Tracing the history of feeding bubs

Breast or bottle? It is one of the most important decisions a new mother can make and the inspiration behind a unique study by a University of Queensland researcher.

Virginia Thorley has just completed a study into the history of infant feeding in 20th Century Australia through UQ's School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics, the first such study of the entire century.

"A lot of people think the current trend back to breastfeeding is only a recent development," Ms Thorley said.

"But as far back as the 1920s medical experts saw artificial feeding as old fashioned and recommended breastfeeding, but only until nine months."

A lactation consultant and founder of the Queensland branch of the Nursing Mothers' Association (now the Australian Breastfeeding Association), Ms Thorley said it was interesting seeing some of the trends in feeding babies over the past 100 years.

"Some of the best material for my research came from advertising in popular magazines and advice columns, as this was where beliefs passed on by word of mouth left a footprint that would otherwise have been hard to find," Ms Thorley said.

"A lot of ads drew on the ideas that were already out in the community. "

So contrary to what people think about the advertisers telling people what to think, they actually were reflecting established ideas and fears.

"Unfortunately instead of allaying fears they encouraged them, such as the fear that mothers' milk might fail or not be enough nutrition for babies on its own.

"Of course that was coming from the makers of baby milks and the starchy 'patent' foods, but it was very powerful and influenced a lot of women for a long time."

She said part of her inspiration to get into the area of infant feeding stemmed from when she had her first child.

"I really had some appalling advice from professional people," she said.

"So I thought there must be other mothers out there is the same situation, so I have sought to find the most accurate information ever since."

Virgina Thorley was the recipient of a UQ Graduate School Travel Award, which allowed her to visit various libraries in Victoria and Tasmania to further her research. The research is part of her PhD thesis.

"It was a rewarding experience to go to the different libraries," she said

"And without that opportunity I wouldn't have been able to get as much material and information as I was able to. It added so much to my research."

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Media inquiries: Virginia Thorley (+61 733 997 616) or Andrew Dunne at UQ Communications (+61 733 652 802).


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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