92.W Statuette of the (pregnant) Goddess Taweret, 332–30bc, Upper Egypt Credit Line Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926

How to Raise Children: Insights from Plato, Quintilian and others

One article on 19th and 20th century baby care history presents much of the conflicting advice from child care experts over the last 100 years. According to the article, such advice is a conglomeration of pseudoscience, authoritative statements, and often unreasonable demands of mothers.

In one example, Dr. George H. Napheys, author of The Physical Life of Woman, cites a study by child care “expert” Dr. Henry Kennedy. According to the results of the study, parents that care about their infant’s health will ensure that their babies always sleep with their heads pointing north. Apparently, this was a form of the Chinese practice of feng shui before it became popular in the Western world.Disturbingly enough, many parenting manuals throughout baby care history, many “experts” in the 19th century used the world “eugenics”, before Hitler demonstrated the end result of that concept. Reading some of the popular parenting “advice” of the 19th century may well make modern parents wonder how any children survived baby care history with even a modicum of mental health.

In 1916, Drs. William and Lena Sadler, in their publication The Mother and her Child advised parents to

“Handle the baby as little as possible. Turn it occasionally from side to side, feed it, change it, keep it warm, and let it alone; crying is absolutely essential to the development of good strong lungs. A baby should cry vigorously several times each day.”

To most modern parents, this seems insensitive at best and abusive at worst. However, lest these parents be judged too harshly, some statistics of the time may be relevant. For example, according to the CDC, in 1900, anywhere from 10% to 30% of American babies died before they reached their first birthday. Many deaths were due to tainted drinking water or from unpasteurized cow’s milk.
Such a high death rate was one reason that American mothers were all too ready to take the advice of medical professionals, especially obstetricians and pediatricians. While the baby care history of experts contains some who were genuinely concerned for the welfare of parents and children, it is also true that once a few of these professionals had gained wealth and fame for their contributions to the child care field, others eagerly entered the arena.

Another reason for their success was that many people in American had moved west in search of employment opportunities. That meant that new parents were unable to utilize the wisdom and experience of the previous generation. Further, with smaller “nuclear” families, many new parents had very little experience with seeing others care for infants.

In her book Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children, author Ann Hulbert sheds light on the personal lives of some of these child care “experts”. Among those highlighted in the book are L.Emmet Holt, who wrote The Care and Feeding of Children in 1894, Arnold Gessel, and Benjamin Spock, who published the wildly popular The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care in 1946.

Since those books were published, baby care history has evolved into a more child-centered, rather than parent-centered, focus. Discipline has also come to mean teaching self-control rather than focusing on external punishment. You can hear an audio interview with NPR with Ann Hulbert in which her purpose, of pointing out the contradictory nature of expert advice over the years, is evident in her responses to real parents who call in to ask for advice.

In one review the book is described as a “chronological guided tour through the various psychological and sociological schools that have at one time or another held sway over the last century, pointing out the “inconsistent, often quickly obsolescent, counsel peddled to the public” and relating changing mores to other social shifts.” Like other types of history, baby care history is often not written by mothers themselves, but by those who benefit directly or indirectly from the still largely unpaid labor of mothers.

In a world in which child care advice “professionals” are all too ready to profit from the anxiety of new mothers, who are often deprived of the wisdom of mothers and grandmothers, in their desire to best care for their children, a voice which urges mothers to rely on themselves and one another is welcome. Her book helps parents differentiate between the often contradictory advice offered by experts, as well as dispelling some of the myths that have been widely propagated throughout years of such advice.

In some very important ways, she is in agreement with Dr. Spock, in that she believes that most mothers are better than they think they are, and the best support that mothers have is one another. The baby care history of the future will likely be written far less by experts, and more by mothers themselves.

baby care history
Statuette of the (pregnant) Goddess Taweret, 332–30bc, Upper Egypt Credit Line Purchase, Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1926

October 28,2016  |

parenting styles

Parenting Styles And How We Come to Know Truth through Parenting Books

Have you ever wished that there was one book where you could find all the scientific parenting advice and parenting styles contained in all the parenting books written in the last century?

Well, Perfect Motherhood: Science and Child Rearing in America comes pretty close. This vast array of information, compiled and analyzed by author Rima Apple, does a good job of revealing the foundations upon which many of our present child rearing philosophies and parenting styles are built.

