What Happened To Breastfeeding?

Once upon a time, before there was such thing as infant formula, people breastfed their babies. It was the most natural and about the only way to feed babies. Actually, it was not too long ago that people still breastfed their babies.

To simplify the matter, let me put it simply into three generations : our grandmothers’ generation, our mothers’ generation and our generation.

It seems to me that during our grandmothers’ generation, babies were mostly breastfeed, i.e. our parents were raised on breast milk. When it reached our mothers’ generation, there seemed to be a massive switch from breast milk to infant formula. In other words, most of us were fed mainly infant formula. Imagine, a whole generation of people suddenly stopped breastfeeding, which led to a whole generation of people who grew on infant formula. Then, right now in our generation, breastfeeding seems to be making a comeback. Now, the question is, what happened during our mothers’ generation that caused a major decline in breastfeeding?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to this question. A lot of people of our mothers’ generation know nothing about breastfeeding and they are often surprised and curious why the ‘youngsters’ like us these days are breastfeeding. At best, they try to remember what their own mothers did and try to help, or at least be supportive of their daughters’ decision to breastfeed their grandchildren. At worst, they can be your ‘worst enemies’ as far as breastfeeding is concerned, casting doubts about your milk supply, or the quality of breast milk, and discouraging you from breastfeeding altogether.

I asked around, asked my own mom, asked other people, just to find out why. Nobody really knows the answer so far. Here are some possible answers or ‘speculations’ :

1. Blame Industrialisation

Basically, during our parents’ generation, it was a period of industrialisation and the feminist movement. Especially in Singapore, women were beginning to step out of the kitchen, step out of the house and go out to work. For a small country, with only labour as its only resource, women were (still are) strongly encouraged to contribute to the economy by joining the workforce. Furthermore, women were getting more educated and they wanted to work. Breastfeeding, thus, became a hindrance, an inconvenience for working mothers. At the same time, there was the convenience of infant formula. Hence, the switch from breast milk to formula.

2. Lack of Knowledge

I noticed from my mom, my aunts, etc, that the most common reason they quoted for not breastfeeding is that they ‘didn’t have milk’. None of them understand anything about colostrum, or that it takes a while for the ‘real milk’ to come in. They probably tried to breastfeed for a few days and gave up before their milk came in. Another reason quoted was that their milk was ‘too thin’. Of course, now we know that it was the colostrum.

Even for those who managed to breastfeed for a while, at that time, there wasn’t enough knowledge about expressing and storage of breast milk. Since most women worked and had to get back to work after 1 or 2 months of maternity leave, they felt that it was easier to go straight to formula.

I wonder why our grandmothers never taught our mothers about breastfeeding. They probably didn’t know much either. The only reason our grandmothers breastfed, I think, is because they didn’t have much choice.

3. Marketing of Infant Formula

I suspect when infant formula first came into the market, manufacturers marketed their products aggressively by telling the parents the nutritional value of infant formula, and that babies fed on formula are chubbier. Actually, the marketing tactic has not changed much since then. But our parents’ probably bought the ‘cock and bull stories’ due to the lack of knowledge about the benefits of breast milk. They thought that their breast milk was not as good as infant formula, which the manufacturers claimed to contain essential nutrients and more. Furthermore, who wouldn’t want to see their babies grow chubby? Even right now, my mother-in-law still believes that if I fed Dominic formula, he will be chubby and healthy.

4. Show-Off Mentality

When formula first came out, only the rich could afford to feed their babies formula. After a while, everyone wanted to feed their babies formula because only the poor people who cannot afford formula feed their babies breast milk.