland my grandparents and parents generation didn't breastfeed as it was only what you did if you couldn't afford powdered milk. I don't think it was seen to be better for baby.

My grandmothers were horrified when on DC3 my mother went all hippy long term breastfeeder.

blackteaplease Fri 01-Feb-13 15:18:59

My mum went back to work when I was 6 weeks old but I was on formula before then. I think it was the propaganda from the formula companies. As far as I know, all of my siblings were given bottles of formula, I am the youngest of 4.

My nana is in her 80's, she had 7 children and told me that she breastfed all of them until they were 4/5 months old.

sushidave Fri 01-Feb-13 15:29:47

Fascinating stuff, and what a cultural shift. Lots to ask my mum about now! The promotion of FF then BF reminds me of the arbitrariness of what's desired from one era to the next (e.g. tanned skin = bad / tanned skin = good; fleshy women = good / fleshy women = bad). Feel lucky to live in relatively liberated times.

MamaMary Fri 01-Feb-13 15:31:09

My mum breastfed all three of her children (we're now in early 30s) but lasted only 6 weeks with me as she got a flu and her milk dried up.

However, she only got to 4 months with my siblings as she had to go back to work. Maternity leave was much shorter then so very few working mums could have bf beyond 3 or 4 months.

usualsuspect Fri 01-Feb-13 15:32:20

My mum breastfed all of us, I would say it was the norm in the 60s TBH.

Kveta Fri 01-Feb-13 15:33:29

I think it was a mixture of over-medicalisation of child birth (women strapped to beds on their backs as standard) and everything else baby related (mums no longer knew best, doctors knew best), massive investment in advertising by formula companies ('this formula is so good, even royal babies drink it' or words to that effect), and enforced separation of mum and baby in hospital.

That and it being deeply unfashionable (previous generations obviously didn't have formula as an option, then when it was introduced, it was the preserve of the wealthy - so when it became more affordable, it was the done thing to show you were well off by buying milk rather than nursing your child directly - breastfeeding became the preserve of the poor and 'hippies')

The Politics of Breastfeeding is an excellent read btw - easy to read too, so can be read even on 2 hours sleep smile

That said, my nan bfed her 3 daughters (1942; 1946; 1954) for a year each, and my mum bfed all 4 of us for a year each (1982; 1984; 1987; 1989), so it certainly did happen in previous generations - but nan told me she was only allowed to feed 4 hourly in hospital (god knows how her milk came in) and mum said she was often the only mum on the ward, as she would be sitting feeding me, whilst the other mums went outside for a fag - so she'd be surrounded by screaming babies in their fishtanks whilst she struggled to get feeding established.

Oh, and both mum and nan were very dubious about me bfing beyond a year, but I am now on to DC2 and although she is 7 months, neither has asked when I'm getting her on to a bottle - they don't dare!! grin

duchesse Fri 01-Feb-13 15:33:47

I'm 45 and my mother was the only breastfeeding woman in the entire large northern city teaching hospital- they did ward rounds to coincide with my feeds! My mother never even countenanced not breastfeeding but most of the other women thought she was a backward freak. My birth was very difficult and she was very ill but even that didn't put her off. Very proud of my mother.

scaevola Fri 01-Feb-13 15:36:48

I suppose it all depends on how long a generation is to you!

In the 1950s, the doctors on the forefront of both paeds and ob/gyn were staunch and public pro-BF.

Illngworth and Illingworth wrote text books for medical students, plus one for parents (about the only one around in the 50s - see Hardyment's survey) and it was pro-BF.

I think it must all have changed in the generation following my mother ie some time in 1960s (when Britain also became more affluent).

MousyMouse Fri 01-Feb-13 15:36:56

my mothef was in hospital for a week after staight forward complication free births. babies were in nurseries most of the time and only brought to the mothers to feed every 4 hours. babies were weighted before and after each bf and topped up with formula if they didn't 'drink enough'.
no wonder supply hardly established...