The following excerpt from the book demonstrates the authors’ belief that mothers have learned to utilize the benefits of science and medicine without giving their power away to the scientific community.

“The struggle to remove authoritarian physicians but importantly, not medicine and science from the center of child-care advice and to insert mothers as active participants in decision-making about their families’ health was not a simple change. It resulted from a complex of social and medical developments that encompassed women pushing against contemporary medical practices and a changing medical system pulling women more deeply into health care. “

The Growing Influence of the Medical Community

According to Rima Apple, this wasn’t always the case with parenting books. In her book, she points out that a number of factors contributed to women ceding their power in the parenting realm to medical “experts“.

Some of those factors included a decline in birth rates corresponding with higher infant mortality rates, the discovery of vaccines, and a rise in hospital births. Because scientific advancements such as vaccines had the power to save thousands of children’s lives, mothers responded with a willingness to concede that the medical community was perhaps more qualified to make decisions regarding the health and welfare of their children than they themselves were.

Parenting styles and books

Parenting books written by doctors and scientists began to exert more influence on mothers and a variety of parenting styles emerged throughout the 20th century. This willingness to defer to the scientific community had a great impact on motherhood, in that women also began to value the opinions of scientists and medical experts over the experience and knowledge of their own mothers and grandmothers. Women grew to depend less on relatives and midwives and more on doctors and hospitals when defining their own parenting styles.

As the influence of the scientific community grew, so did philosophical debates within that community. One of the problems with this was that competing factions within the scientific community often published findings that were inconsistent with, or even contradicted, one another. The results of one study negating the results of another left mothers more confused about parenting styles than enlightened. The source of financial backing for scientific studies was also a factor in determining what kinds of experimental studies would be conducted.

Conflicting Expert Opinions on Parenting Styles

Such differences of opinion on parenting styles between authors or experts continue today. One article on the subject pointed out that because parenting is a relatively new science, the advice given in parenting books is all considered subject to change upon further investigation. Further, because such conflicting advice about parenting styles  often raises more questions than it answers, parenting books written by “experts” can result in reducing parents’ confidence in themselves.

The feminist movement in the 1970s questioned the validity of male-dominated scientific and medical institutions advocating child-rearing practices that women were largely responsible for carrying out. The validity and value of scientific contributions that could be incorporated into child-rearing practices and parenting styles was never questioned .

However, the movement did have the effect of restoring some of the former relevance of the equally valuable knowledge and experience of midwives and other child care professionals.

It also caused a shift in the way that “science” was defined in terms of motherhood. Women began to view the scientific and medical community as a source of valuable information to use when making their own decisions, rather than as the final authority on parenting. Rima Apple credits some authors of parenting books, such as Dr. Benjamin Spock as being partially responsible for the restoration of faith in their own parenting abilities and shaping their own views on parenting styles.

Parents generally agree that while parenting books can often offer valuable suggestions, in the end, it is they who must decide which ones to implement. It’s they and their children who will experience the results of their decisions. That’s why any book that increases a parent’s confidence as well as providing information is a valuable one.

parenting styles


September 4,2015  |

permissive parenting styles

How Dr. Benjamin Spock Invented Relaxed Common Sense Permissive Parenting Styles

When I try to think of the ultimate pop culture icon for modern day parenting, the image that instantly comes to my mind is a mother reading a worn-out paperback copy of Baby and Childcare by Dr. Benjamin Spock (probably given to her by her mother!).

Dr Benjamin Spock wrote a bestseller book in 1946, which is still bought today. Spock was the first pediatrician to study psychoanalysis to try to understand children’s needs and family dynamics. His ideas about childcare influenced several generations of parents to be more flexible and affectionate with their children, and to treat them as individuals, which later led to the more permissive parenting styles as we know them today.

Benjamin Spock: “Don’t be afraid to trust your own common sense”

Dr. Spock empowered parents to trust their instincts. Since his first book appeared more than half a century ago, over fifty million copies have been sold, and the book has been translated into forty-two languages. But what is the appeal of Benjamin Spock’s book and should parents still have a copy on their bookshelf? Or have we arrived at a different place than even Benjamin Spock could imagine?

