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Diet in pregnancy, 1930–1960: a shifting social, political and scientific concern

Abstract

The diet of expectant mothers was a significant issue of social, political and scientific concern between 1930 and 1960. However, while histories of maternity services and nutritional science are independently available, no existing study addresses the nutrition of expectant mothers in this period. Between 1900 and 1930, maternal mortality rates were rising despite improving clinical antenatal provisions. Breakthroughs in nutritional science resulted in the identification of key dietary components, while changing social attitudes meant hunger was increasingly being seen as a humanitarian issue requiring a modern solution. As a result, the diet of expectant mothers first began to be addressed as a social concern in the 1930s. It subsequently made a transition into official policy as part of wartime rationing. The government entirely changed its attitude to maternal nutrition in a beneficial and successful way during the war; conferring to modern historians another example of war being a generator of change. Diet in pregnancy finally became the concern of the scientific community post-war, as illustrated by the work of the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Nutrition Committee for Pregnancy, whose papers are considered for the first time here. This paper charts the rise of diet in pregnancy as a concern and considers the contributions of different communities involved between 1930 and 1960. It also notes that the actual recommended diet stayed the same. Thus while diet is the subject here, discussion focuses on why there were such distinct rearrangements of social, political and scientific forces around an issue that itself remained unchanged.

  • Diet
  • nutrition
  • pregnancy
  • maternal mortality
  • Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • history of medical
  • social history
  • Nutrition and metabolism

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