The social and economic changes that followed the outbreak of the Great War accelerated the evolution of the traditional charitable systems, also in the maternalinfantile field. The decrease of the legitimate birth rate, the higher cost of living and the need for married women to replace men in the agricultural work undermined the wet-nurses’ recruitment from Italian foundling homes. In the case of Milan, the most effective solution was not represented either by the recent and disputed practice of subsidies to unmarried mothers, or - in view of its lethal effects - by the use of artificial milk, but by the imposition of maternal breast-feeding as a condition for the acceptance of "illegitimate" children in the institute. This practice was maintained even after the end of the conflict (until 1924), because, besides reducing infant mortality, it induced single mothers to legally recognize their children. It was the beginning of an era of social protectionism in which individual freedom of choice was subordinated to the collective interest.
Keywords: First World War, foundling homes, Milan (Italy), illegitimate maternity, breast-feeding, Welfare.