THE YOUNG MOTHER, OR
MANAGEMENT OF CHILDREN IN REGARD TO HEALTH.
BY WM. A. ALCOTT
ADVERTISEMENT TO THE THIRD EDITION.
The present edition has been much enlarged. The author has added a section on the conduct and management of the mother herself, besides several other important amendments and additions. The whole has also been carefully revised, and we cannot but indulge the hope that no popular work of the kind will be found more perfect, or more worthy of the public confidence.
CHAPTER I. THE NURSERY.
General remarks. Importance of a Nursery—generally overlooked. Its walls—ceiling—windows—chimney. Two apartments. Sliding partition. Reasons for this arrangement. Objections to carpets. Furniture, &c. Feather beds. Holes or crevices. Currents of air. Cats and dogs. "Sucking the child's breath." Brilliant objects. Squinting. Causes of blindness.
CHAPTER II. TEMPERATURE.
General principle—"Keep cool." Our own sensations not always to be trusted. Thermometer. Why infants require more external heat than adults. Means of warmth. Air heated in other apartments. Clothes taking fire. Stove—railing around it. Excess of heat—its dangers.
CHAPTER III. VENTILATION.
General ignorance of the constitution of the atmosphere. The subject briefly explained. Oxygen gas. Nitrogen. Carbonic acid. Fires, candles, and breathing dependent on oxygen. Danger from carbonic acid. How it destroys people. Impurity of the air arising from lamps and candles. Other sources of impurity. Experiment of putting the candle under the bed-clothes. Covering the heads of infants while sleeping—its dangers. Proportions of oxygen and nitrogen in pure and impure air. No wonder children become sickly. Particular means of ventilating rooms. Caution in regard to lamps. Washing, ironing, cooking, &c., in a nursery. Their evil tendency. Fumigation—camphor, vinegar.
CHAPTER IV. THE CHILD'S DRESS.
General principles—1. To cover us; 2. To defend us from cold; 3. from injury.
SEC. 1. Swathing the Body.
Buffon's remarks. Transforming children into mummies. Use of a belly-band. Evils produced by having it too tight. Cripples sometimes made. Absurdity of confining the arms. Infants should be made happy.
SEC. 2. Form of the Dress.
Curious suggestion of a London writer. Advantages of his plan. Killing with kindness. Dr. Buchan's opinion. Conformity to fashion. Tight-lacing the chest. Its effects—dangerous. Physiology of the chest. Its motions. An attempt to make the subject intelligible. Serious mistakes of some writers. Appeal to facts. Color of females. Their breathing. Their diseases. Customs of Tunis. Our own customs little less ridiculous.
SEC. 3. Material.
Flannel in cold weather. Its use—1. As a kind of flesh brush; 2. As a protection against taking cold; 3. As means of equalizing the temperature. Clothing should be kept clean—often changed—color—lightness—softness. Cotton apt to take fire. Silk expensive. Linen not warm enough. Flannel under-clothes.
SEC. 4. Quantity.
The power of habit, in this respect. Opinion that no clothing is necessary. Anecdote of Alexander and the Scythian. Argument from analogy. Begin right, in early life. We generally use too much clothing. Should clothing be often varied?—objections to it. Avoid dampness.
SEC. 5. Caps.
How caps produce disease. Nature's head-dress. Miserable apology for caps. What diseases are avoided by going with the head bare. Judicious remarks of a foreign writer. Covering the "open of the head." Wetting the head with spirits.
SEC. 6. Hats and Bonnets.
Hats usually too warm. No covering needed in the house; and but little in the sun or rain. Is it dangerous to go with the head always bare?
SEC. 7. Covering for the Feet.
The feet should be well covered. Why. Rule of medical men. No garters. Objections to covering the feet considered. Shoes useful. Not too thick. Thick soles. Mr. Locke's opinion.
SEC. 8. Pins.
These ought not to be used. Why. Substitutes. Practice of Dr. Dewees. Needles—their danger. Shocking anecdote.
SEC. 9. Remaining Wet.
Changing wet clothing. Monstrous error—its evils. Clean as well as dry. A lame excuse for negligence. No excuse sufficient but poverty.
SEC. 10. Remarks on the Dress of Boys.
Every restraint of body or limb injurious. Tight jackets. Stiff stocks and thick cravats. Boots. Evils of having them too tight. A painful sight.
SEC. 11. On the Dress of Girls.
Clothing should be loose for girls or boys. Girls to be kept warmer than boys. Few girls comfortable, at home or abroad. Going out of warm rooms into the night air. How it promotes disease.
CHAPTER V. CLEANLINESS.
Physiology of the human skin. Of checking perspiration. Diseases thus produced. "Dirt" not "healthy." How the mistake originated. "Smell of the earth." Effect of uncleanliness on the morals. Filthiness produces bowel complaints. Changing dress for the sake of cleanliness.
CHAPTER VI. BATHING.
Practice of savage nations. Rather dangerous. Mistake of Rousseau. Plunging into cold water at birth may produce immediate death. Hundreds injured where one is benefited. Spirits added to the water. First washings of the child—should be thorough. Rules in regard to the temperature of both the water and the air. Washing an introduction to bathing. Hour for bathing changes with age. Temperature of the water. Size of a bathing vessel. Unreasonable fears of the warm bath. How they arose. A list of common whims. Apology for opposing cold baths. Dr Dewees' eight objections to them. Does cold water harden? Cold bath sometimes useful under the care of a skilful physician. Its danger in other cases. Rules for using the cold bath, if used at all. Securing a glow after it. General management. Proper hour. Coming out of the bath. Dressing. Singing. Bathing after a meal. Local bathing. Tea-spoonful of water in the mouth. Its use. The shower bath. Vapor bath. Medicated bath. Sponging. Conveniences for bathing indispensable to every family. General neglect of bathing. Attention of the Romans to this subject. We treat domestic animals better than children.
CHAPTER VII. FOOD.
SEC. 1. General Principles.
The mother's milk the only appropriate food of infants. Unreasonableness of some mothers. The tendency to ape foreign fashions. Nursing does not weaken the mother.
SEC. 2. Conduct of the Mother.
Much depends on the mother. Opinions of medical societies. Mothers sometimes make children drunkards. The general fondness for excitements. Hints to those whom it concerns. Caution to mothers. Opinions of Dr. Dewees. Slavery of mothers to strong drink and exciting food. Opinions of the Charleston Board of Health.
SEC. 3. Nursing, how often.
