Back To the BreastNatural Motherhood and Breastfeeding in America

Back To the BreastNatural Motherhood and Breastfeeding in America

Jessica Martucci

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226288031

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

Breastfeeding rates in America fell throughout the 1950s and 1960s before beginning to climb again in the 1970s. This work argues that the development of an ideology of natural motherhood preceded breastfeeding's return. Rooted in psychology and animal studies in the 1930s, the ideology of natural motherhood moved beyond the confines of scientific study as a handful of mothers sought out the experiences of “natural” childbirths and breastfeeding in the 1940s. By the 1950s, a back to the breast movement was firmly established within segments of the white, middle-class, and often college educated, population. Despite the widespread acceptance of formula feeding by the medical community throughout the majority of the twentieth century, a small but vocal minority of mothers pushed back against hospital policies and cultural norms when they insisted on breastfeeding their children. In the 1970s, political tensions within the breastfeeding community erupted over the biological essentialism upon which many early breastfeeding advocates had built their arguments. Despite these rifts, natural motherhood continued to hold personal meaning for women across the political spectrum who sought a connection to a natural maternal identity. By the late 1980s, breastfeeding became increasingly associated with the extraction of breast milk from the breast via a breast pump. In the twenty-first century, natural motherhood remains a powerful draw for women who want to feed their infants “naturally,” even while medical and public health messages about breastfeeding can often obscure the movement's maternalist roots.