TheSecretCervixDNCOP Fri 01-Feb-13 15:38:31

I'm really shocked and sad at how many babies were 'removed' from their mothers whilst in hospital! Why on earth was that necessary? If they'd have tried that when I had DD I would have got dressed and gone home there and then.

SunshineOutdoors Fri 01-Feb-13 15:41:16

Ah, I know it obviously didn't cause any lasting harm, but given how we all talk about giving our newborns cuddles all the time, and the importance of skin to skin, I feel a bit sorry for all these babies (us?) being left for four hours at a time and only being brought to their mothers for short intervals. Did they (we?) just stay in the little plastic cots for the rest of the time? I bet the new mums would have wanted to keep finding them, we used to stare for hours at our pfb.

duchesse Fri 01-Feb-13 15:41:37

Most women led pretty hard lives a few decades ago and lying in in hospital for ten days was probably about as close to a rest as they ever got. The babies were probably removed to give the mothers the chance to recuperate after the birth. Misguided maybe but for a good reason.

Theas18 Fri 01-Feb-13 15:41:45

Long stays in hospital. Babies fed 4hrly and " in the nursery so mother can rest and recover" I guess.

I was bottle fed after my mum had a huge PPH and nearly died- she was a bit twitchy when I came home with mine the next day as her bleed was day 3 or 4. (I'm 46) Just don't ask about the rusk/rice in bottles and chocolate pudding from about 8 weeks LOL

Theas18 Fri 01-Feb-13 15:43:50

I think the babies in the nursery thing was thought to be a kindness TBH. THey didn't realise the DVTs etc they were probably causing as well as maternal distress trying to conform to rules their mum instincts must have been fighting against.

tiktok Fri 01-Feb-13 15:45:10

Bf rates started to fall seriously in 1950s - mothers urged to breastfeed but hospital practices (separation of mothers and babies; lots of topping up) and unhelpful ideas about frequency and routines meant that it was a dismal experience for most of them.

Formula became widely available in 1960s. Marketed strongly to mothers and to HCPs. It was easier to prepare bottles, and by that time, the ideas about frequency and routine had taken hold.

Tide started to turn back again from the mid-70s on.

The unhelpful ideas about frequency and routines are still with us, though, often kept alive by the now grandmothers and great-grandmothers who heard them when they had their babies.

duchesse Fri 01-Feb-13 15:47:15

tiktok, do you know if regimentation of breastfeeding began during WW2? I would have thought a certain amount of enforced efficiency might have crept into feeding schedules as well, no?

Kveta Fri 01-Feb-13 15:49:06

my other grandmother was saying a while back that she was at a lunch with friends and they were talking about this 'new trend' for skin-to-skin - she said it seemed very alien to them, as babies were shown to them briefly from a distance after the birth, then whisked away to the nursery whilst mums were cleaned up. Grandma said she was sad she missed out on it, as the first time she got to hold her sons, they were several hours old. she also bfed, but hated it, and got them onto bottles asap. both born in early 1950s.

tiktok Fri 01-Feb-13 15:59:22

duchesse, actually routines and regimentation began long before that - Gabrielle Palmer (in the Politics of Breastfeeding) explains it as a result of industrialisation, when it became normal to measure and time tasks. It was also linked to older ideas of bringing up children, strictly and according to rules.

Baby care and nursing manuals from the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries are full of timings and rules.

But of course no one could really enforce any of this to vast numbers of women until the widespread incidence of hospital birth.

I was born in 1979 & my mum bf me and all 3 of my siblings ( born in 1981, 1983 & 1985). When my youngest sister was born (@29weeks) dmum was expressing for her in scbu and donating excess milk to other babies in scbu.

MIL didn't BF DH and was aghast at me doing it (bf) when formula was so easily & cheaply (!her words) available. DH fully supported me in BF and actually told his mum off when she called me selfish for not letting anyone else feed DS.

I fed DS til he self weaned at 16 months & DD until I was admitted to hospital with cancer when she was 17 months.

confusteling Fri 01-Feb-13 16:04:48

I was bottle fed prescription soy milk in 1991, and so was sister - my mum says now if she could have done it, she would, but she was ill at the time and had suffered a lot of sexual trauma prior to my birth so didn't feel able to BF.

