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JOGN Nurs. 1980 Jul-Aug;9(4):207-10.

Basics of breastfeeding. Part I: Infant feeding patterns past and present.


One of the great medical advances of the past decade has been the scientific validation of the importance of species-specific milk. This "discovery" has led to a growing general awareness of the value, during the first year of life, of the milk of the baby's own mother for optimal physical and emotional development. These benefits of breastfeeding may last a lifetime. The need to understand and assist the mother in maintaining this relationship presents a major challenge to the nurse. Beginning with this issue of JOGN and continuing in two subsequent issues a series of six articles is being presented that gives an overview of breastfeeding, from historical perspectives to specific problems nursing mothers may encounter. The initial installment consists of "Infant Feeding Patterns Past and Present" and "The Anatomy and Psychophysiology of Lactation." Following in September/October and November/December will be "The Biologic Specificity of Breast Milk," "Preparation for Breastfeeding and Early Optimal Functioning," "Self-Care for Continued Breastfeeding," and "Some Breastfeeding Problems and Solutions." The cultural pattern of breastfeeding in ancient and contemporary cultures are compared, and changes during the Industrial Revolution that led to the decline in breastfeeding are outlined. Also described are the consequences of the trend away from breastfeeding in Third World countries and current breastfeeding patterns in the United States.


In ancient times breastfeeding was the rule; a baby was carried around with its mother and fed on demand. Evidence exists of artificial feeding and of wet nursing during periods of great wealth and luxury. The industrial revolution marked a major decline in the practice of breastfeeding in urban Europe; pap gruels and animal milk were introduced, with consequent high infant mortality from diarrhea, especially during the 18th and 19th century. During this era wet nurses became very fashionable among rich mothers. Breastfeeding declined further in 1900-1960, due to safer water supply and sewage systems, availability of refrigeration, evaporization, canning and pasteurization of milk, and increased routine separation of mother and infant in the hospital after delivery. Since the middle 1960s there has been a steady increase in the practice of breastfeeding in the US, especially among more educated, affluent women. Breastfeeding mothers need to be supported and encouraged; some hospitals and some groups, notably the La Leche League, provide educational programs on breastfeeding. In third world countries the move away from traditional breastfeeding practices, mostly attributed to the advertising and economic pressure of commercial food companies, is causing great concern. In most developing countries safe preparation of formulas is impossible; the bottle, therefore, becomes dangerous to the health of the baby. In addition, the buying of formula can weigh heavily on a family's finances. Lactation also offers a form of contraception which must be taken into consideration especially in countries where there is little access to alternative methods.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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