Ruth Lawrence gives an overview of the history of breastfeeding, and how attitudes have changed, with breastfeeding coming in and out of fashion since the beginning of recorded history. Society has long sought other sources to nourish infants, sometimes through necessity such as maternal death. Wet-nursing began to be documented in the 18th century and was used on and off until the 20th century.
During times of “social dazzle” such as between the two World Wars, breastfeeding was rarely seen. But during World War II, women returned to feeding their own babies. The commercialization and medicalization of infant care began in the 1920s. We now know that breastfeeding protects against infection and is the most precocious gift a mother can give her infant. When there is infection or disease, it may be a life-saving gift. Where there is poverty, it may be the only gift.