Saturday, November 27, 2010

Breastfeeding Rebels in the 1950s

Challenged by the Motherwear Breastfeeding blog, I'm posting about the history of breastfeeding in my family. Even though I was too late to actually participate officially, I was inspired to write!

My mother gave birth to her first child in 1955 at the age of 21. She had recently moved to California and was far away from any friends or relatives. She was not one to follow the mainstream. She was an art major in college, she was “natural and crunchy”, and I like to think she was a bit of a hippie before hippies existed. As a result, she did not want to follow the advice of all of the medical professionals who were telling her that bottle-feeding was best.

She gave birth while completely sedated and has no memory of the birth. When she finally got to see her baby she put her baby to her breast. The nurses would come in and tell her “I don’t know why you are doing that. We have perfectly good formula.” She was in the hospital for about a week (as was common at the time) and spent most of the time crying alone in her bed, trying to breastfeed while her nipples cracked and bled. She did not get any help, only pressure to stop being so stupid.

I have to imagine that the nurses gave my brother bottles of formula when he was not with my mother. Everything thing was done to make this breastfeeding relationship fail. She did manage to nurse him for a few months, which was so much more then most babies got in 1955.

Nine years later my parents adopted my older sister. She brought home this beautiful newborn and ached to nurse her. She put her to the breast a couple of times, but, having no idea that it was possible to induce lactation she didn’t tell anyone and quickly stopped. She watched me with great joy as I successfully breastfed my adopted daughter.

My Mom and I with my breastfed adopted daughter:

When I was born in 1967, she breastfed me for a few months. She told me that I was such a big baby (9 lbs. 7 ounces at birth) that she had a hard time producing enough milk for me and needed to supplement with formula, and eventually the formula won. She also breastfed my brother, born in 1968, for a few months.

As she watched me breastfeed my first baby (also over 9 pounds at birth) she told me that she learned a lot from watching me breastfeed. She now realizes that she probably was able to produce enough milk for me, that she just didn’t have the right information.

My family in 1969:

My mother in law gave birth to 9 babies between 1952 and 1964. Amazingly enough, she breastfed them all. She credits the “old school” doctor that she had with her first child who thought all of this new formula was nonsense, and that women were supposed to feed their babies at their breast. I asked her how long she nursed each child and she answered “Until I knew I was pregnant with the next one!”

I’m proud to continue the breastfeeding tradition in my family.

To read other stories of Family Breastfeeding History, please visit these additional blogs. :

Christine @ Christine’s Contemplations: Carnival of Breastfeeding- My Family History of Nursing
Judy @ Mommy News Blog: My Family History of Breastfeeding
Jona @ Breastfeeding Twins: Beer & Bottles (and other motherly advice)
Jake Aryeh Marcus: Breastfeeding? Not in My Family
Elita @ Blacktating: Three Generations of Breastfeeding
Mama Mo @ Attached at the Nip: How Women in My Family Feed Babies
Alicia @ Lactation Narration: Only the Hippies Were Breastfeeding
Dr. Sarah: Breastfeeding, Circa 1950s
Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: An Unbroken Chain