History of Dr. Spock's "The Common Book of Baby and Child Care"

A picture of Dr. Benjamin Spock.
Dr. Benjamin Spock (June 24, 1970). (Photo by Evening Standard/Stringer / Getty Images)

Dr. Benjamin Spock's revolutionary book about how to raise children was first published on July 14, 1946. The book, The Common Book of Baby and Child Care, completely changed how children were raised in the latter half of the 20th century and has become one of the best-selling non-fiction books of all time.

Dr. Spock Learns About Children

Dr. Benjamin Spock (1903-1998) first began learning about children as he grew up, helping take care of his five younger siblings.

Spock earned his medical degree at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1924 and focused on pediatrics. However, Spock thought he could help children even more if he understood psychology, so he spent six years studying at the New York Psychoanalytic Institute.

Spock spent many years working as a pediatrician but had to give up his private practice in 1944 when he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve. After the war, Spock decided on a teaching career, eventually working for the Mayo Clinic and teaching at such schools as the University of Minnesota, the University of Pittsburgh, and Case Western Reserve.

Dr. Spock's Book

With the aid of his wife, Jane, Spock spent several years writing his first and most famous book, The Common Book of Baby and Child Care. The fact that Spock wrote in a congenial manner and included humor made his revolutionary changes to child care easier to accept.

Spock advocated that fathers should play an active role in raising their children and that parents will not spoil their baby if they pick him up when he cries. Also revolutionary was that Spock thought that parenting could be enjoyable, that each parent could have a special and loving bond with their children, that some mothers could get "the blue feeling" (postpartum depression), and that parents should trust their instincts.

The first edition of the book, especially the paperback version, was a big seller right from the start. Since that first 25-cent copy in 1946, the book has been repeatedly revised and republished. So far, Dr. Spock's book has been translated into 42 languages and sold more than 50 million copies.

Dr. Spock did write several other books, but his The Common Book of Baby and Child Care remains his most popular.

Revolutionary

What seems like ordinary, normal advice now was completely revolutionary at the time. Before Dr. Spock's book, parents were told to keep their babies on a strict schedule, so strict that if a baby was crying before its prescribed feeding time that parents should let the baby continue crying. Parents were not allowed to "give in" to the child's whims.

Parents were also instructed not to coddle, or show "too much" love, to their babies for that would spoil them and make them weak. If parents were uncomfortable with the rules, they were told that doctors know best and thus they should follow these instructions anyway.

Dr. Spock said just the opposite. He told them that babies don't need such strict schedules, that it is okay to feed babies if they are hungry outside the prescribed eating times, and that parents should show their babies love.

And if anything seemed difficult or uncertain, then parents should follow their instincts.

New parents in the post-World War II era readily embraced these changes to parenting and raised the entire baby boom generation with these new tenets.

Controversy

There are some that blame Dr. Spock for the unruly, anti-government youth of the 1960s, believing that it was Dr. Spock's new, softer approach to parenting that was responsible for that wild generation.

Other recommendations in the earlier editions of the book have been debunked, such as putting your babies to sleep on their stomachs. We now know that this causes a greater incidence of SIDS.

Anything so revolutionary will have its detractors and anything written seven decades ago will need to be amended, but that does not deflate the importance of Dr. Spock's book.

It is not an overstatement to say that Dr. Spock's book completely changed the way parents raised their babies and their children.