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The Past 100 Years of Women’s Fashion: Unfashionably Messing Up Breastfeeding Rates

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Easy access...

This, my friends, is easy access…

Breastfeeding rates in first world western countries (namely the USA) plummeted during the 1950s and 1960s and has been slowly on the rise since then. Breastfeeding rates were already on decline from around the turn of the century, (which was around the same time that formula became readily available to the general public). Since the beginning of time, there have been woman who haven’t been able to breastfeed, and it’s really a blessing that we now have formula as a back up. But we’re talking, like, a HUGE and unprecedented decline in breastfeeding rates that happened rather quickly and for a variety of reasons. Could fashion have been one of the reasons why?

My breastfeeding ‘career‘ is pushing four consecutive years and my wardrobe consists mostly of stretchy low-ish neck t-shirts. Anything with easy access is the go, especially when I’ve had a very small baby around. In historical terms, when I think of the ‘easy access-to-boob‘ factor, I either think of indigenous woman in warm countries, with their bosoms a-flapping in the breeze, or I imagine those awesomely naughty French woman of the 1600 and 1700s, who wore extremely low cut bodices with their nipples practically popping out. The French were onto something…

Over time, the necklines went higher and clothing got tighter around the boobs. You have to keep in mind, up until the 1980’s people didn’t really have good stretch fabric. On their tops, it was buttons, zippers and ties). I have to say, it wasn’t easy finding copyright free photos that showed EXACTLY the breastfeeding un-friendly style I was trying to portray of that era. But, you can get the idea. There certainly were maternity and nursing friendly tops available back then, but they were not as easy to get ahold of or as cheap as they are today. Take a look and decide for yourself… were clothes of the last century breastfeeding friendly, or not?

Ahoy! No luck in this piece if you wanted to haul out the old girls and feed a baby…


Please define ‘easy’ access to boobs… Probably do-able… maybe? 


I’m not saying boobing would be impossible in that top, but it sure wouldn’t be easy!


Wriggle a boob out of that dress? I would have to say, no way.


Introducing… The Boob Chastity Belt. You would have to take half of the dress off. The 1950s saw some of the lowest breastfeeding rates in history…


Maybe if you stuck the baby UP your dress?


Possibly, the baby could fit through the sleeve?


1980’s, 1990’s, 2000’s and Today
I’m lumping the past 30 odd years together, 1) because finding an uncopyrighted photo that was taken so recently was hard as and 2) because stretch material became popular in the 80’s, which made it hugely more easy to pull any ordinary t-shirt down or up and feed. Although, I do remember my mother complaining about having to do up and undo millions of buttons when she was nursing me, in 1982 and 1983. Breastfeeding rates started gaining momentum in the 80s, probably due to better education surrounding  breastfeeding and better maternity laws (although, come on USA, get with the program with your maternity laws!). The clothing is so much better these days. You can walk into any department store and buy a decent nursing bra or shirt for something like $20 (that’s in Australia).

Can you say, "Thank you stretchy material and easy access shirts and bras!"

Can you say, “Thank you stretchy material and easy access shirts and bras!”

Women’s breastfeeding rates have come a long way (both up and down) over the past hundred years. There are lots of reasons why the rates have been on a roller coaster, but at least now women don’t have to worry about finding suitable breastfeeding clothing! One less obstacle for breastfeeding women is a good thing! So we can all say, “when in doubt, whip ’em out (more easily).”

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