Children should never be nursed to quiet them. Stomach must have time for rest. Regular seasons for nursing. Once in three hours. Difference of constitution. Indulgence does not strengthen. Feeble children require the strictest management. Nothing should be given between meals.
SEC. 4. Quantity of Food.
Errors. Repetition of aliment. Variety. Children over-fed. Appetite not a safe guide. Training to gluttony. Illustrations of the principle. Mankind eat twice as much as is necessary.
SEC. 5. How long should Milk be the only Food?
First change in diet. Objections of mothers. Choice bits. Ignorance of the nature of digestion. What digestion is. Food which the author of nature assigned.
SEC. 6. On Feeding before Teething.
When feeding before teething is necessary. Diet of mothers. Substitute for the mother's milk. How prepared. Variety not necessary to the infant. Milk best from the same cow. Vessels in which it is used should be clean. Sweet milk not heated too much. Not frozen. Disgusting practices. Pure water. If not pure, boil it. Best of sugar. Is sugar injurious? When the state of the mother's health forbids nursing. Use of sucking-bottles. Feeding should in all cases be slow. Jolting children after eating. Tossing. Sucking-bottle as a plaything. Evils of using it as such. Dirty vessels. Poisonous ones. Character of nurses. Nursing at both breasts. Age of the nurse. Parents should have the oversight, even of a nurse.
SEC. 7. From Teething to Weaning.
Proper age for weaning. Cullen's opinion. Proper season of the year. When the teeth have fairly protruded. First food given. New forms of food. Animal broth.
SEC. 8. During the Process of Weaning.
The spring the best time for weaning. Should not be too sudden. The process—how managed. Exciting an aversion to the breast. What solid food should first be given. Buchan's opinion. Health of the mother. She should—if possible—avoid medicine.
SEC. 9. Food subsequently to Weaning.
Views of Dr. Cadogan. Half the children that come into the world go out of it before they are good for anything. Why? Owing chiefly to errors in nursing, feeding, and clothing. Simplicity of children's food. Picture of a modern table. Every dish tortured till it is spoiled. Plain, simple food, generally despised. How bread is now regarded. How it ought to be. Mr. Locke's opinion in favor of bread for young children, and against the use of animal food. Does not differ materially from that of most medical writers. Vegetable food generally preferred to animal. What is true of youth, in this respect, is true of every age, with slight exceptions. Who require most food. Mere bread and water not best. Bread the staple article of diet. Best kind of bread. Objections to it. How groundless they are. Fondness, for hot, new bread not natural. Fondness of change. What it indicates. How it is caused. Train up a child in the way he should go. We can like what food we please. Second best kind of bread. Other kinds. Plain puddings. Indian cakes. Salt may be used, in moderate quantity, but no other condiments. Of butter, cheese, milk, &c. Potatoes, turnips, onions, beets, and other roots. Beans, peas, and asparagus. No fat or gravies should be used.
SEC. 10. Remarks on Fruit.
Diversity of opinion. The cholera. Fruits useful. Seven plain rules in regard to them. Other rules. A mistake corrected. Fruit before breakfast. Four arguments in its favor. Particular fruits. Apples. Why fruits brought to market are generally unfit to be eaten. Are good, ripe fruits difficult of digestion? Cooking the apple? A man who lives entirely on apples. Cutting down orchards. Pears, peaches, melons, grapes. Mixing improper substances with summer fruits.
SEC. 11. Confectionary.
Confectionary sometimes poisonous. Case in New York. All, or nearly all confectionaries injurious. Physical evils attending their use. Intellectual evils. Moral evils. The last most to be dreaded. Slaves to confectionary are on the road to gluttony, drunkenness, or debauchery—perhaps all three.
SEC. 12. Pastry.
Dr. Paris's opinion of pastry. Various forms of it. Hot flour bread a species of it. Produces, among other evils, eruptions on the face. Appeal to mothers.
SEC. 13. Crude, or Raw Substances.
Salads, herbs, &c.—raw—cooked. Nuts, spices, mustard, horseradish, onions, cucumbers, pickles, &c. None of these should be used, except as medicine.
CHAPTER VIII. DRINKS.
Infants need little drink. Adults, even, generally drink to cool themselves. Simple water the best drink. Opinions of Dr. Oliver and Dr. Dewees. Animal food increases thirst. Only one real drink in the world. The true object of all drink. Tea, coffee, chocolate, beer, &c. Milk and water, molasses and water, &c. Cider, wine, and ardent spirits. Bad food and drink the most prolific sources of disease. Children naturally prefer water. Danger of hot drinks. Cold drinks. Mischiefs they produce. Caution to mothers. Extracts. Drinking cold water, while hot.
CHAPTER IX. GIVING MEDICINE.
"Prevention" better than "cure." Nine in ten infantile diseases caused by errors in diet and drink. Signs of failing health. Causes of a bad breath. Flesh eaters. Gormandizers. General rule for preventing disease. When to call a physician.
CHAPTER X. EXERCISE.
SEC. 1. Rocking in the Cradle.
Objections to the use of cradles. Under what circumstances they are least objectionable.
SEC. 2. Carrying in the Arms.
Carrying in the arms a suitable exercise for the first two months of life. Danger of too early sitting up. Improper position in the arms. Mothers must see to this themselves. Motion in the arms should be gentle. No tossing, running, or jumping. Infants should not always be carried on the same arm.
SEC. 3. Creeping.
Creeping useful to health. Why. Go-carts and leading strings prohibited. The longer children creep, the better. Their progress in learning to stand. Let it be slow and natural. Let it be, as much as possible, by their own voluntary efforts.
SEC. 4. Walking.
Walking in the nursery. Walking abroad. Hoisting children into carriages. Walks should not become fatiguing.
SEC. 5. Riding in Carriages.
Carriages useful before children can walk. Their construction. Should be drawn steadily. Position of the child in them: Falling asleep. How long this exercise should be continued.
SEC. 6 Riding on Horseback.
Never safe for infants. Riding schools. Objections to riding on horseback, while very young. Tends to cruelty and tyranny.
CHAPTER XI. AMUSEMENTS.
Universal need of amusements. Why so necessary. Error of schools. Error of families. Infant schools, as often conducted, particularly injurious. Lessons, or tasks, should be short. Mistakes of some manual labor schools. Of particular amusements in the nursery. With small wooden cubes—pictures—shuttlecock—the rocking horse—tops and marbles—backgammon—checkers—morrice—dice—nine-pins—skipping the rope—trundling the hoop—playing at ball—kites—skating and swimming—dissected maps—black boards—elements of letters—dissected pictures.
CHAPTER XII. CRYING.
