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Raising a Child: Then and Now (Part II – Breast Milk vs. Infant Formula)

[This is a guest post written by Risa Tanji, a Student Assistant in Special Collections & University Archives, who works primarily in the Prange Collection.  See Introduction and Part I.]

This week, August 1 through August 7, is World Breastfeeding Week!  In honor of this week, I will explore one of the most discussed topics in child raising – breast milk vs. formula.

It’s no surprise that many first-time parents agonize over what are the most nutritious foods for their babies. While many beliefs and attitudes regarding food have changed over time, it seems that one that has been fairly constant through the generations is that mothers’ breast milk has the best nutritional value for babies.

Dr. Yasumichi Yamamoto emphasized just that in his book, The Common Sense of Child Rearing/育児の常識 (Prange Call No. 2019-0013 — that only breast milk could provide babies with sufficient nutrition. He claimed that mothers should continue to breastfeed even with “bad breast milk,” which was said to be secreted when the mother was ill. We still share similar beliefs, but skin-to-skin contact is also recognized as an important component of breastfeeding that supplies babies with “psychological nutrition.”

The Common Sense of Child Rearing also listed alternatives to breast milk, such as cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and rice gruel, but all of these were said to lack nutritional value, and some were expensive and difficult to obtain. Taking into consideration that these milk substitutes may be unavailable, Babies’ Meals and Snacks (Prange Call No. 2019-0012) by the Shufu No Tomo Editorial Office explained in detail how to prepare and feed milk alternatives. Interestingly, many of the alternatives are products that are rarely seen today, such as egg yolk milk, dry sardine milk, and peanut milk.

Furthermore, it was thought that infant formula would never be better than cow’s milk, but that is not necessarily the case in current-day Japan. Not only have infant formulas improved in quality, but now there are a variety of formulas with different nutritional values for babies with differing physical conditions.

Dr. Yamamoto also warned parents of pediatric obesity in his publication. While many parents found joy in watching their babies grow larger, Dr. Yamamoto thought that babies who were too plump had the same health risks as obese adults. While it is still said that obese infants have higher risks of developing ailments as adults, studies have shown that once babies start moving more actively around age one, or once they start walking, their chubbiness will start to subside naturally, and parents should not be too concerned (Shinobu Awaya, 2014). Dr. Yamamoto also mentioned that breast-fed babies will not become fat, but cow milk-fed babies are at higher risk of becoming obese.

In How to Raise a Baby/赤ん坊の育て方 (Prange Call No. 2019-0038), Dr. Tanaka Toshio recommended a specific breastfeeding schedule and when to start weaning. He asserted that breastfeeding (or milk feeding for mothers who use alternatives) should be done in a routine manner in order to nurture an obedient, easy-to-raise child. He recommended feeding the child every three hours; six times a day for ten minutes, excluding the nighttime after ten o’clock. He even emphasized that if the baby is asleep for their designated feeding time, mothers should wake them up to create a rhythm for the baby so that their metabolism will start to follow that cycle.

In contrast, it is now thought that there is no “correct” method for breastfeeding that applies to every mother and child. Instead, obstetricians will usually advice mothers to use a method that is in keeping with their child-raising plans and the baby’s needs.

As for weaning, Dr. Tanaka claimed that babies will start to become weak and ill if they do not start weaning before eight-months old. Many mothers today may feel as though this is slightly too early, which is no surprise. The WHO (World Health Organization) published a paper in 2008 suggesting that mothers continue breastfeeding their children until age two. The paper also reported that natural weaning starts somewhere between nine-months old and three-and-a-half-years old.

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