Measuring Mamma's Milk

Fascism and the Medicalization of Maternity in Italy
Elizabeth Dixon Whitaker
Shows how fascist biological politics continue to govern the flow of mother's milk in Italy today


In Italy as in other Western societies, the medicalization of basic biological functions contributes to the loss of personal confidence in the care of the body. Measuring Mamma's Milk analyzes the medicalization of maternity through a study of breastfeeding practices over a century of changes in socioeconomic organization, family life, and health beliefs.

During the pivotal interwar period in Italy, fascism changed the relationship between the state and the public and greatly tightened the state's ties with medicine and science. "Rationalized" breastfeeding was at the heart of programs to reduce infant mortality rates in order to increase the size and "quality" of the population. Highly regimented feeding schedules, still practiced today, came to represent both an eternal, natural function and the conquest of fatal maternal ignorance by modern science. They also had important consequences for fertility and for maternal and child health.

Through an interdisciplinary approach, Elizabeth Whitaker shows how fascism went beneath the surface to have a lasting impact on cultural beliefs and behaviors.

Measuring Mamma's Milk will appeal to readers interested in Italy, fascism, and the care of young children as well as to scholars in medical and cultural anthropology, European history, history of medicine, and women's studies.

Elizabeth Dixon Whitaker received her Ph.D. in anthropology from Emory University. She is the recipient of three Fulbright grants for research and teaching in Italy. She is an independent scholar who alternates between Emilia-Romagna, Italy and the central coast of California.

Praise / Awards

  • "Anyone interested in social history or the history of motherhood and infancy in Italy since unification should find this work essential. . . . She reconstructs rural life, the folk practices, and traditional theories of breast feeding that governed the mother—child relationship. . ."
    —Alexander Grand, Journal of Interdisciplinary History
  • "Measuring Mamma’s Milk is a highly informative, thoughtful, and gracefully written book. It makes an important contribution to scholarship on 20th century Italy, medical anthropology, and women’s studies by showing how fascism shaped reproduction in enduring ways that have negative consequences for women and children.” 
    American Anthropologist
  • "This is a remarkable text: imaginatively conceived, carefully and extensively researched, and by turns bold and passionate. …[It] deserves a wide readership – in cultural and medical anthropology, history of medicine, demography, European history, and women’s studies."
    --- David Horn, Ohio State University

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 368pp.
  • 4 drawings, 1 photograph, 8 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2000
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11078-0

Add to Cart
  • $94.95 U.S.