I do think there is a connection between BF and health. I have no major allergies or excemas but my sister has very, very dry skin, asthma and bad excema, also dozens of allergies. Both sister and I have various specific LDs as well.

do read the politics of breastfeeding , it will open your eyes!
Dmum wanted to feed my brother (1975) but struggled to latch him on with no help, eventually she was told she had the wrong sort of nipples(!!!) and they brought her a bottle . She then bottlefed dsis (1977) and me (1979). we have very similar body types, my nips were flat too (before bfing for years!) but DS stretched the ligaments in the first few weeks. she got teary once, telling me how she wished she had breastfed us, and had longed to sad
I think there was a very strong culture of doctor/nurse/nanny knows best . She marvels at how stroppy and assertive we are with HCPs .
DH's mum was a hippy and breastfed him in 1980.

tallulah Fri 01-Feb-13 16:17:45

There's a passage in the book "Call the Midwife" that covers this.

It became the fashion about that time [1950s] to put babies on to formula milk, and to suggest to the mother that this would be best for the baby. ... I remember lectures during my Part I midwifery training about the advantages of bottle-feeding, which sounded very convincing. When I first came to work with the Nonnatus Midwives, I thought them very old fashioned in always recommending breastfeeding <Quote>

I was born in 1963 but my mum refused to go to hospital and was able to breastfeed me - until I got teeth at 7 months sad My DB got his teeth at 4 mo. The NDN on both sides BF, as did my mum's friends. It was normal as a child to go to someone's house and see their mother BF a younger sibling.

My DC1 was born in 1986 and there was a general encouragement to BF. I was told to start solids at 12 weeks (increased to 16 weeks by the time I had DC2 18 mo later) and people seemed to take that as a cue to swap to bottles as well. I could never see the logic in that and continued to BF until DC1 self weaned at 15 months. That was seen as very odd - nobody expected a child of over 6 months let alone 12 months to still be feeding even tho those same people would give their children bottles until they were 4

When I had DC5 in the same hospital in 2007 I noticed far fewer people even started BF. The general attitude seemed to be a need to get out of hospital ASAP so when the nurses said you couldn't go until the baby was feeding properly they'd just instantly switch to FF. I had 2 work colleagues who did that just before I had DC5.

tiktok Fri 01-Feb-13 16:26:11

tallulah, interesting quote from the book.

In 1986, the majority of women started off breastfeeding....I'd have to check to be sure, but it was over 70 per cent. The figures continued to rise slowly ('cos tide had already turned) and by 2010, it was 81 per cent.

So your experience of fewer mothers bf in 2007 is not in line with that.... but maybe the socio-economic profile of the area had changed in those 21 years? There is still a marked difference in 'who' breastfeeds, though the majority of women in all socio-economic groups start off breastfeeding, except when you break it down regionally. There are pockets of the UK where hardly anyone starts bf.

44SoStartingOver Fri 01-Feb-13 16:35:02

I was delivered by section after my mum laboured for 5 days!

She had pneumonia and was kept in a regular ward. I was kept in an incubator for 10 days (despite weighing over 9 lbs - so they must have folded me up to fit me in!).

At no point was my mum allowed to visit me as she was considered not well enough. Am pretty sure she was given an injection to dry up her milk.

After 10 days a doctor asked why she was crying when she explained she had not seen met yet, but heard everyone talking about the large red headed baby in the incubator and she was sad. Finally I was brought to her.

if I know anyone who is separated from their baby at birth, I do tell them I don't think it made mum and me any less close or devoted, but looking back, she must have been out of her mind with distress.

My aunt is of a similar mindset and fed my exclusively breast fed baby with formula when babysitting for me. However, I was so ill at the time, I was still grateful she did her best (throwing away all my carefully frozen breast milk) as the formula was in lovely avent bottles - all clear and hygienic!

Both thought I was v weird for bfing. I have the NCT to thank for that!

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