Over the centuries human beings have been questioning diverse fields of knowledge. Along with new discoveries and a better understanding of some phenomenons, each of these and their branches were affected by different theories. At times, these coexisted while at other times one prevailed until for some reason a different school of thought became the dominant one. This is true for the field of infant feeding, too.
Although nowadays breastfeeding is considered to be the better way to feed a newborn baby, this hasn’t always been the case. Indeed, just until some decades ago, formula milk was considered to be the best for infant feeding. Such common thinking was fuelled by sociocultural changes, as well as medical theories. For example, one big event which affected society in most western countries was women’s entry into the working life. Such a revolution began at the end of the 18th century but has become widespread from the late 19th century, along with the Second Industrial Revolution. This phenomenon was highly correlated to that of female emancipation. In those countries where this had a greater impact, it contributed to the discouragement of breastfeeding. In fact, whereas initially, women avoided breastfeeding just in order to meet the new working necessities, breastfeeding was then put aside also because of a change in the common mankind, which took place, in particular, at the end of 19th century. These changes have since continued to this day. Not only did breastfeeding negatively interfere with women’s working life, now it was also seen as an obstacle to their emancipation; worst of all, as a form of oppression. In addition, by the end of that same century, alternative forms of infant feeding such as wet-nursing had disappeared and the only viable option was that of the formula milk, invented in 1865. Nevertheless, the formula milk was not seen as a mere expedient, it soon became a deliberate choice instead.
A strong cultural ideology supported its presumed benefits. According to an ancient belief, maternal milk was not adequate to give the right nutritional intake to the newborn baby. As mothers were often accused of having neither sufficient nor good milk, they were discouraged and sometimes even forced to turn to formula milk. In Italy, during Fascism, such misbeliefs were supported by a coercive political ideology. The Fascist regime exerted power over many aspects of the individuals’ lives, not least pregnancy, and maternity. The aim was that of having a physically strong population, whose good health was thus seen as a national value, in patriotic terms. Lastly, medical studies gave a further contribution in favour of the formula milk. Initially aimed at backing the regime, the scientific community worked on fortified milk which could enhance the baby’s cognitive and physical abilities. By the end of the past century, even after the end of the regime, it was well rooted in the common thinking that bottle fed children received better nutrition compared to breastfed children.
A turning point in this field occurred at the end of 20th century. In modern times, we know that breastfeeding provides the best nutrition for newborn babies, with such conviction resulting from scientific evidence. In particular, its benefits have been proved by analysing some unfortunate figures concerning some African nations. The terrible consequences of the infant formula on African children could highlight its negative impact on babies’ health. Comparing it to, maternal milk encourages the proper development of the human brain and it perfectly matches our digestive and immune systems. Many advantages can be attributed to breastfeeding: it gives the baby antibodies in order to prevent illnesses; it increases their immune defenses; it stimulates the production of those hormones which are responsible for the regulation of the baby’s both eating and sleep-wake circadian rhythm; it reduces the risk of infections; it produces stem cells which foster the repair and development of the organs. Beyond that, maternal milk differs from formula one in that the latter is subjected to different manufacturing processes, in order to become drinkable. On the contrary, the former is not only unaltered, but it naturally gives the baby an average of 1,000 proteins, which the formula milk is not able to replicate. In fact, only two of these are contained in it.
In conclusion, the field of infant feeding is one of the numerous fields which are subjected to different schools of thought. A theory can prevail over another which can contest it. However, this doesn’t depend exclusively on a scientific basis; a theory can become dominant depending on the historical period, along with the ideology which is rooted in the dominant culture in that specific period.
4 min read