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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?

GinGirl Sun 03-Feb-13 20:44:32

My mum bf me (born 1984) and all of my subsequent siblings.

How she managed with me I do not know as I had a severe tt which wasn't cut til I had it done under GA at 2yrs. She fed all of us for a year, but does say that it wasn't until her DC2 that she realised how easy it could be. She didn't realise that the amount of bmilk I brought back up and the pain she was in wasn't normal and was down to the tt.

She encouraged us to see it as normal growing up and I have bf my 3 DC to over a year each. Though when I was struggling with DC3's latch, I had her checked for a tt at day 6 and had her almost 100% tt cut at day 9!

Meglet Sun 03-Feb-13 20:31:51

Mum bf me and my sister in the mid 70's. It didn't occur to me not to when I had my own DC's.

As it turned out DS was a nightmare to bf but mum was hugely supportive with expressing and formula feeding. She never passed judgement once on how I fed him.

She was a lot more practical when I was bf DD. I was hopeless and always worrying about whether DD was getting enough and wouldn't let anyone take her for a walk in case she needed a feed. Mum laid down the law and pointed out that 2 month old DD was wonderfully chubby and she wouldn't starve to death if she took her for a walk for an hour blush. (mum was right)

nannyl Sun 03-Feb-13 20:18:18

Im 32. My mum EBF me and my sister.

we never had a drop of formula..... and nor has my own baby.

My grandmother EBF my mother and her brother too.

I have just been clearing my fathers house, and found a book that i can only assume belonged to HIS mother (who also BF 3 of her 4 children, the 4th refused to latch on at all)....
Its the good housekeeping book of baby care, first published in 1944 i was reading it just last night, and it makes it very very clear how breastfeeding is far better than the (cow / condensed / evaporated) alternative milk (pre formula) and is very VERY pro breastfeeding.... they have even done basic analysis of BM to variouse types of cow milk, and made the point of how different they are.

This shocked me, but in 1944 it was clearly also the advice of the time

smicha Sun 03-Feb-13 19:06:52

What a fascinating thread. Just reading it while bfing DS and realise that I've been pretty lucky with my Mum and MIL. DM ebf me and Dsis to 4 months in 79 and 82. DMil bfed all three of hers between 62 and 71, although she did do the 10mins each side every 4 hours. I therefore had no doubt that I wanted to bf and am lucky enough to have had great support to do so. DM in particular read everything she could find on current guidance so she was in a position to help me all she could. She's now the biggest advocate of bfing on demand.
I've just downloaded The Politics of Breastfeeding and am looking forward to getting stuck into that!

Weissdorn Sun 03-Feb-13 18:12:19

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

oldebaglady Sun 03-Feb-13 17:13:11

and you can't possibly get enough support with your first one if you are chucked out of hospital a few hours after birth

I couldn't disagree more! for both my births (one in a UNICEF certified hospital), staying in was detrimental to BFing and being at home where you have someone to help you pick up the baby (if you are in pain) and patient emotional support, and someone to bring you more than one cup of tea a day etc.

The community support is much better IMO, in hospital you can't co sleep because of horrid narrow beds, the fish tank cot things are really hard to reach over if you have stiches etc, you feel like you are disturbing everyone else, the "support" depends on who happens to be on shift and how busy the ward is

Once we got home, both times, we could begin to get somewhere with BFing

exoticfruits Sun 03-Feb-13 17:10:35

My mother breast fed us all-she is in her 80s.

safetyzone Sun 03-Feb-13 16:50:00

I was born in Hong Kong where the prevalence of formula was and still is even worse than here. DM's milk didn't come in because there was no skin to skin and no attempt at latching on since she's never felt full. It was the same with DB, both of us born in the 70s. DM was from a family of 9, I'm sure her mum did bf some of them but DM was fed cows milk (!), which explained why she was rather poorly when young.

Because bf was seen as uncivilised and the maternity leave is ridiculously short, I have never seen anyone inside or outside my family bfing when I was there (SAHM were also more unusual). It's only in my generation where women are more determined to bf and even that was limited to people who are capable of seeking either online or real life help. Which is doubly sad when they now have chronic shortage of formula in the shops because the mainlanders bought it all up and resell them in china (after the milk scandal they don't trust the formula sold in the country anymore). And even now in the private hospitals they still take the babies into nurseries and won't let mum stay with baby or do skin to skin. I'm just glad that I don't have to experience that.

