Sign Up

To receive our monthly eNews as well as event notices and other updates, just enter your email address.

   Please leave this field empty
  

Stay Connected
to NYAM

Take a moment to learn more about NYAM's activities and events.

Our Bodies, Our Nature: Breastfeeding & Maternal Ideology in Mid-20th Century America

Infant nutrition is seldom the center of public debate unless the issue involves breastfeeding. In the past several years the debate has centered on a mother’s right to breastfeed her child in public venues such as stores, restaurants, and even on park benches. But in fact, breastfeeding has been an issue of important public debate in America going back to the turn of the century.

Such was the subject of a lecture, "Our Bodies, Our Nature: Breastfeeding & Maternal Ideology in mid-20th Century America," presented by Jessica Martucci on January 17, 2013 at NYAM. Dr. Martucci, an Assistant Professor in the History Department and Gender Studies Program and an associate member of the Center for the History of Agriculture, Science, and the Environment of the South at Mississippi State University, examines the history and attitudes toward breastfeeding in her upcoming book, Back to the Breast: Natural Motherhood and Breastfeeding in the 20th Century.

Dr. Martucci described efforts by earlier doctors such as L. Emmet Hold and John B. Watson who neither completely opposed nor completely supported the practice of breastfeeding. Dr. Martucci described Dr. Watson as a man who viewed such an approach as too nurturing for the child – a problem that would lead children to become far too emotionally dependent and, in some cases for boys, prone to effeminacy and homosexuality.

Over time, Dr. Martucci said, attitudes toward breastfeeding began to change, particularly in 1956 when the national breastfeeding support group La Leche League (LLL), was formed. LLL offered support and advice to mothers who breastfed their children. Their beliefs were predicated on the idea that manmade milk posed many environmental hazards for infants, a theme bolstered by the work of J.I. Rodale, an environmentalist and founder of the magazine Prevention, who exposed the presence of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT, an agricultural insecticide known to be dangerously harmful.

In 1962, American biologist Rachel Carson cast a long and deep shadow over breastfeeding with her book Silent Spring, in which she found a connection between DDT and breast milk. Despite efforts by the LLL to disprove the harmful effects of chemicals found in breast milk, only twenty percent of women breastfed their infants in the 1970s, in part because of the emergence of feminism and its influence on the equal distribution of gender labor in child-raising. Today there is a resurgence among women who choose to breastfeed their infants – more than sixty percent of women reported breastfeeding in the 1980s, a number that continues to grow.

Dr. Martucci received her BA in Biology and Environmental Studies at Oberlin College, and her MA and PhD in the History & Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

 Print   Subscribe

 

Posted on January 18, 2013

Contact:
Gina Ravosa
Director of Marketing & Communications
The New York Academy of Medicine
1216 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10029
(212) 822-7285
gravosa@nyam.org

 

More NYAM News Articles

Contact NYAM Experts

Reporters: to arrange interviews with NYAM medical and urban health experts, contact
Gina Ravosa, Director of Marketing & Communications

(212) 822-7285 / gravosa@nyam.org

NYAM Report - Resilient Communities: Empowering Older Adults in Disasters in Daily Life

Drawing on the lessons of Superstorm Sandy, a new report from The New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM), “Resilient Communities: Empowering Older Adults in Disasters and Daily Life,” presents an innovative set of recommendations to strengthen and connect formal and informal support systems to keep older adults safe during future disasters.

View report»

View news story»

NYAM Report - Achieving the Triple Aim in New York State: The Potential Role of Hospital Community Benefit

A new issue brief from NYAM, “Achieving the Triple Aim in New York State: the Potential Role of Hospital Community Benefit,” is the first in a series related to promoting a better understanding of Community Benefit in New York State and how it can advance population health.

NYAM commissioned an analysis of hospital community benefit investments by New York State hospitals. The new issue brief analyzes the reported expenditures of NYS hospitals in the categories of the IRS Schedule H report.

Read press release

Read report

More NYAM publications »

Powered by Convio
nonprofit software