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Dr. Spock Changes His Mind

Changes in one book tell us a lot about the changing views of parents over the years.
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As we discussed earlier in Book Club, the first line of Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care, "Trust Yourself", has not changed since the first edition 65 years ago. But so much else about the book has, and the changes mirror the transformation in the thinking of parents and society.

Robert Needlman, who revised this 9th and latest edition estimates that "about half the words are now mine." And given that the book runs over 1100 pages, that's a lot of new words.

Here's a look at some of the differences.

Topics (just a few) in the Table of Contents of the Original Version, but not the Latest:

Fat Children
The Working Mother
"The Facts of Life"
Scarlet Fever, Diptheria, Infantile Paralysis, Quarantine
Comics, Radio and Movies

Topics (among the many) that are in the Table of Contents of the Latest Edition but not the First One:

What Are Your Aims in Raising a Child?
Prenatal Plans and Decisions
Parents' Feelings Matter
Helping Siblings Cope
Gay and Lesbian Parents
College Entrance Exams
Gender Differences and Homosexuality
The New Brain Science
The Unpopular Child
The Facts of Life
West Nile Virus
Video Games, The Internet

Parenting Books Were A New Invention Then:

The first edition spends a lot of time teaching parents how to use a parenting book. "Use the Index a the back when you are troubled. It's arranged to help you find the answers. Under "Stomach-Ache" it will tell you all the places in the book where stomach-ache is mentioned."

Number of Parenting Books currently available on 76,669

A Letter to the Mother and Father:

The first edition begins with one, and its title is perhaps the only place that Spock referred to fathers on a par with mothers. Not unsurprisingly, considering its times, this first edition assumes that childcare is the mother's job. It is still a jolt, though, to re-encounter this on every single page. As Spock explains in this opening letter: "I want to apologize to half the fathers and mothers who are going to read the book. I mean the parents whose first baby is a girl. Everywhere I've called the baby 'Him." I think girl babies are as wonderful as boy babies. But in every sentence I can't say "her or him" and I ca't say "it" (parents would rather have their baby called the wrong sex than be called "it.") Why can't I call the baby "her" in at least half the book? I need "her" to refer to the mother. I hope the parents of girls will understand and forgive me."

Oh, well that clears it up then. He couldn't use "her" because that refers to the mother, who he would be referring to a lot because, after all, this is a childcare book. But "him" was a pronoun free and available to jump on in because it wasn't doing much else -- after all, this is a childcare book.

Other Sexism. These Paragraphs Were In The Book Until 1974. (We Do Forget How Times Have Changed, Don't We?):

...many people don't realize that a friendly father plays a different but equally important part int he development of a girl. She won't exactly pattern herself after him, but she gains confidence in herself as a girl and a woman from feeling his approval. I'm thinking of little things like approving of her dress, or hair-do, or the cookies she's made.


Some mothers have to work to make a living. Usually their children turn out all doesn't make sense to let mothers go to work making dresses in a factory or tapping typewriters in an office, and have them pay other people to do a poorer job of bringing up their children


A man can be a warm father and a real man at the same time...of course, I don mean that the father has to give just as many bottles or change just as many diapers as the mother. But it's fine for him to do these things occasionally. He might make the formula on Sunday."

In the early 1970s, Gloria Steinem called Spock on his sexist assumptions and, to the 70-year-old's credit, he changed.

"He and him and his," were replaced with "they, them and theirs." More recently, "she" and "he" are used interchangeably in the text, and "parent" has replaced "mother." Oh, and the latest edition? There single cover image is a photo of a MAN holding a baby.


Today's parents need a lot...less. The list in the first edition includes 36 separate items that a newborn will need -- and most of those have to do with preparing formula, sterilizing glass bottles and dealing with cloth diapers. The newest list? Eleven items, starting with one that is not mentioned anywhere in the original book: "A safety-approved car seat."

Number of pages about Breastfeeding in the First Edition: 14
Number of pages about "Bottle-Feeding" in the First Edition: 24

Number of pages about Breastfeeding in the 9th Edition: 45
Number of pages about "Formula-Feeding": 25

General tone: Can You Guess Which Of These Was Written In 1946?

Choice A:Your mother may be the ideal helper, if you get along with her easily. If you feel she is bossy and still treats you like a child, this is not the time to have her. You will want to feel that the baby is your own and that you are doing a good job. It will help to have a person who has taken care of babies before, but it's most important of all to have someone that you enjoy having around. If you can afford to hire a houseworker or a practical baby nurse for a few weeks, there will be the advantage over a relative that you can let her go if she doesn't work out right.

Choice B:
Your baby's father may be a great support person, or he may be feeling to anxious or overwhelmed himself. Your mother may be the ideal helper, if you get along with her easily. If you feel she is bossy and still treats you like a child, it's probably better if she visits but doesn't stay... You might consider hiring a housekeeper or doula for a few weeks...It makes sense to keep your helper around for as long as you can afford it.

Yes, B is more recent.

In upcoming book club posts I plan to explore what Dr. Spock (and Dr. Needlman) actually have to say about some of the most hot-button questions of parenting. It will be a chance to look at what this book actually says vs what generations have come to assume it says. Sleep, breastfeeding and spanking come to mind. Are there any you'd particularly like to talk about?