Mothers, Babies, and the Colonial State: The Introduction of Maternal and Infant Welfare Services in Nigeria, 1925-1945

Deanne van Tol


At the beginning of the twentieth century the high mortality rates of both mothers and babies during childbirth became a predominant concern in Britain and its empire, provoking outcries from medical and nursing professionals as well as politicians and the wider public. Infant mortality became the new marker of the vitality of the nation and a widely used indicator of general standards of health. Efforts to improve maternal and infant welfare were part of a broader shift in Britain towards public health as a government responsibility. Measures taken to reduce mortality rates emphasized state-run initiatives in maternal education and antenatal care, the medicalization of childbirth, and scientific infant feeding and childrearing practices (Fildes, Marks and Marland 1992; Lewis 1980; Marks 1996; Davin 1997). This shift in health care policies resulted in profound changes to the experience of childbirth and to the role of the state in the area of social welfare...

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