Dr. Spock's influence still felt as his centennial nears

April 28, 2003

On May 2, popular baby doctor Benjamin Spock would have turned 100. The world-famous pediatrician changed the face of parenting with his soothing words of practical advice and his conviction to use instinct as a guide. A University of Alberta researcher has analysed Dr. Spock--particularly his advice on infant feeding and how it has changed over his decades of work.

Spock has always been an advocate of breastfeeding and even more radical was his recommendation to nurse the baby on demand rather than on a strict schedule. The U of A's Stephanie Knaak studied the changes from Spock's first edition of his book, Baby and Child Care, to his last, noting that the importance of breastfeeding was always apparent but the doctor's reasons for why to nurse changed.

Spock's book was first published at the start of the World War II baby boom and soon became an authoritative and reliable guide for parents. With its nearly 50 million copies in more than 40 translations, the book is said to be second in sales only to the bible.

"At first Dr. Spock argued that the main focus of breastfeeding was for nutrition or food but he changed his ideas to say that breastfeeding is just as important for bonding," said Knaak, a researcher in the Department of Sociology. "He didn't offer any assurances for bottle feeders in terms of bonding and that surprised me a bit."

In the 1968 edition, Spock devoted an entire page saying that while he was in favour of breastfeeding, bottle feeding was still acceptable, said Knaak, "but after that one edition, those encouraging words to parents who used bottles was dropped."

Another interesting change over the decades was with the evolution of science in terms of infant feeding. In several of Spock's early editions, he listed a recipe for homemade formula that included the ingredients evaporated milk mixed with sugar--a far cry from today's advanced blend.

The U of A in Edmonton, Alberta is one of Canada's premier teaching and research universities serving more than 33,000 students with 6,000 faculty and staff. It continues to lead the country with the most 3M Teaching Fellows, Canada's only national award recognizing teaching excellence.
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University of Alberta

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