MIL fed her both to 9 months (which seem a popular cut off point at the time) in the 70s in England. I'm pretty sure she was on the advice of timed feeds and routine and she vaguely recalled babies staying in nurseries overnight (so probably given formula at that point). She's probably not keen on me feeding beyond a year and now when pregnant but kindly kept quiet about it. She also said she was fed the rationed milk powder in the 40s.

Having said that the bf support I received at a baby friendly certified hospital 2 years ago was pretty ropey. Was told to supplement 70ml per feed on day 3 because of more than 10% weight loss (even though we both had iv at birth) could have finished off the bf. also got told by a mw that I didn't have enough milk hmm. we got help once discharged and dumped the formula as soon as possible.

Jenijena Sun 03-Feb-13 14:45:53

My Mum breast fed me (b 1981) til I was 9 months... I'd always assumed that meant EBF, but it turns out that I was mixed fed, as she had a conversation with my MIL recently about how "the best" formula was available only at the HV clinic and 'if you ran out between clinics it was much more expensive at the shops'.

MIL tried to bfeed, but I don't think had much support. I think many of the problems I encountered, she did, but I had the support and maybe a wee bit more stubbornness to get through. I think this makes her sad, but I know our birth experiences are sensitive things and I don't want to prod old memories. When i did just lightly, it turned out FIL wasn't banned from DH's birth, he just didn't want to be there. And she would have liked him there (I found out) Which considering her last labour had ended in a still birth, is devastating to my mind sad

Loislane78 Sun 03-Feb-13 09:44:02

I'm the youngest of 4, first born late 60's through to me in the late 70's. With my oldest sister my mum said she was fairly naive about all things pg related (lack of internet and MN no doubt!) and when she had her was in a maternity home for over a week where the babies were kept in a nursery overnight and midwives all encouraged routine FF.

It's interesting that mum said the birth was pretty textbook but highly medicalised - lots of unnecessary internals, shaving (!), enemas (!!) etc. although no pain relief. FF was considered the norm and encouraged so whilst all that is bad, she said the maternity home was great. Lots of help from midwives on how to bath baby and general care, people coming round to do pelvic floor exercises with new mums, so interesting how some things have improved and others gotten worse.

Weissdorn Sun 03-Feb-13 08:55:19

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Aliglobetrek Sun 03-Feb-13 08:40:29

I've enjoyed reading this thread.
I was born in 77 and DM tried to BF me once but apparently thought it was revolting and that she felt like a cow!
All the way through my pg she kept going on about how the 'breast is best' message is propaganda and how I shouldn't feel guilted into BF my DS.

Well I wanted to BF my DS (now 20 weeks) and had quite a lot of trouble
getting it established. Thankfully DH is very supportive but DM just kept going on at me to give him a bottle and get horrendously embarrassed when I needed to feed him. She used to leave the room at first!!

I'm glad I persevered and I think I got some of the determination from wanting to 'annoy' her by not giving him a bottle lol!

I'm back at work in 6 weeks so have just started to introduce a bottle to start weaning him off day feeds although I hope to still feed at night once I'm back.

NulliusInBlurba Sat 02-Feb-13 18:58:50

The rot really seems to have set in across large swathes of the UK some time in the 1950s/60s/70s. I do think it has something to do with the British love affair with convenience products, combined with a British prudishness about natural bodily functions. I'm still amazed by the number of people here who feel they have to qualify any pro-breastfeeding in public message with 'as long as it's done discreetly, of course'. And the proliferation of capes and other 'breast-covering' devices.

When I was born in 1970, my mum was told beforehand that she wouldn't be able to bf because of some mole on one breast, and so she never attempted it. She persisted in peddling the 'I couldn't do it for medical reasons' line until after I'd had my own babies and I realised that she'd just been the victim of the general bf aversion prevalent at the time, where any excuse was used to get women away from bf (certainly in our part of the world).