It might seem crazy to us now, but Benjamin Spock grew up in an age where physicians told parents not to kiss their child, and to be careful not to hold your baby in your lap. Spock, in his career as a physician, realized that parents were their own best clinicians and the best parent was the parent who could think through issues on their own. A large part of permissive parenting styles  is to permit the parent to feel and act upon those feelings. This is a lasting legacy.

Dr. Benjamin Spock was born in 1903 in New Haven, Connecticut. He graduated from Yale (where he majored in English and History only gravitating to Medicine later on). He quickly became interested as a young doctor in bring together humanitarian ideals to parenting. He was also not afraid to speak his mind. Ideas on pediatrics often co-mingled with politics such as Benjamin Spock’s condemnation of Vietnam War when he said

“There’s no point in raising children if they’re going to be burned alive.”

He was not afraid of speaking out against oppression and was arrested at many demonstrations. In fact, Benjamin Spock was arrested in 1968 for allegedly conspiring to counsel young people to avoid the draft, but those charges were dropped in 1969 after a reversal from the United States Court of Appeal. Spock could have faced two years in jail and a fine of $5,000. Spock was not afraid to buck authority, and he filtered the theories of Sigmund Freud and John Dewey into tidbits that parents could use practically apply.

Dr. Benjamin Spock’s Critics and the Legacy of Baby and Childcare

When it comes to finding out tips from everything to bed wetting to when to start feeding a baby solid food, most parents have probably heard of Dr. Benjamin Spock even though 21st century moms and dads are also pretty adept at searching out tips on the Internet. If Dr. Spock was starting his career today he probably would have become famous by writing a blog rather than a book. Even so, people still think of parenting books as a sine qua non of a parents’ essential toolkit. And indeed, he pioneered the practical guide to parenting and more specifically permissive parenting styles and helped usher in an entirely new perspective on what it means to raise a child from birth to young adulthood.

Critics of Benjamin Spock and Permissive Parenting Styles

Since he died in 1998, Simon & Schuster has continued to keep his ideas in publication and in 2013 the 65th anniversary edition of Spock’s book was published. It’s the 9th edition of the book. Although not everyone has had the nicest things to say about Dr. Benjamin Spock. Norman Vincent Peale thought that Spock had raised a generation or two of permissive children. He said that maybe Dr. Spock had raised too many peace-niks and watered down Dr. Spock’s advice to:

“Feed ’em whenever they want, never let them cry, satisfy their every desire.”

He also had critics from feminist activist like Gloria Steinem who said that Spock was just as guilty for repression of women’s voices as the old vanguard of psychological science and he was remonstrated for the sexist language included in the first edition. But today’s readers will find references not only to “he” and the text no longer assumes certain pernicious gender stereotypes.

The ins and outs of parenthood have certainly been transformed since Dr. Spock admonished parents in 1946 to use their common sense, and it is this kernel of wisdom that makes him still relevant today and the reason his book is still in print.  We owe permissive parenting styles and methods to dr Spock. A new team of writers have taken the helm to keep the heart of Spock’s gentle pediatric advice alive. While certainly we have come a long way since Dr. Benjamin Spock’s relaxed words of wisdom, I realize I probably wouldn’t be writing this article if it weren’t for the way he first advocated for mothers more at a time when parents desired to be heard.

Here is more on permissive parenting.

permissive parenting styles
Benjamin Spock

June 3,2015  |

maternal health

What we learned from the Samoan indians on maternal health and breast feeding

Have you wondered about the history behind the re-introduction of wet nurses and breastfeeding into American and European culture?

The old ideas of breastfeeding, maternal health and wet nursing are returning as part of worldwide or universal culture as science verifies vital aspects of maternal health that some cultures never lost touch with.

What is surprising is the story behind the history of breastfeeding reintroduction due to one educated American woman.

How Margaret Mead revived breastfeeding, promoted the wet nurse profession and maternal health professional work

In the early and emerging days of the field of Anthropology, Margaret Mead decided to place her professional focus as a Ph.D. on the Samoan people. In particular, she studied sexuality of females of all ages on the island where she conducted her work in 1924. However, what was interesting was Margaret Mead’s intertwining of personal experience with her professional study of the Samoan women.

What Margaret Mead studied in Samoa

Numerous references to Margaret Mead’s work with the Samoan women in 1924 have been published in academic works over the past nine decades. What makes her work so fascinating is that Mead attempts to display observations in the most honest manner possible.