Its importance. Danger of repressing a tendency to cry. Anecdote from Dr. Rush. Physiology of crying. Folly of attempting wholly to suppress it.
CHAPTER XIII. LAUGHING.
"Laugh and be fat." Laughing is healthy. A common error. Monastic notions yet too prevalent on this subject.
CHAPTER XIV. SLEEP.
General remarks. A prevalent mistake. A hint to fathers. Few Catos. Everything left to mothers.
SEC. 1. Hour for Repose.
Night the season of repose, generally. Infants require all hours. Sleeping in dark rooms. Excess of caution. Habit of sleeping amid noise.
SEC. 2. Place.
Where the infant should sleep. Why alone. Poisoning by impure air. Illustration. Proofs. Friedlander. Dr. Dewees. Destruction of children by mothers. Anecdote. Moral reasons for having children sleep alone. Sleeping with the aged. Sleeping with cats and dogs.
SEC. 3 Purity of the Air.
Nurseries. Windows open during the night. Lowering them from the top. Habit of Dr. Gregory. Going abroad in the open air.
SEC. 4. The Bed.
No feathers should be used. They are too warm. Their effluvia oppressive. Other objections to their use. Mattresses. Air beds. Beds of cut straw. Soft beds. Testimony of physicians. The pillow. Dampness. Curtains. Warming the bed. Beds recently occupied by the sick.
SEC. 5. The Covering.
Light covering. Mistakes of some mothers. Covering the head with bed clothes.
SEC. 6. Night Dresses.
As little dress during sleep as possible. No caps. No stockings. Loose night shirt. No tight articles of nightdress. Frequent exchanging of clothes.
SEC. 7. Posture of the Body.
Sleeping on the back—on the sides. Position of the head. The infant's bedstead. Sir Charles Bell. Darkening the room.
SEC. 8. State of the Mind.
Mental quiet favorable to sleep. Crying to sleep. A good father. All anxiety should be avoided.
SEC. 9. Quality of Sleep.
Soundness of our sleep. Nightmare. How produced. Late reading. Late suppers. Influence of religion on sleep. Different opinions about sleep. Truth midway between extremes. Effect of silence and darkness on our sleep. Of sleep before midnight. Light unfavorable to sleep.
SEC. 10. Quantity.
Infants need to sleep nearly the whole time. Number of hours required for sleep. Opinions of eminent men. The author's own opinion. Statements of Macnish. Estimates on the loss of time by over-sleeping. Hint to young mothers.
CHAPTER XV. EARLY RISING.
All children naturally early risers. Evils of sitting up late at night. Excitements in the evening. The morning, by its beauties, invites us abroad. Example of parents. Forbidding children to rise early. Keeping them out of the way. Burning them up. "Lecturing" them. What is an early hour?
CHAPTER XVI. HARDENING THE CONSTITUTION.
Mistakes about hardening children. Their clothing. Much cold enfeebles. The Scotch Highlanders. The two extremes equally fatal—over-tenderness and neglect. An interesting anecdote from Dr. Dewees.
CHAPTER XVII. SOCIETY.
Duty of mothers in this matter. Children prefer the society of parents. Importance of other society. Necessity of society. Early diffidence. Selecting companions. Moral effects of society on the young. Parents should play with their children.
CHAPTER XVIII. EMPLOYMENTS.
Influence of mothers over daughters. Anecdote of Benjamin West. Anecdote of a poor mother. Of set lessons and lectures. Daughters under the mother's eye. Disliking domestic employments. Miserable housewives—not to be wondered at. Mistake of one class of men. Mr. Flint's opinion.
CHAPTER XIX. EDUCATION OF THE SENSES.
Extent to which the senses can be improved. Case of the blind. The Indians. Julia Brace. Tailors, painters, &c.
SEC. 1. Hearing.
Injury done by caps. Syringing the ears. Anecdote of deafness from neglect. Means of improving the hearing.
SEC. 2. Seeing.
Importance of seeing. Near-sighted people—why so common. Heat of our rooms. Very fine print. Spectacles. Reading when tired. Rubbing the eyes. Cold water to the eyes.
SEC. 3. Tasting and Smelling.
Benumbing the senses. How this has often been done. The teeth. How to preserve them.
SEC. 4. Feeling.
Corpulence and slovenliness. Sense of touch. The blind—how taught to read. Hint to parents. The hand. Neglecting the left hand. Physiology of the hand and arm. Evils of being able to use but one hand. Both should be educated.
CHAPTER XX. ABUSES.
Bad seats for children at table and elsewhere. Why children hate Sunday. Seats at Sabbath school—at church—at district schools. Suspending children between the heavens and the earth. Cushions to sit on. Seats with backs. Children in factories. Evils produced. Bodily punishment. Striking the heads of children very injurious. Beating across the middle of the body. Anecdote of a teacher. Concluding advice to mothers.
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There is a prejudice abroad, to some extent, against agitating the questions—"What shall we eat? What shall we drink? and Wherewithal shall we be clothed?"—not so much because the Scriptures have charged us not to be over "anxious" on the subject, as because those who pay the least attention to what they eat and drink, are supposed to be, after all, the most healthy.
It is not difficult to ascertain how this opinion originated. There are a few individuals who are perpetually thinking and talking on this subject, and who would fain comply with appropriate rules, if they knew what they were, and if a certain definite course, pursued a few days only, would change their whole condition, and completely restore a shattered or ruined constitution. But their ignorance of the laws which govern the human frame, both in sickness and in health, and their indisposition to pursue any proposed plan for their improvement long enough to receive much permanent benefit from it, keep them, notwithstanding all they say or do, always deteriorating.
Then, on the other hand, there are a few who, in consequence of possessing by nature very strong constitutions, and laboring at some active and peculiarly healthy employment, are able for a few, and perhaps even for many years, to set all the rules of health at defiance.
Now, strange as it may seem, these cases, though they are only exceptions (and those more apparent than real) to the general rule, are always dwelt upon, by those who are determined to live as they please, and to put no restraint either upon themselves or their appetites. For nothing can be plainer—so it seems to me—than that, taking mankind by families, or what is still better, by larger portions, they are most free from pain and disease, as well as most healthy and happy, who pay the most attention to the laws of human health, that is, those laws or rules by whose observance alone, that health can be certainly and permanently secured.
But these families and communities are most healthy and happy, not because they live in a proper manner, by fits and starts, but because they have, from some cause or other, adopted and persevered in HABITS which, compared with the habits of other families, or other communities, are preferable; that is, more in obedience to the laws which govern the human constitution. Not that even they are "without sin" or error on this subject—gross error too—but because their errors are fewer or less destructive than those of their neighbors.
