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Breast-Feeding or Formula? For Americans, It’s Complicated

Category: Health & Fitness,Lifestyle

Breast-feeding declines

By the 1940s and ‘50s, formula was regarded by the public and much of the medical profession as safe and convenient, but even back then there were glimmers of dissent.

In 1947, the United States Children’s Bureau issued a manual advising women to breast-feed, in an attempt “to get baby off a bottle and back to his mother.”

Rooming-in, the practice of having a mother share a hospital room with her baby rather than housing the baby in a nursery, soon became a popular option. At one hospital in Connecticut, 75 percent of expectant mothers requested a rooming-in plan, according to a New York Times article from 1950.

And pediatricians urged mothers to breast-feed. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a study suggesting that psychological factors can play a role in milk production, and that mothers with positive attitudes about breast-feeding are more likely to be successful.

But some women received the opposite advice from their own doctors.

“In 1957, pregnant with my first child, I told my doctor that I planned to breast-feed,” Barbara Seaman, a writer and patients’ rights advocate, recalled in an essay.

“You wouldn’t make a good cow,” the doctor told her.

Breast-feeding rates rise in U.S., but not in developing countries

In the 1970s, breast-feeding became more widely accepted in the United States, not only in the privacy of one’s home but in public, too. In 1977, a survey by a formula manufacturer indicated that nearly two out of five American mothers breast-fed their babies, “double the percentage of 15 years ago.”

In other countries, it was a different story.

The World Health Organization sounded the alarm about a worrisome trend: a decline in breast-feeding in the developing world.

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