This is the main idea behind good anthropology and dispelling the problems associated with ethnocentrism. Since Mead’s work with Samoan women is considered to be sound academic work, it is still highly referenced. One field of academia that uses her research frequently is nursing and maternal health.

What breastfeeding was like for Margaret Mead

You will see films and other works about Margaret Mead announcing that she “reintroduced breastfeeding to America.” When Margaret Mead pushed the envelope with challenging ideas in America about maternal health and breastfeeding, her notions denoted several big changes. Interestingly, maternal health practices during the 1920s and 1930s relied heavily on using formula instead of breastfeeding or using a wet nurse. Popular maternal health literature of the time also asked women to give babies formula on a schedule instead of feeding the baby when it was hungry.

Margaret Mead’s relationship with Benjamin Spock

In addition to a professional relationship, Margaret Mead used Spock as a pediatrician for her own child. Mead gave birth to a girl in 1939, and sought out the top professional of her time. Spock was the author of several books on childrearing that were crucial throughout the middle of the 1900s, and Margaret Mead shaped Spock’s writing about maternal health and breastfeeding with her research before she used him as a pediatrician.

Maternal health and wet nursing

In popular media, Margaret Mead was known for her work with the Samoan women that concluded that a baby should be breastfed on demand. This differed from a previous idea that was prevalent in American culture that asked mothers to feed their babies formula on a schedule. Nevertheless, what often gets overlooked is that Mead also favored wet nursing.

In the book A Social History of Wet Nursing in America: From Breast to Bottle by Janet Golden, there is paraphrasing from Margaret Mead’s autobiography, Blackberry Winter (1972), that talks about Mead’s concerns in 1939 that she might not be able to breastfeed her own child. If this was the case, Mead remembered that she decided she would investigate hiring a wet nurse. Janet Golden suggests that Mead may have found hiring a wet nurse in 1939 a challenge because the practice was sharply on the decline due to the upsurge in infant formula use.

Margaret Mead’s enduring legacy

On a deeper level, Margaret Mead said her thoughts about her Samoan research changed when she actually became a mother. In Divided Lives: American Women in the Twentieth Century by Rosalind Rosenberg, there is a quote that explains this shift.

In her earlier books, “Coming of Age in Samoa” (1928) and “Sex and Temperament” (1935), she had portrayed motherhood as incident in the life cycle, a positive experience but not significant for the culture at large. … By the time she wrote “Male and Female” in 1949, however, Mead had begun to discuss the ways in which biology might work dialectically with environmental forces to shape culture. Maternity became the central feature of this dialectic, the one great problem that all cultures must confront in organizing gender roles. How, she asked, do societies deal with universal experiences, like pregnancy and childbirth?

Opponents of Margaret Mead 

Infant formula was introduced in the 1920s, and an aggressive campaign to sell this product began. In the forefront was Nestle that was well-known for making advertisements for developing nations that encouraged mothers to use formula instead of breastfeeding.

The situation was so dire that United Nations stepped in to rein in Nestle and other infant formula companies in favor of breastfeeding. The main issue with that was that many women in developing countries did not have access to clean drinking water, and their babies would die. While it is not easy to find information about opponents to Margaret Mead and her work with breastfeeding, what you will find is a heavy legal push in the 1960s and early 1970s by infant formula companies that disputed Benjamin Spock’s published breastfeeding advice that used Margaret Mead as a reference.

What Margaret Mead means to us today

Over the past decades, multiple branches of academics have combined to form the philosophies behind worldwide maternal health practices. In the end, Margaret Mead is still remembered because her work is still relevant. The truths that she learned from the Samoan women about breastfeeding on demand were correct and transformed maternal culture in America.

Today, we have universal maternal practices that are based upon using the most practical means possible. While we certainly have not strayed away from using infant formula, more women around the world are being shown by science and culture that breastfeeding is the best way. Perhaps in the future, Margaret Mead’s nod toward wet nursing practices will expand as breastfeeding acceptance becomes universal.

maternal health
The Natchez, Eugène Delacroix, 1835, Credit Line Gifts of George N. and Helen M. Richard and Mr. and Mrs. Charles S. McVeigh and Bequest of Emma A. Sheafer

April 15,2015  |