May 2: Baby-ing by the Book


Most people reading this story were either raised, or raised their own children, following advice they found written in a book by pediatrician Benjamin Spock, who was born in New Haven today in 1903. The most influential doctor of the Baby Boomer generation and a graduate of Yale University and Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, Spock was the first doctor to apply Freudian psychoanalysis to child care.

In 1946, Spock published The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, which advocated a more intuitive and relaxed approach to child-rearing than was then the norm, written in a conversational, easy-to-understand style. The book, published in the earliest years of America’s post-war baby boom, became an instant bestseller, selling over four million copies in its first few years of publication.

Dr. Benjamin Spock in 1976. As with every popular medical fad, Spock’s child-rearing advice attracted its fair share of critics. Academics claimed the book relied too heavily on anecdotal evidence. In the 1960s, second-wave feminists denounced Spock’s book as sexist. Spock’s emphasis on lenient and permissive parenting also struck many traditionally-minded families as radical and even possibly even dangerous advice. They argued that overindulging young children would lead to a generation of rebellious, troubled teenagers. This view became increasingly popular amid the turbulent events of the 1960s — a time when critics cited Dr. Spock’s own outspoken anti-war activism and unapologetic embrace of socialism as further reason to question his advice.

Despite Spock’s many critics, there is no doubt that he single-handedly changed the way millions of parents in America and throughout the Western world approached childcare. His famous book (now published as Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care) has continuously remained in print for over 70 years, and by the time of Spock’s death in 1998 had sold over 50 million copies worldwide.

Further Reading

Andy Piascik, “Benjamin Spock: Raising the World’s Children,”

Spock at 65: Five Ideas that Changed American Parenting,TIME Magazine

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