Now is it possible that any intelligent father or mother of a family, whose diet, clothing, exercise, &c. are thus comparatively well regulated, would derive no benefit from the perusal of works which treat candidly, rationally, and dispassionately, on these points? Is there a mother in the community who is so destitute of reason and common sense as not to desire the light of a broader experience in regard to the tendency of things than she has had, or possibly can have, in her own family? Is there one who will not be aided by understanding not only that a certain thing or course is better than another, but also WHY it is so?
It is by no means the object of this little work to set people to watching their stomachs from meal to meal, in regard to the effects of food, drink, &c.; for nothing in the world is better calculated to make dyspeptics than this. It is true, indeed, that some things may be obviously and greatly injurious, taken only once; and when they are so, they should be avoided. But in general, it is the effect of a habitual use of certain things for a long time together—and the longer the experiment the better—which we are to observe.
A book to guide mothers in the formation of early good habits in their offspring, should be the result of long observation and much experiment on these points, but more especially of a thorough understanding of human physiology. It should not consist so much of the conceits of a single brain—perhaps half turned—as of the logical deductions of severe science, and facts gleaned from the world's history.
Here is a nation, or tribe of men, bringing up children to certain habits, from generation to generation—and such and such is their character. Here, again, is another large portion of our race, who, under similar circumstances of climate, &c. &c., have, for several hundred years, educated their children very differently, and with different results. A comparison of things on a large scale, together with a close attention to the constitution and relations of the human system, affords ground for drawing conclusions which are or may be useful. If this book shall not afford light derived from such sources, it were far better that it had never been written. If it only sets people to watching over the effects of things taken or used only for a single day, instead of leading them from early infancy to form in their children such habits as will preclude, in a great measure, the necessity of watching ourselves daily, then let the day perish from the memory of the writer, in which the plan of bringing it forth to the world was conceived. But he is confident of better things. He does not believe that a work which, to such an extent, GIVES THE REASON WHY, will be productive of more evil than good. On the contrary, it must, if read, have the opposite effect.
I do not deny that even after the formation of the best habits, there will be a necessity of paying some attention to what we eat and what we drink, from day to day, and from hour to hour; but only that the tendency of this work is not to increase this necessity, but on the contrary, to diminish it. In my own view; these occasions of inquiry in regard to what is right, physically as well as morally, are one part of our trials in this world—one means of forming our characters. We are constantly tempted to excess and to error, in spite of the most firm habits of self-denial which can be formed. If we resist temptation, our characters are improved. And it is by self-denial and self-government in these smaller matters, that we are to hope for nearly all the progress we can ever make in the great work of self-education. Great trials of character come but seldom; and when they come, we are often armed against them; but these little trials and temptations, coming upon us every hour—these it is, after all, that give shape to our characters, and make us constantly growing either better or worse, both in the sight of God and man. But, as I have repeatedly said, the object of this work is to diminish rather than to increase the frequency of these trials, useful though they may be, if duly improved, in the formation of virtuous, and even of holy character.
There is a sense in which every infant may be said to be born healthy, so that we may not only adopt the language of the poet, Bowring, and say
—"a child is born; Take it, and make it a bud of moral beauty,"
but we may also add—Take it and make it beautiful physically. For though a hereditary predisposition undoubtedly renders some individuals more susceptible than others to particular diseases, yet when the bodily organization of an infant is complete, and the degree of vitality which nature gives it is sufficient to propel the machinery of the frame, it can scarcely be regarded as in any other state than that of health.
Now if it be the intention of divine Providence (and who will doubt that it is?) that the animal body should be capable of resisting with impunity the impressions of heat, cold, light, air, and the various external influences to which, at birth, it is subjected, it may be properly asked why this primitive state of health cannot be maintained, and diseases, and medicines, and even PREVENTIVES wholly avoided.
But the reason is obvious. Civilized society has placed the human race in artificial circumstances. Instead of listening to the dictates of reason, making ourselves acquainted with the nature of the human constitution, and studying to preserve it in health and vigor, we yield to the government of ignorance and presumption. The first moment, even, in which we draw breath, sees us placed under the control of individuals who are totally inadequate to the important charge of preserving the infant constitution in its original state, and aiding its progress to maturity. And thus it is that though infants, as a general rule, may be said to be born healthy, few actually remain so. Seldom, indeed, do we find a person who has arrived at maturity wholly free from disease, even in those parts of our country which are reckoned to have the most healthy climate.
It is indeed commonly said, that a large proportion, both of children and adults, among the agricultural portion of our population, are healthy. But it is not so. There is room for doubt whether, on the whole, the farmers of this country are healthier than the mechanics, or much more so than the manufacturers; or the whole mass of the country population healthier than that of the crowded city. The causes of disease are sufficiently numerous, in all places and conditions; and this will continue to be the fact, not merely until parents and teachers shall become more enlightened, but until many generations have been trained under their enlightened influence.
If the children and adults among our agricultural population derive from their employments in the open air a more ruddy appearance than those either of the city or country who are confined more to their rooms; or to a vitiated atmosphere, and to numerous other sources of disease, and if they appear more favored with health, I have learned, by accurate observation, that these appearances are somewhat deceptive. Their active sports and employments in the open air give them a stronger appetite than any other class of people; and the indulgence of this appetite, not only with articles which are heating or indigestible in their nature, but with an unreasonable quantity even of those which are considered highly proper, is almost in an exact proportion. And it is hence scarcely possible for the causes of disease and premature death to be more operative in factories and in cities than in farm houses and the country. Indeed it may be questioned whether the abuses of the ANIMAL part of man—more common in some of their forms in country than in city—though they may be less conspicuous, are not more certainly and even more immediately destructive than those abuses which, in city life, and bustle, and competition, affect more the MORAL nature.
Be that as it may, however—for this is not the place for the grave discussion of so broad a question—one thing, to my mind, is perfectly clear, namely, that until physical education shall receive more attention from all those who hold the sacred office of instructors of the young, humanity can neither be much elevated nor improved. Mothers and schoolmasters especially—they who, as Dr. Rush says, plant the seeds of nearly all the good or evil in the world—must understand, most deeply and thoroughly, the laws which regulate the various provinces of the little world in which the soul resides, and which, like so many states of a great confederacy, have not only their separate interests and rights, but certain common and general ones; as well as those laws by which the human constitution is related to and connected with the objects which everywhere surround, and influence, and limit, and extend it.
