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Raising a Child: Then and Now (Part III – Mothers’ Health)

[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, Part I and Part II.]

After reading several books published during the Occupation of Japan on raising children, such as The Common Sense of Child Rearing/育児の常識 (Prange Call No. 2019-0013) by Dr. Yasumichi Yamamoto and New Child-Raising Methods to Raise an Illness-Free Child/病気をさせぬ新育児法 (Prange Call No. 2019-0022) by Dr. Fujiro Nakabachi, I was astonished to find that every book, without exception, targeted female readers or mothers.

It is much easier now to find parenting books for fathers, but at that time, the number of books, or even portions of books, that were directed toward men was almost nil.  I started to wonder whether fathers ever participated in raising their children.  It is clear from the books I read, that the household responsibilities of men and women were separate and distinct during that time period.  

One of the most common topics in these books was breastfeeding. For example, Dr. Yamamoto was concerned about mothers being “nervous” or sensitive, as he believed being emotionally sensitive would decrease breast milk production.

He suggested a mother should sleep well at night, no matter what, even if that meant that she had to leave her baby with someone else while she rested. Dr. Yamamoto also believed that “intellectual mothers,” or mothers of a higher class with education, were also likely to be sensitive and, therefore, would produce less breast milk than mother’s with less education.

Though we understand now that there may be factors, such as stress, that affect hormones, there is no prevailing notion within the medical community that links a mother’s education level with her emotional sensitivity, let alone her education level with breast milk production.

Dr. Yamamoto also suggested that massaging and Vitamin L supplements would aid mammalian gland development and, thus, breast milk production in mothers. Currently, Vitamin L supplements are rarely found on the market, but many galactagogue supplements contain prolactin and Vitamin L (Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes, 2019).

As for massaging, Dr. Yamamoto was unsure of the effects on breast milk secretion, as he believed that it may just be the psychological effects that work on some mothers. However, there are still many mothers today who perform massages on themselves or have them done by a midwife not only to increase milk secretion, but also to prevent mastitis development.

Dr. Nakabachi also suggested breastfeeding infants, and he asserted that it was beneficial for mothers to have hormonal injections to boost breast milk production, especially for a week or two after delivery. He also encouraged mothers to start wiping their nipples with alcohol at five or six months into pregnancy in order to fortify the skin.

I was intrigued by the fact that both books, among many others, were written with the assumption that mothers would breastfeed. It seems that the general consensus at the time was that breast milk was by far the best nutriment for babies.

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