Until the first commercially produced infant formula was introduced in the 1860s, women either breastfed their children or employed a wet nurse, a woman who breastfed a baby for money. With the Industrial Revolution came more sanitary techniques in all areas of food production and more companies began producing infant formula. By the beginning of the 20th Century it was considered a sign of affluence if you could afford to buy formula.
The post World War II era marked a change of attitude in our culture – women were joining the work force in record numbers and fewer stay-at-home mothers chose to nurse their babies. Technology and Dr. Spock ruled the day and formula companies advertised their products as healthy, convenient and progressive. Before the polio vaccine was invented, some doctors and pediatricians actually discouraged their patients from nursing their infants due to health reasons.
- In 1979, the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) was formed to help raise awareness of the benefits of breastfeeding and to curtail the inappropriate promotion of baby formula. Gradually, physicians acknowledged the health benefits of nursing, especially the consumption of colostrum found in breast milk.
- In the 1980s, the World Health Organization joined forces with IBFAN and developed campaign strategies to spread information on the benefits of breastfeeding. Ironically, more women in third world countries were breastfeeding their infants than in wealthy, industrialized countries. With the promotion of nursing came more advances in infant health and care and improved mortality rates world-wide.
- Other health organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatricians, and the National Association of Nurse Associates and Practitioners, joined the movement in stressing the benefits of breastfeeding for the infant as well as for the mother. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), by 2008, 70% of all mothers breastfed their newborns while in the hospital following their birth and over 32% continued to breastfeed exclusively for at least 3 months following childbirth.
Through the hard work of generations of breastfeeding advocates, nursing is again considered the most appropriate method to provide nutrition for your infant. Most hospitals and birthing centers now have staff members specifically dedicated to educating and helping new mothers overcome many of the challenges of breastfeeding.
With more mothers choosing to breastfeed than in any time over the last 50 years, healthcare providers anticipate future generations of healthier and more well-nourished children.