This book contains little, if anything, new to those who are already familiar with anatomy and physiology. Indeed, whatever may be its claims, its merits or its demerits, it disclaims novelty. It is, indeed, in one point of view, original;—I mean in its form, manner, and arrangement. What I have written is chiefly from my own resources—the results of patient study and observation, and careful reflection; but that study and observation of human nature, and this reflection, have been greatly aided by reading the writings of others.
In the prosecution of the task which I had assigned myself, no work has been of more service to me than an octavo volume of 548 pages, by Dr. Wm. P. Dewees, of Philadelphia, entitled, "A Treatise on the Physical and Medical Treatment of Children." It is one of the most valuable works on Physical Education in the English language, as is evident from the fact that notwithstanding its expense—three or four dollars—it has, in nine years, gone through five editions. If it were written in such a style, and published at such a price as would bring it within reach of the minds and purses of the mass of the community, its sale would have been, I think, much greater still; and the good which it has accomplished would have been increased ten-fold.
If the "YOUNG MOTHER" should be favorably received by the American community, and prove extensively useful, it will undoubtedly be owing to the fact that it presents so large a collection of facts and principles on the great subject of physical education, in a manner so practical, and at a price which is very low. To accomplish an object so desirable is by no means an easy task. It was once said by the author of a huge volume, that he wrote so large a work because he had not time to prepare a smaller one. And however unaccountable it may be to those who have not made the trial, it may be safely asserted, that to present, within limits so small, anything like a system of Physical Education for the guidance of young mothers, requires much more time, and labor, and patience, than to prepare a work on the same subject twice as large.
Nor is it to be expected, after all, that the work is, in all respects, perfect. I have indeed done what I could to render it so; but am conscious that future inquiries may lead to the discovery of errors. Should such discoveries be made, they will be cheerfully acknowledged and corrected; truth being, as it should be, the leading object.
* * * * *
THE YOUNG MOTHER.
General remarks. Importance of a Nursery—generally overlooked. Its walls—ceiling—windows—chimney. Two apartments. Sliding partition. Reasons for this arrangement. Objections to carpets. Furniture, &c. Feather beds. Holes or crevices. Currents of air. Cats and dogs. "Sucking the child's breath." Brilliant objects. Squinting. Causes of blindness.
It is far from being in the power of every young mother to procure a suitable room for a nursery. In the present state of society, the majority must be contented with such places as they can get. Still there are various reasons for saying what a nursery should be. 1. It may be of service to those who have the power of selection. 2. Information cannot injure those who have not. 3. It may lead those who have wealth to extend the hand of charity in this important direction; for there are not a few who have little sympathy with the wants and distresses of the adult poor, who will yet open their hearts and unfold their hands for the relief of suffering infancy.
Among those who have what is called a nursery, few select for this purpose the most appropriate part of the building. It is not unfrequently the one that can best be spared, is most retired, or most convenient. Whether it is most favorable to the health and happiness of its occupants, is usually at best a secondary consideration.
But this ought not so to be. A nursery should never, for example, be on a ground floor, or in a shaded situation, or in any circumstances which expose it to dampness, or hinder the occasional approach of the light of the sun. It should be spacious, with dry walls, high ceiling, and tight windows. The latter should always be so constructed that the upper sash can be lowered when we wish to admit or exclude air. It should have a chimney, if possible; but if not, there should be suitable holes in the ceiling, for the purposes of ventilation.
The windows should have shutters, so that the room, when necessary, can be darkened—and green curtains. Some writers say that the windows should have cross bars before them; but if they do not descend within three feet of the floor, such an arrangement can hardly be required.
It is highly desirable that every nursery should consist of two rooms, opening into each other; or what is still better, of one large room, with a sliding or swinging partition in the middle. The use of this is, that the mother and child may retire to one, while the other is being swept or ventilated. They would thus avoid damp air, currents, and dust. Such an arrangement would also give the occupants a room, fresh, clean and sweet, in the morning, (which is a very great advantage,) after having rendered the air of the other foul by sleeping in it.
In winter, and while there is an infant in the nursery, just beginning to walk, it is recommended by many to cover the floor with a carpet. The only advantage which they mention is, that it secures the child from injury if it falls. But I have seldom seen lasting injury inflicted by simple falls on the hard floor; and there are so many objections to carpeting a nursery, since it favors an accumulation of dust, bad air, damp, grease, and other impurities, that it seems to me preferable to omit it. Many physicians, I must own, recommend carpets during winter, though not in summer; and in no case, unless they are well shaken and aired, at least once a week.
No furniture should be admissible, except the beds for the mother and child, a table, and a few chairs. With the best writers and highest authorities on the subject, I am decidedly of opinion that all feather beds ought effectually and forever to be excluded from nurseries. The reasons for this prohibition will appear hereafter.
Every nursery should, if possible, be free from holes or crevices; otherwise the occupants will be exposed to currents of air, and their sometimes terrible and always injurious consequences. The room may, in this way, be kept at a lower medium temperature—a point of very great importance.
Cats and dogs, I believe, are usually excluded from the nursery; if not, they ought to be. For though the apprehension of cats "sucking the child's breath," is wholly groundless, yet they may be provoked by the rude attacks of a child to inflict upon it a lasting injury. Besides, they assist, by respiration, in contaminating the air, like all other animals.
If there are, in the nursery, objects which, from the vivacity or brilliancy of their colors, attract the attention of the child, they should never be presented to them sideways, or immediately over their heads. The reason for this caution is, that children seek, and pursue almost instinctively, bright objects; and are thus liable to contract a habit of moving their eyes in an oblique direction, which may terminate in squinting.
Many parents seem to take great pleasure in indulging the young infant in looking at these bright objects; especially a lamp or a candle. If the child is naturally strong and vigorous, no immediate perceptible injury may arise; but I am confident in the opinion that the result is often quite otherwise. For many weeks, if not many months of their early existence, they should not be permitted to sit or lie and gaze at any bright object, be it ever so weak or distant, unless placed exactly before their eyes; and even in the latter case, it were better to avoid it.
Heat is also injurious to the eyes of all, and of course not less so to children than to adults. But when a strong light and heat are conjoined, as is the case of sitting around a large blazing fire—the former custom of New England—it is no wonder if the infantile eyes become early injured. No wonder that the generation now on the stage, early subjected to these abuses, should be found almost universally in the use of spectacles.
