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Angélique Janssens & Ben Pelzer: Lovely Little Angels in Heaven? The Influence of Religiously Determined Cultural Life Scripts on Infant Survival in the Netherlands, 1880-1920 [Abstract]

The way small infants are cared for, in the past as much as today, is partly determined by cultural scripts which may vary between places and times. In the past some of the cultural scripts involved in infant care were shaped by religious rules and traditions. These scripts could sometimes be life-saving, as was the case with the orthodox Jewish care of infants, or they could be lethal, given the circumstances. In Dutch historiography, the Catholic community has been held responsible for the rather high level of infant mortality during the later parts of the nineteenth century and the early decades of the twentieth century. From this perspective Catholics are either seen as having been averse to the introduction of modern medicine and hygiene, or as followers of a strict clerical campaign of prudishness enforcing the binding of female breasts and prohibiting the bearing of breasts in public. As a result Catholic mothers did not or could not suckle their infants, thereby creating life threatening situations for their little ones. In this study we first explore the likelihood that Catholic mothers were not breastfeeding their infants; secondly, we test the role of religion as the most important exogenous determinant of infant mortality in the period 1880-1920.

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