In the last third of the nineteenth century, cow’s milk became the most common substitute to maternal milk for young children because it was valued as a natural product which contained the ideal nutriments. Nevertheless, doctors, hygienists and philanthropists claimed that bottle-feeding was “artificial”. It was conceived as the best solution to one of the challenges facing modern society to get rid of wet nursing on moral and hygienic grounds while offering a solution for those mothers who could not breastfeed their babies. This article describes and interprets the articulation between the concepts of natural and artificial in discourses concerning the infants diet. It analyzes the necessary conditions for animal milk to become a substitute to breastfeeding at a time when the place of milk in consumers’ diets was changing due to urbanization, industrialization and the Pasteurian revolution. The debates aroused by such questions can be traced back to a corpus of medical texts and transcripts of international congresses from the years 1870-1910. The article shows that cow’s milk was recommended to feed babies only if it was controlled, standardized, sterilized or even supplemented by other substances. This new milk, the result of progress and science, carried the project of a new society where strong and healthy citizens were raised in their own families.
Breastfeeding, cow, sterilization, industrialization, child care