Taking Science to the Household Analysis

The Taking Science to the Household: Scientific Motherhood in Women’s Lives by Jacquelyn S. Litt describes the idea and history of when motherhood became a science, and not a natural activity.  She begins her article by defining scientific motherhood as the “idea that motherhood should be guided by scientific supervision and principles” (pg 275).  Prior to the 1900’s, motherhood was something done by instinct.  Mothers took care of their babies in the best way they knew how.  The author describes that between 1920 and 1950, the number of mothers who reported their children were under supervision on a physician increased drastically. Mothers also began having more and more medicalized childbirths during this time period.  A medical historian Litt quotes in the article, Rima Apple, states that women are “both responsible for their families and incapable of that responsibility” (pg 275).  The article also brings up the point that “as racial and ethnic minorities, African-American and Jewish women were targeted by professionals as inferior mothers” (pg 277).  Litt describes that scientific motherhood was another form of white dominance.  

The article then shifts it’s focus to Jewish mothers in America. One story describes how Sarah Rosenfeld’s mother felt she was an abusive and neglectful mother.  Rosenfeld followed doctor’s orders to feed her baby every four hours.  If it was not 2:00 am, but the baby was crying due to hunger, Rosenfeld would wait to feed it.  According to Rosenfeld, her mother called her a murderer for these actions.  Rosenfeld backed up her actions by saying “if the doctor said every four hours, every four hours” (pg 279).  Litt then went on to describe that “the authority on child-raising previously garnered from these women was replaced by that of men” (pg 279). 

My personal take on the article is that Litt is arguing that something so natural as motherhood is treated as a science with one specific way to do it correctly.  She brings up the points that it was treated as neglect by your generation if doctors weren’t part of the motherhood process, while it was treated as neglect by older generations by not listening to your motherhood instincts.  

This argument can go both ways.  There are many benefits to getting babies medical attention at a young age.  For a specific example, doctors catch childhood cancers such as retinoblastoma.  Obviously the earlier caught, the better. A full description of the cancer can be found here :http://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/condition/retinoblastoma.

This is not to say that women need to be told when to feed their babies.  As a young woman, I would have to claim that I would want assistance by a doctor in raising a child.  I feel many women may feel lost and confused about how to care for a child.  However; this may be because I’m part of a generation where doctors are used in most everything.  

I believe there is a good balance for how doctors are used in a young child and mother’s life.  It is not as though women need to follow medical orders over motherhood instincts, however; doctors have made a huge impact in children’s health and that cannot be forgotten.


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