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Back to the Breast

Natural Motherhood and Breastfeeding in America

After decades of decline during the twentieth century, breastfeeding rates began to rise again in the 1970s, a rebound that has continued to the present. While it would be easy to see this reemergence as simply part of the naturalism movement of the ’70s, Jessica Martucci reveals here that the true story is more complicated. Despite the widespread acceptance and even advocacy of formula feeding by many in the medical establishment throughout the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, a small but vocal minority of mothers, drawing upon emerging scientific and cultural ideas about maternal instinct, infant development, and connections between the body and mind, pushed back against both hospital policies and cultural norms by breastfeeding their children. As Martucci shows, their choices helped ideologically root a “back to the breast” movement within segments of the middle-class, college-educated population as early as the 1950s.
That movement—in which the personal and political were inextricably linked—effectively challenged midcentury norms of sexuality, gender, and consumption, and articulated early environmental concerns about chemical and nuclear contamination of foods, bodies, and breast milk. In its groundbreaking chronicle of the breastfeeding movement, Back to the Breast provides a welcome and vital account of what it has meant, and what it means today, to breastfeed in modern America.


"Back to the Breast is a fascinating, skillful weaving of the histories of technology and medicine, women’s lived experiences, and feminist analysis. . . . Martucci’s study reminds us that even the most basic biological functions are not immune to the effects of culture and society. This book will be of interest to historians of technology and medicine, as well as women’s studies scholars and those interested in social and cultural movements that have shaped our century."

Technology and Culture

"Martucci provides a scholarly historical review and exposition of the decline of breastfeeding from the 1930s and continuing after WW II into the 1960s while science-based infant care took priority over maternal instinct and natural motherhood ideology. She connects the environmental "back to nature" movement with the return to breastfeeding but notes conflicts with the women's movement, feminism, maternal versus sexualized breast and body, shared parenting, breast pumping and/or supplemental formula use, etc.  Detailed chapter notes and a few black-and-white photographs and illustrations are very useful. Recommended."


"In Back to the Breast, Martucci first raises, then answers, intriguing and important questions about the fall and rise of breastfeeding in modern America. The result is a thoughtful study that is of obvious interest to historians of childbearing, women's health, pediatrics, and parenting. It also deserves attention from historians of health more broadly, because Martucci's story, of a traditional practice dramatically rejected and then quickly resurrected on new scientific, cultural, and technological terms, resonates with much of the history of twentieth-century health and medicine.I appreciate Martucci's careful and measured approach that allows her to offer important historical insights without taking sides. I look forward to further thoughtful work from her. If we are lucky, she and other scholars she inspires will turn their attention to some of the topics that flow naturally from Back to the Breast, including the rise of attachment parenting, the Mommy Wars, and public health involvement in breastfeeding advocacy."

Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences

"Martucci’s book is a welcome addition to the shelf of books I have on breastfeeding history and practice in America."

Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"In this lucid, well-researched, and much-needed book, Martucci offers a lively account of how approaches to breastfeeding have evolved since the 1930s in ways that have consistently reflected changing beliefs about nature, motherhood, and domesticity. Martucci unearths fascinating connections between the resurgence of breastfeeding in the 1970s and the emergence of a new ecological consciousness, and she provides the first in-depth history of the rise of the breast pump in the 1990s—a technology that has enhanced our market-oriented tendency to privilege the breastmilk (the ‘product’) over the act of breastfeeding. Back to the Breast will be of interest not only to historians and scholars, but also to all mothers who have faced decisions about how to feed their infants while meeting the myriad other demands upon them."

Rebecca Jo Plant, University of California, San Diego

"This important book reconsiders much of what we know about the history of breastfeeding in the United States. Martucci uncovers the hidden story of the determined women who breastfed their infants when bottlefeeding ruled the day and of breastfeeding defenders as they weathered a variety of cultural storms. Through it all, Back to the Breast traces the emergence and evolution of 'natural motherhood,' an ideology that justified and sustained breastfeeding against the demands of scientific motherhood, posed political problems with the rise of feminism, and lost much of its purchase in an era of the breast pump. By respectfully examining women's appeals to nature in their fight for bodily autonomy, Martucci provocatively urges her readers to consider the political power of biological arguments in the larger struggle for maternal and women’s rights. Highly recommended."

Judith A. Houck, University of Wisconsin - Madison

Table of Contents

Introduction: Why Breastfeeding?

Chapter 1. Make Room for Mother: The “Psy”-entific Ideology of Natural Motherhood

Chapter 2. Frustration and Failure: The Scientific Management of Breastfeeding

Chapter 3. “Motherhood Raised to the nth Degree”: Breastfeeding in the Postwar Years

Chapter 4. Maternal Expectations: New Mothers, Nurses, and Breastfeeding

Chapter 5. Our Bodies, Our Nature: Breastfeeding, the Environment, and Feminism

Chapter 6. Woman’s Right, Mother’s Milk: The Nature and Technology of Breast Milk Feeding

Epilogue. Natural Motherhood Redux



Forum for the History of Science in America: Philip J. Pauly Book Prize
Short Listed

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