This may be the most proper place for observing that great care ought to be taken, at the birth of the child, to prevent a too sudden exposure of the tender organ of vision to the light. We believe this caution is generally omitted by the American physician, though it is one which accords with the plainest dictates of common sense. Who of us has not experienced the pain of emerging suddenly from the darkness of a cellar to the ordinary light of day? The strongest eyes of the adult are scarcely able to bear the transition. How much more painful to the tender organs of the new-born infant must be the change to which it is so frequently subjected? And how easy it is to prevent the pain and danger of the change, by more effectually darkening the room into which it is introduced!
But we have testimony on this point. A distinguished German physician states that he has known many cases of permanent blindness from this very cause to which we have referred. The Principal of the Institution for the Blind, at Vienna, says he is confident that most children who appear to be born blind, are actually made blind by neglecting this same precaution.
General principle—"Keep cool." Our own sensations not always to be trusted. Thermometer. Why infants require more external heat than adults. Means of warmth. Air heated in other apartments. Clothes taking fire. Stove—railing around it. Excess of heat—its dangers.
There is one general principle, on this subject, which is alike applicable to all persons and circumstances. It is, to keep a little too cool, rather than in the slightest degree too warm. In other words, the lowest temperature which is compatible with comfort, is, in all cases, best adapted to health; and a slight degree of coldness, provided it amount not to a chill, and is not long continued, is more safe than the smallest unnecessary degree of warmth.
But the application of this rule to those over whom we have control, is not without its difficulties. Our own sensations are so variable, independently of external and obvious causes, that we cannot at all times judge for others, especially for infants. The absolute and real state of temperature in a room can only be ascertained by the aid of a thermometer; and no nursery should ever be without one. It should be placed, however, in such a situation as to indicate the real temperature of the atmosphere, and not where it will give a false result.
No mother should forget that the infant, at birth, has not the power of generating heat, internally, to the extent which it possesses afterward. The lungs have as yet but a feeble, inefficient action. The purification of the blood, through their agency, is not only incomplete, but the heat evolved is as yet inconsiderable. In the absence of internal heat, then, there is an increased demand externally. If 60 be deemed suitable for most other persons, the new-born infant may, for a few days, require 65 or even 70.
Much may and should be done in preserving the child in a proper temperature by means of its clothing. On this point I shall speak at length, in another part of this work. My present purpose is simply to treat of the temperature of the nursery.
The best way of warming a nursery—or indeed any other room, where MERE warmth is demanded—is by means of air heated in other apartments, and admitted through openings in the floor or fire-place. The air is not only thus made more pure, but every possibility of accidents, such as having the clothes take fire, is precluded. This last consideration is one of very great importance, and I hope will not be much longer overlooked in infantile education.
Next to that, in point of usefulness and safety, is a stove, placed near or IN the fire-place, and defended by an iron railing. Most people prefer an open stove; and on some accounts it is indeed preferable, especially where it is desirable to burn coal. Still I think that the direct rays of the heat, and the glare of light from open stoves and fire-places, particularly for the young, form a very serious objection to their use.
One of the strongest objections to open stoves and fire-places in the nursery is, the increased exposure to accidents. I know it is said that this evil may be avoided by laying aside the use of cotton, and wearing nothing but worsted or flannel. This is indeed true; but I do not like the idea of being compelled to dress children in flannel or worsted, at all times when the least particle of fire is demanded; for this would be to wear this stimulating kind of clothing, in our climate, the greater part of the year.
Besides, I write for many mothers who are compelled to use cotton, on account of the expense of flannel. And if the stove be a close one, and well defended by a railing, cotton will seldom expose to danger. Still, as has been already said, the introduction of heated air from another apartment, whenever it can possibly be afforded, is incomparably better than either stoves or fire-places.
Dr. Dewees is fully persuaded that the excessive heat of nurseries has occasioned a great mortality among very young children. "In the first place," he says, "it over-stimulates them; and in the second, it renders them so susceptible of cold, that any draught of cold air endangers their lives. They are in a constant perspiration, which is frequently checked by an exposure to even an atmosphere of moderate temperature." If this is but to repeat what has been already said, the importance of the subject seems to be a sufficient apology.
General ignorance of the constitution of the atmosphere. The subject briefly explained. Oxygen gas. Nitrogen. Carbonic acid. Fires, candles, and breathing dependent on oxygen. Danger from carbonic acid. How it destroys people. Impurity of the air by means of lamps and candles. Other sources of impurity. Experiment of putting the candle under the bed-clothes. Covering the heads of infants while sleeping—its dangers. Proportions of oxygen and nitrogen in pure and impure air. No wonder children become sickly. Particular means of ventilating rooms. Caution in regard to lamps. Washing, ironing, cooking, &c., in a nursery. Their evil tendency. Fumigation—camphor, vinegar.
Few people take sufficient pains to preserve the air in any of their apartments pure; for few know what the constitution of our atmosphere is, and in how many ways and with what ease it is rendered impure.
It is not my purpose to go into a learned, scientific account in this place, or even in this work, of the constitution of the atmosphere. A few plain statements are all that are indispensable. The atmosphere which we breathe is composed of two different airs or gases. One of these is called oxygen, [Footnote: Oxygen gas is the chief supporter of combustion, as well as of respiration. It is the vital part, as it were, of the air. No animal or vegetable could long exist without it. And yet if alone, unmixed, it is too pure and too refined for animals to breathe. Nitrogen gas, on the contrary, while alone, will not support either respiration or combustion; mixed, however, with oxygen, it dilutes it, and in the most happy manner fits it for reception into the lungs.] and the other nitrogen. There is another gas usually found with these two, in smaller quantity, called carbonic acid gas; but whether it is necessary, in a very small quantity, to health, chemists, I believe, are not agreed. One thing, however, is certain—that if any portion of it is healthful, it must be very little—not more, certainly, than one-fiftieth or one-hundredth of the whole mass.
It is by means of the oxygen it contains, that air sustains life and combustion. Were it not for this, neither fires nor candles would burn, and no animal could breathe a single moment. Breathing consumes this oxygen of the air very rapidly. When the oxygen is present in about a certain proportion, combustion and respiration go on well, but when its natural proportion is diminished, the fire does not burn so well, neither does the candle; and no one can breathe so freely.
Not only are breathing and combustion impeded or disturbed by the diminution of oxygen in the atmosphere, but just in proportion as oxygen is diminished by these two processes, or either of them, carbonic acid is formed, which is not only bad for combustion, but much worse for health. If any considerable quantity of it is inhaled, it appears to be an absolute poison to the human system; and if in very large quantity, will often cause immediate death.
It is this gas, accumulated in large quantities, that destroys so many people in close rooms, where there is no chimney, nor any other place for the bad air to escape. But it not only kills people outright—it partly kills, that is, it poisons, more or less, hundreds of thousands.