I had my two in Germany in 1998 and 2002, and the experience seems to have been totally different to what many experience in the UK, and unsurprisingly, the uptake of bf is much higher (and stays much higher). Even in 1998 we were all told that we should aim for 6 months ebf if possible, for the health of the baby. Not everybody chose to keep on bf that long, but there was much less of a 'yuck' response from society in general. It just wasn't an issue. There's also much more support available with bf counsellors and midwives, and less of the 'failure to thrive' culture (what a horrid term) being thrust on mothers at the earliest possible moment. I get the feeling that even now mothers in the UK are being set up to fail (and to feel crap about themselves for 'failing') - professionals are spouting platitudes about 'breast is best' but then making it difficult in practice for that to succeed.
Rant over <calms down>.

ClaraOswinOswald Sat 02-Feb-13 16:53:55

My mum was (is) a bit of a hippy and breast fed all 4 of us (1971, 1974, 1978, 1981). Her mum also breastfed all 4 of hers (1950s/60s) although I'm not sure for how long, but she is proud of it to this day and was over the moon when she heard I was breastfeeding mine as I have apparently inherited her fab boobs.
My DDs have both breastfed their dolls so I'm sure they will breastfeed when the time comes if they can.

Ruidh Sat 02-Feb-13 16:38:31

Some of this actually makes me want to cry! As in really emotional!
I can't bear the thought of not being able to feed my baby (even if I had to do mixed for some reason), let alone things happening to me or him without my consent.

My mum didn't bf me or my sister, she was adamant that having carried us for 9 months that it was someone elses turn. She didn't want to bf so didn't even try.

I understand that many people can have all sorts of problems with bf and I have many grumbles towards the government for various different reasons but I cannot agree more with the whole breast is best situation! I do however think the ban on formula discounts/promotions is a bit too much as babies need feeding regardless of how their carers decide to do it and not everyone can afford the extortionate prices of those tins!

leedy Sat 02-Feb-13 16:17:47

I was the eldest in my family, born in 72, and my mum breastfed me until some fool public health nurse told her at 6 weeks that I "wasn't gaining enough weight" and "needed formula": she's still fuming that she accepted this advice unquestioningly. Younger sibs all BF for increasing lengths of time, my youngest sister for over a year including pumping when she went back to work, which was apparently pretty unusual in late-70s Ireland.

PenelopeChipShop Sat 02-Feb-13 09:35:21

So true ninedragons. We shouldn't forget that for most people there is so much good information out there today, though practical support can still be hard to find.

My mum bf me (1980) and DB (1984) though after a while definitely used formula as well - I actually remember big tubs of SMA in the kitchen when DB was a baby, or perhaps I've just seen a photo maybe! She says we were both bf for about a year and she was fantastically supportive of me bfing (my DS is 7 mo and I'm still going).

MIL I think was a bit surprised that I wanted to - she bf my DH for 6 weeks (he's the oldest of 3) then stopped as she didn't like being the only one who could feed him and having to 'shut herself away ' to do it. To her credit she was supportive too though when I just fed him in their living room surrounded by family (including her MIL who apparently didn't want to see her bf 30 years ago) saying 'its different now, it's fine to feed in public'. She didn't try with either of her second 2, put off by experience the first time round.

lizzytee Sat 02-Feb-13 08:35:31

Love this thread - and how it frames so many individual experiences into a narrative....

Both my GMs BF four and six children respectively in in England in the 40's/50's and Ireland. My mum BF four of us in the 1970's and felt like the only woman in Ireland doing so. She says she did it was because her own mother was so pro-breastfeeding. I suspect my DM's tendency to ignore the opinions of others may have been a factor. grin

Until my peers in the UK started having children, I had no idea BF was supposed to be difficult and that lots of women couldn't.

I now support mothers postnatally....and the experience of their mothers and the effect it has on their attitudes towards feeding is something we often discuss. I often think of how muddled feminism has been in relation to bf - but it strikes me as profoundly anti-feminist to tell women that their bodies are leaky and bit yucky and apt to fail.

MrsSchadenfreude Sat 02-Feb-13 07:40:44

My mother's milk never came in. I suspect this might have been linked to me staying in intensive care in one hospital and her being taken back to the hospital where she should have given birth, and not seeing me for a week.

