Feeding and mortality in the early months of life : changes in medical opinion and popular feeding practice, 1850-1900

Roberts, Ann Elizabeth

Economic and social history
October 1973

Thesis or dissertation

© 1973 Ann Elizabeth Roberts. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This thesis is concerned with the artificial feeding of very young children during the second half of the nineteenth century, and its implications for infant health and survival. The decline of breastfeeding which occurred in England between the years 1850 and 1900 was regarded by contemporary critics as largely responsible for the high rate of infant mortality which persisted throughout the half century, at a time when premature deaths in other age-groups were declining in number. This thesis examines, in the light both of contemporary judgements and of modern knowledge, the artificial feeding methods which were adopted in place of breastfeeding. Changes in medical attitudes and opinion during this period in relation to artificial feeding are described, and their influence on popular feeding practice in different social contexts discussed. Rival influences, such as shortcomings in the supply of certain foods and the pressure of commercial advertising, are also examined, and the influence of social factors in general on the development of effective methods of artificial feeding assessed. Finally, the state of health of handfed infants as described in contemporary sources is considered in relation to their diet. Contemporary assumptions about the relationship between artificial feeding and high infant mortality and morbidity are largely found to be justified; it is argued that the period 1850 to 1900 was, nevertheless, one of notable advance both in attitudes towards handfeeding and in the technical skill and understanding which was brought to bear on the problems it involved. Although this period itself saw no reduction in the infant mortality rate, it is seen as a time of adjustment to new ideas and practices, forming a necessary prelude to subsequent and more effective attempts at reform.

Department of Economic and Social History, The University of Hull
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