From Breast to Bottle: History of Bottle-Feeding among African American Mothers in North Carolina 1900-1950

Barber, Rosalind, Nursing - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Gibson, Mary, School of Nursing, University of Virginia
Keeling, Arlene, School of Nursing, University of Virginia
Brodie, Barbara, School of Nursing, University of Virginia
Reynolds, Pamela, Department of Medicine, Division of General, Geriatric, Pall, University of Virginia

At the turn of the twentieth century, the dominant pattern of infant feeding for blacks was breastfeeding, but by the mid twentieth century, breastfeeding was no longer the predominant pattern of infant feeding. Before the 1950s, the breastfeeding rate for blacks was 73 percent, but by the end of the 1950s, into the 60s, the rate fell to 24 percent. How did this occur, how did indigent mothers obtain resources to buy bottle-feeding supplies, and who taught these mothers about bottle-feeding? The purpose of this research was to identify, describe, and analyze the history of bottle-feeding among black rural mothers in North Carolina during the first half of the twentieth century. Using traditional historical methods and a social history framework, the researcher placed black rural mothers within the larger social context of southern socio-political history of race, culture, and economics. Findings revealed multiple factors influenced infant feeding. Federal health programs, the effect of World War II, race, societal, and cultural changes influenced mothers’ transition to bottle-feeding. The Emergency Maternity Infancy Care Act provided access to free obstetric hospital care to wives of military servicemen during World War II. Hospital care provided mothers to not only infant education, but also bottle-feeding training, which helped set in motion the trend of bottle-feeding. World War II and civil rights demands gave black mothers new employment opportunities, and caused new attitudes about infant feeding. As mothers experienced more education, and economic resources improved, bottle-feeding became preferable to help resolve mothers’ infant feeding issues. Bottle-feeding not only gave mothers a way to balance work and infant feeding, in addition it identified them with modern society, which they likely perceived elevated their social status in the dominant culture of modern society.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
breastfeeding, bottle-feeding, maternal health, African American mothers
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