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Arch Hellen Med, 25(4), July-August 2008, 520-528


Infant feeding in Greece, 1900-1950. A historical perspective

1Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Harokopio University, Athens,
2Department of Midwifery, Technological Educational Institution of Athens, Athens,
3Research Center of Hellenic Ethnography, Academy of Athens, Athens, Greece

The 20th century stands out as a period of great social transitions, which precipitated dramatic changes in infant nutrition in many European countries. The scope of this study was to record the changes that occurred in infant feeding practices in Greece during the first half of the 20th century and to reveal the role that the health professionals and policy makers played. Based on the evidence that the medical literature of the time provides, exclusive breastfeeding, either maternal or wet nursing, gradually became a less common practice and commercial breast milk substitutes became available. In view of the alarming infant mortality rates, the Greek Ministry of Health, as well as the pediatricians and other health professionals, took the initiative for educating women on infant nutrition as early as the 1920s. Over the course of the years their guidelines to nursing mothers however, gradually became more and more rigid, recommending strict feeding schedules, no feeding at night, weighing the baby before and after each feeding, and complete cessation around the age of nine months. Mothers were also advised to introduce complementary foods to their baby's diet as early as the second month. Greek women were quick to adopt the alternative to breastfeeding and implement complementary feeding for their babies. Working mothers in particular were forced to abandon exclusive breastfeeding due to the absence of policies and legislation that could effectively protect the right of infants to breastfeeding. Health professionals also facilitated these transitions by treating infant nutrition in general and breastfeeding in particular, as a complex medical procedure, rather than as a natural process.

Key words: Greece, Infant feeding, Medical recommendations, Motherhood protection, 1900s.

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