In a nursery there is the mother and child, and perhaps the nurse, to render the air impure by breathing, the fire and the lamp or candle to contribute to the same result, besides several other causes not yet mentioned. One of these is nearly related to the former. I allude to the fact that our skins, by perspiration and by other means, are a source of much impurity to the atmosphere; a fact which will be more fully explained and illustrated in the chapter on Bathing and Cleanliness. It is only necessary to say, in this place, that it is not the matter of perspiration alone which, issuing from the skin, renders the air impure; there are other exhalations more or less constantly going off from every living body, especially from the lungs; and carbonic acid gas is even formed all over the surface of the skin, as well as by means of the lungs.
One needs no better proof that carbonic acid is formed on the surface of the body, than the fact that after the body has been closely covered all night, if you introduce a candle under the bed-clothes into this confined air, it will be quickly extinguished, because there is too much carbonic acid gas there, and too little oxygen.
We may hence see at once the evil of covering the heads of infants when they lie down—a very common practice. The air, when pure, contains a little more than 20 parts of oxygen, and a little less than 80 of nitrogen. Breathing this air, as I have already shown, consumes the oxygen, which is so necessary to life and health, and leaves in its place an increase of nitrogen and carbonic acid gas, which are not necessary to health, and the latter of which is even positively injurious. But when the oxygen, instead of forming 20 or more parts in 100 of the atmosphere of the nursery, is reduced to 15 or 18 parts only, and the carbonic acid gas is increased from 1 or 2 parts in 100, to 5, 6, 8 or 10—when to this is added the other noxious exhalations from the body, and from the lamp or candle, fire-place, feather bed, stagnant fluids in the room, &c., &c.—is it any wonder that children, in the end, become sickly? What else could be expected but that the seeds of disease, thus early sown, should in due time spring up, and produce their appropriate fruits?
It is sometimes said that fire in a room purifies it. It undoubtedly does so, to a certain extent, if fresh air be often admitted; but not otherwise.
I have classed feather beds among the common causes of impurity. Dr. Dewees also condemns them, most decidedly; and gives substantial reasons for "driving them out of the nursery."
In speaking of the structure of the room used for a nursery, I have adverted to the importance of having a large or double room, with sliding doors between, in order that the occupants may go into one of them, while the other is being ventilated. But whatever may be the structure of the room, the circumstances of the occupants, or the state of the weather, every nursery ought to be most thoroughly ventilated, once a day, at least; and when the weather is tolerable, twice a day. If there is but one apartment, and fear is entertained of the dampness of the fresh air introduced, or of currents, and if the mother and babe cannot retire, there is a last resort, which is for them to get into bed, and cover themselves a short time with the clothing. For though I have prohibited the covering of the face with the bed-clothes for any considerable length of time together, yet to do so for some fifteen or twenty minutes is an evil of far less magnitude than to suffer an apartment to remain without being ventilated, for twenty-four hours together—a very common occurrence.
When a lamp is kept burning in a nursery during the night, it should always be placed at the door of the stove, or in the chimney place, that its smoke, and the bad airs or gases which are formed, may escape. But it is better, in general, to avoid burning lamps or candles during the night. By means of common matches, a light may be produced, when necessary, almost instantly; especially if you have a spirit lamp in the nursery, or what is still better, one of spirit gas—that is, a mixture of alcohol and turpentine.
It is highly desirable that all washing, ironing, and cooking should be avoided in the nursery. They load the air with noxious effluvia or vapor, or with particles of dust; none of which ought ever to enter the delicate lungs of an infant.
Fumigations with camphor, vinegar, and other similar substances, have long been in reputation as a means of purifying the air in sick-rooms and nurseries; but they are of very little consequence. Fresh air, if it can be had, is always better.
THE CHILD'S DRESS
General principles. SEC. 1. Swathing the body—its numerous evils.—SEC. 2. Form of the dress. Fashion. Tight lacing—its dangers. Structure and motion of the chest. Diseases from tight lacing.—SEC. 3. Material of dress. Flannel—its uses. Cleanliness. Cotton—silk—linen.—SEC. 4. Quantity of dress. Power of habit. Anecdote. Begin right. Change. Dampness.—SEC. 5. Caps—their evils. Going bare-headed.—SEC. 6. Hats and bonnets.—SEC. 7. Covering for the feet. Stockings. Garters. Shoes—thick soles.—SEC. 8. Pins—their danger. Shocking anecdote.—SEC. 9. Remaining wet.—SEC. 10. Dress of boys. Tight jackets. Stocks and cravats. Boots.—SEC. 11. Dress of girls—should be loose. Temperature. Exposure to the night air.
Dress serves three important purposes:—1. To cover us; 2. To defend us against cold; 3. To defend our bodies and limbs from injury. There is one more purpose of dress; in case of deformity, it seems to improve the appearance.
In all our arrangements in regard to dress, whether of children or of adults, we should ever keep in mind the above principles. The form, fashion, material, application, and quantity of all clothing, especially for infants, ought to be regulated by these three or four rules.
The subject of this chapter is one of so much importance, and embraces such a variety of items, that it will be more convenient, both to the reader and myself, to consider it under several minor heads.
SEC. 1. Swathing the Body.
Buffon, in his "Natural History," says that in France, an infant has hardly enjoyed the liberty of moving and stretching its limbs, before it is put into confinement. "It is swathed," says he, "its head is fixed, its legs are stretched out at full length, and its arms placed straight down by the side of its body. In this manner it is bound tight with cloths and bandages, so that it cannot stir a limb; indeed it is fortunate that the poor thing is not muffled up so as to be unable to breathe."
All swathing, except with a single bandage around the abdomen, is decidedly unreasonable, injurious and cruel. I do not pretend that the remarks of M. Buffon are fully applicable to the condition of infants in the United States. The good sense of the community nowhere permits us to transform a beautiful babe quite into an Egyptian mummy. Still there are many considerable errors on the subject of infantile dress, which, in the progress of my remarks, I shall find it necessary to expose.
The use of a simple band cannot be objected to. It affords a general support to the abdomen, and a particular one to the umbilicus. The last point is one of great importance, where there is any tendency to a rupture at this part of the body—a tendency which very often exists in feeble children. And without some support of this kind, crying, coughing, sneezing, and straining in any way, might greatly aggravate the evil, if not produce serious consequences.
