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You'll Spoil That Baby! -- Vintage Baby and Child Care Advice

Updated on February 26, 2008

Bad Babies and Bad Mothers -- Retro Baby Care Advice

There's never been a shortage of advice for new moms -- particularly really bad advice. In this lens, I pay tribute to some of the most crazy-making baby-care advice moms have received over the years.

1930s Baby Advice

Dr. Dafoe's Guidebook for Mothers

Dr. Allan Roy Dafoe's claim to fame was that he was the personal physician to the Dionne Quintuplets from their birth on May 28, 1934, until his resignation from the position in 1942. In between he wrote two books, numerous articles (possibly with some assistance from some ghostwriters), and made numerous radio appearances on the hottest radio shows of the day. He became the most famous doctor of the day and was portrayed in at least two Hollywood films.

The Top Selling Baby Book Ever -- Written by a "Revolutionary" Thinker

Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care

Dr. Benjamin Spock's bestselling book Baby and Child Care was first published under the title The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care in 1946. Spock's ideas were revolutionary for the day: he told parents that they were the true experts when it came to raising their children (a rather shocking notion in an era when doctor-worshipping was the norm). During his lifetime (1903-1998), his book sold 50 million copies and was translated into 39 languages. His book is still in print.

Breast or Bottle? How a 1920s Milk Campaign Gave Birth to Modern-Day Formula Marketing Techniques

The Glaxo Baby Book

First published in 1908 by Glaxo (today leading pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline, but back then a small powdered milk manufacturer), The Glaxo Baby Book answered mothers' questions about using the company's powdered milk to feed their babies. By 1922, the company had published a million copies of the book and the campaign had been heralded by Advertising Age magazine as "the most successful form of advertising of the present day."

1940s Advice for Canadian Moms-to-be

The Canadian Mother and Child

The Canadian Mother and Child was published by the Canadian government in an attempt to provide Canadian mothers with the best pregnancy and childrearing advice of the day. Mothers were advised to listen to their doctors -- and no one else -- when it came to the health of themselves and their babies. "Avoid medical books as such reading is easily subject to misinterpretation, and may cause undue worry over minor symptoms. Your doctor is by far your best guide....Gatherings such as bridges and teas, are often occasions of unwise discussions as to the relative merits of doctors. After careful consideration you have chosen a doctor, therefore do not let yourself be influenced by those who are not qualified to advise....To be happy, you need to have complete confidence in your doctor. Anyone criticizing him to you (and at the same time in your condition) lacks discernment to say the least and should not be taken seriously." (Ernest Couture, MD, The Canadian Mother and Child. Ottawa: Minister of Health and Welfare, 1st edition, 7th printing, 1947)

Motherhood Milestones: A Motherlode of Advice

by Ann Douglas

A Motherlode of Advice

From Pablum to the Pill, from maternity wear to Mr. Dressup, Ann Douglas chronicles a century in Canuck parenting

By Ann Douglas

Think you've heard your share of unwanted parenting tips and conflicting research about raising healthy, happy kids? Well, you're not alone. There's a long tradition of expert flip-flops and changing parenting philosophies stretching back generations. If you thought Aunt Mabel's tips about potty training were annoying, just wait until you hear about all the misguided advice and weird science parents have had to put up with over the last 100 years or so.


Safe Counsel: Human Incubators, Perfect Mothers, and Violent Passions

The 19th Century Childrearing Guide

Traditional pregnancy and baby care guides treated moms-to-be as human incubators and urged expectant mothers to be models of perfect motherhood throughout their entire pregnancies.

Safe Counsel -- a bestselling 19th century childrearing guide -- warned expectant mothers, for example, that "low spirits, violent passions, irritability, frivolity in the pregnant woman, leave indelible marks on the unborn child."

Doing it By The Book: The History of The Modern Pregnancy Book

I recently had the opportunity to speak about the history of the pregnancy book at The Association for Research in Mothering's Motherlode Conference. Here are my handouts from that presentation for the die-hard history of motherhood addicts.

Doing it By The Book: The History of the Modern Pregnancy Book (1900 to 2006): My speaking notes.

History of the Modern Pregnancy Book -- Table: Describes some fun and lively examples of pregnancy books across the decades, including some deliciously awful pregnancy and baby advice.

Overheads (visual shots of pregnancy books past; a collage of images, etc.)

Vintage Baby: Fun and Collectible Baby Ephemera at - Baby ephemera is hot and collectible.

Here's a sampling of what you'll find at

Calling All History Shopaholics - Check out these history of parenthood and history of motherhood titles

Comment away!

Your Best Advice.... - on improving this module would be appreciated

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    • profile image


      8 years ago

      The best thing is to get advice from other parents you respect. How the market to mom's these books is based mostly on their anxieties, not what's best for the kid.

    • almawad profile image


      8 years ago

      One health visitor advised my mum in the 1960s , Hungary to start feeding my little brother from a cup instead of bottle . He refused the cup and was not ready to drink or eat anything at all . The health visitor said it was Ok he will accept the cup since he will be hungry . No he did not . He nearly fell into coma for his low sugar level and he became a very bad eater all his childhood though my mum went back to the bottle but it seemed that he was deeply hurt . So much about the experts advice ....

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      come check out this site for maternity wear

    • anndouglas profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, Keith. I agree. I have found a lot of great items of vintage ephemera via eBay. There are also tons of amazing items to be found at -- both "raw" ephemera and ephemera that has been turned into one-of-a-kind works of art.

    • fotos4web lm profile image

      fotos4web lm 

      11 years ago

      Well thought out lens .. there's lots of things on eBay and a few of those might be nice additions to your lens !



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