Wrigglebum Sat 02-Feb-13 07:35:04

My sister and I were born 1976 and 1979 and both bf for 6 months, food was introduced at 4 months and we had formula from 6-9 months when cow's milk was introduced. My mum swears this was the advice at the time and that almost everyone she knew bf for 6 months. She lived in a village at the time and bf at baby group but admits it wasn't done to bf out and about. My mum is far from a hippy!

MIL (children born 1979 and 1982) bf for a couple of weeks then switched to bottles as so said that was the done thing and no one really bf.

I think experience is more about the circles they were in than the era maybe? Mum had my sister in a small maternity hospital with just a few beds so perhaps that was more bf friendly than the big hospital that DH, BIL and I were born in. Also, I think my mum mixed in more middle class circles whilst MIL was more working class.

1944girl Sat 02-Feb-13 00:25:11

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

AlbertaCampion Sat 02-Feb-13 00:18:05

My first DC was born last year & I am very fortunate to have given birth at a UNICEF-accredited BF-friendly hospital, with lots of help & support from the midwives & HCPs before I was allowed home. My home-visiting midwife & HV were fantastic too. Finally, the advice I received here - particularly from tiktok, who is a star - was a great help & reassurance.

The support was invaluable... because to my surprise, my DM & DMIL both turned out to be ferociously anti-BF. Both were adamant that BF wasn't enough for DC and that topping up was required. My DM came to stay the week of the birth, and kept grabbing the baby from me when he cried and I tried to feed, saying the baby couldn't possibly be hungry AGAIN. My MIL came to stay the following week and spent a lot of time glowering on the sofa, because she genuinely thought I was starving my baby. It was awful.

One reason why I was surprised is that my mum had always said I was breastfed (born 1979). Turns out that she BF me for 6 weeks, "then my milk dried up". My MIL tried to BF (1974) but "wasn't able to produce enough milk". Of course, it's clear to me now that they were advised terribly at the time. Neither will hear it - 35 years on, it's still a sensitive subject - but II am so pleased that times have changed.

ninedragons Sat 02-Feb-13 00:14:02

It's easy to forget how easy the Internet makes it to conduct your own research and walk into a doctor's surgery already well informed.

In the 70s and the 80s, the prevailing attitude was far more "Yes, Doctor". So if your GP told you that breastfeeding was for cows in the field, that was what you accepted.

But if a GP said that today, there'd be a 1,000-post thread on here (with links to all current peer-reviewed research) by lunch time and a petition to have him struck off by dinner.

babyboomersrock Sat 02-Feb-13 00:07:49

My four were born in the 70s/80s, and had I not been determined - and lucky to have a good milk supply - I would never have managed.

With my first, in 1974, I was the only one breastfeeding in a ward of 6. The ward sister made her disapproval of me clear - every four hours, the curtains were drawn round me, the baby was plunked into my arms, she checked her watch and said "two minutes each side first day and I'll tell you how long tomorrow". She then marched off, happily dispensing bottles to the good mothers. I was allowed five minutes the second day and ten on subsequent days and had to stay there for five horrible days.

I was 27, much older than many on the ward, and breastfeeding was generally regarded as a bit of a hippy activity - certainly in that hospital. No-one ever sat with me or encouraged me in any way and it was hard to persist in the face of their opposition, but I did.

When I got home, things weren't much better - feeding was going well (though everyone, including my mother, said I "fed him too often"), my son gained weight quickly, but every time I had a question for the midwife or health visitor, I was advised to put him on the bottle or wean him.

By the time my other three came along, I didn't ask. I got very assertive and took no nonsense from anyone, but it still saddens me that I was made to feel so "abnormal".

80sMum Sat 02-Feb-13 00:04:57

This is interesting, as other people's experience and impressions are very different from my own.
I'm 55 and was bf, as was my younger sister. I never considered formula feeding for my DCs, born in 1980 and 1983, and indeed bf was strongly encouraged in the hospital and formula feeding from birth was very much frowned upon.
It was difficult in 1980, as the babies all stayed in the nursery overnight (and sometimes during the day) so we had to rely on the nursery nurses to comeand tell us when our babies were awake and crying.
It had all changed by 1983 and we all kept our babies with us overnight (and no-one got any sleep at all!).
I didn't know anyone that didn't breastfeed. Among my friends and acquaintances bf was definitely the norm. Most of us continued for about a year, but it wasn't at all unusual for mums to bf for longer (up to 2 years).

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