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The One Best Way? - Breastfeeding History, Politics, and Policy in Canada

The One Best Way?

Breastfeeding History, Politics, and Policy in Canada

Table of contents

Table of Contents for
The One Best Way? Breastfeeding History, Politics, and Policy in Canada by Tasnim Nathoo and Aleck Ostry

List of Illustrations

List of Tables

Authors’ Notes


Introduction: The One Best Way


Part 1: Transitions, 1850–1920

1. Infant Mortality, Social Reform, and Milk, 1850–1910

2. Theory and Formulas: Scientific Medicine and Breastfeeding, 1900–1920

3. Nation, Race, and Motherhood: The Political Ideology of Breastfeeding 1910–20

Part 2: Decline, 1920–60

4. Professionals and Government, 1920–30

5. Marketing Infant Feeding, 1930–940

6. Old-Fashioned, Time-Consuming, and a Little Disgusting, 1940–60

Part 3: Resurgence, 1960–2000

7. The Return to Breastfeeding, 1960–80

8. Promoting Breastfeeding, 1980–90

9. Protecting, Promoting, and Supporting? 1990–2000

Part 4: At Equilibrium: Into the Twenty-first Century

10. Continuities and Change: Breastfeeding in Canada at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century

11. Using the Past to Look Forward: Breastfeeding Policy for the Twenty-first Century

Conclusion: The Politics of “Choice”



Appendix A: Timeline of Infant Feeding in Canada

Appendix B: Infant Mortality in Canada

Appendix C: The Canadian Mother’s Book

Appendix D: Percentage of Births Occurring in Hospital, 1926–1974

Appendix E: National Surveys of Breastfeeding Practices

Appendix F: Evolution of Canadian Infant Feeding Guidelines from 1923–2004





In recent years, breastfeeding has been prominently in the public eye in relation to debates on issues ranging from parental leave policies, work-family balance, public decency, the safety of our food supply, and public health concerns such as health care costs and the obesity “epidemic.”

Breastfeeding has officially been considered “the one best way” for feeding infants for the past 150 years of Canadian history. This book examines the history and evolution of breastfeeding policies and practices in Canada from the end of the nineteenth century to the turn of the twenty-first. The authors’ historical approach allows current debates to be situated within a broader social, political, cultural, and economic context.

Breastfeeding shifted from a private matter to a public concern at the end of the nineteenth century. Over the course of the next century, the “best” way to feed infants was often scientifically or politically determined, and guidelines for mothers shifted from one generation to the next. Drawing upon government reports, academic journals, archival sources, and interviews with policy-makers and breastfeeding advocates, the authors trace trends, patterns, ideologies, and policies of breastfeeding in Canada.


``The One Best Way? does an admirable job in synthesizing the many disparate works that touch on the history of breastfeeding.... [p]olicy-makers, analysts, and medical administrators, should they find their way to this book, will be interested in the historical lessons that the book has to offer. Hopefully they will pay attention to its central message of structual change as well as the need for education in all forms of infant feeding in order to give women a truly free choice.''

- Heather Stanley, H-Net Review, December 2009

``Although written for a Canadian audience, The One Best Way? has much to offer breastfeeding advocates and politicians worldwide. Consider buying a copy of this book for your deputy minister.''

- Louise Dumas, ILCA (International Lactation Consultant Association) Print and Media Reviews, March 2010

``Nathoo and Ostry trace this pendulum swing from breastfeedng to bottle feeding and back again in an illuminating study which examines the scientific background to the development of manufactured baby milks, reviews the latest evidence for breastfeeding's advantages for the baby, and teases out the implications of breastfeeding on gender equality in the workplace. Their analysis of the changing advice given to particularly useful in demonstrating how conflicting and contradictory advice could undermine the confidence of the women it was intended to support.''

- Linda Knowles, British Journal of Canadian Studies, 23.2