But, in order to afford a support to the abdomen in the best manner, it is by no means necessary that the bandage should be drawn very tight. Two thirds of the nurses in this country greatly err in this respect, and suppose that the more tightly a bandage is drawn, the better. It should be firm, but yet gently yielding; and therefore a piece of flannel cut "bias," as it is termed, or, obliquely with respect to the threads of which it is composed, is the most appropriate material.
If the attention of the mother were necessary nowhere else, it would be indispensable in the application of this article. If she do not take special pains to prevent it, the erring though well meaning nurse may so compress the body with the bandage as to produce pain and uneasiness, and sometimes severe colic. Nay, worse evils than even this have been known to arise. When a child sneezes, or coughs, or cries, the abdomen should naturally yield gently; but if it is so confined that it cannot yield where the band is applied, it will yield in an unnatural proportion below, to the great danger of producing a species of rupture, no less troublesome than the one which such tight swathing is designed to prevent.
But besides the bandage already mentioned, no other restraint of the body and limbs of a child is at all admissible. The Creator has kindly ordained that the human body and limbs, and especially its muscles, or moving powers, shall be developed by exercise. Confine an arm or a leg, even in a child of ten years of age, and the limb will not increase either in strength or size as it otherwise would, because its muscles are not exercised; and the fact is still more obvious in infancy.
There is a still deeper evil. On all the limbs are fixed two sets of muscles; one to extend, the other to draw up or bend the limb. If you keep a limb extended for a considerable time, you weaken the one set of muscles; if you keep it bent, you weaken the other. This weakness may become so great that the limb will be rendered useless. There are cases on record—well authenticated—where children, by being obliged to sit in one place on a hard floor, have been made cripples for life. Hundreds of others are injured, though they may not become absolutely crippled.
I repeat it, therefore, their dress should be so free and loose that they may use their little limbs, their neck and their bodies, as much as they please; and in every desired direction. The practices of confining their arms while they lie down, for fear they should scratch themselves with their nails, and of pinning the clothes round their feet, are therefore highly reprehensible. Better that they should even occasionally scratch themselves with their nails, than that they should be made the victims of injurious restraint. Who would think of tying up or muffling the young lamb or kid? And even the young plant—what think you would be the effect, if its leaves and branches could not move gently with the soft breezes? Would the fluids circulate, and health be promoted: or would they stagnate, and a morbid, sickly and dwarfish state be the consequence?
Those whose object is to make infancy, as well as any other period of existence, a season of happiness, will not fail to find an additional motive for giving the little stranger entire freedom in the land whither he has so recently arrived, especially when he seems to enjoy it so much. Who can be so hardened as to confine him, unless compelled by the most pressing necessity?
SEC. 2. Form of the Dress.
On this subject a writer in the London Literary Gazette of some eight or ten years ago, lays down the following general directions, to which, in cold weather, there can be but one possible objection, which is, they are not alamode, and are not, therefore, likely to be followed.
"All that a child requires, so far as regards clothing, in the first month of its existence, is a simple covering for the trunk and extremities of the body, made of a material soft and agreeable to the skin, and which can retain, in an equable degree, the animal temperature. These qualities are to be found in perfection in fine flannel; and I recommend that the only clothing, for the first month or six weeks, be a square piece of flannel, large enough to involve fully and overlap the whole of the babe, with the exception of the head, which should be left totally uncovered. This wrapper should be fixed by a button near the breast, and left so loose as to permit the arms and legs to be freely stretched, and moved in every direction. It should be succeeded by a loose flannel gown with sleeves, which should be worn till the end of the second month; after which it may be changed to the common clothing used by children of this age."
The advantages of such a dress are, that the movements of the infant will be, as we have already seen, free and unrestrained, and we shall escape the misery of hearing the screams which now so frequently accompany the dressing and undressing of almost every child. No chafings from friction, moreover, can occur; and as the insensible perspiration is in this way promoted over the whole surface of the body, the sympathy between the stomach and skin is happily maintained. A healthy sympathy of this kind, duly kept up, does much towards preserving the stomach in a good state, and the skin from eruptions and sores.
But as I apprehend that christianity is not yet very deeply rooted in the minds and hearts of parents, I have already expressed my doubts whether they are prepared to receive and profit by advice at once rational and physiological. Still I cannot help hoping that I shall succeed in persuading mothers to have every part of a child's dress perfectly loose, except the band already referred to; and that should be but moderately tight.
Common humanity ought to teach us better than to put the body of a helpless infant into a vise, and press it to death, as the first mark of our attention. Who has not been struck with a strange inconsistency in the conduct of mothers and nurses, who, while they are so exceedingly tender towards the infant in some points as to injure it by their kindness, are yet almost insensible to its cries of distress while dressing it? So far, indeed, are they from feeling emotions of pity, that they often make light of its cries, regarding them as signs of health and vigor.
There can be no doubt, I confess, that the first cries of an infant, if strong, both indicate and promote a healthy state of the lungs, to a certain extent; but there will always be unavoidable occasions enough for crying to promote health, even after we have done all we can in the way of avoiding pain. They who only draw the child's dress the tighter, the more it cries, are guilty of a crime of little less enormity than murder.
"Think," says Dr. Buchan, "of the immense number of children that die of convulsions soon after birth; and be assured that these (its cries) are much oftener owing to galling pressure, or some external injury, than to any inward cause." This same writer adds, that he has known a child which was "seized with convulsion fits" soon after being "swaddled," immediately relieved by taking off the rollers and bandages; and he says that a loose dress prevented the return of the disease.
I think it is obvious that the utmost extent to which we ought to go, in yielding to the fashion, as it regards form, is to use three pieces of clothing—the shirt, the petticoat and the frock; all of which must be as loose as possible; and before the infant begins to crawl about much, the latter should be long, for the salve of covering the feet and legs. At four or five years of age, loose trowsers, with boys, may be substituted for the petticoat; but it is a question whether something like the frock might not, with every individual, be usefully retained through life.
I wish it were unnecessary, in a book like this, to join in the general complaint against tight lacing any part of the body, but especially the chest. But as this work of torture is sometimes begun almost from the cradle, and as prevention is better than cure, the hope of preventing that for which no cure appears yet to have been found, leads me to make a few remarks on the subject.
As it has long been my opinion that one reason why mothers continue to overlook the subject is, that they do not understand the structure and motion of the chest, I have attempted the following explanation and illustration.
I have already said, that if we bandage tightly, for a considerable time, any part of the human frame, it is apt to become weaker. The more a portion of the frame which is furnished with muscles, those curious instruments of motion, is used, provided it is not over-exerted, the more vigorous it is. Bind up an arm, or a hand, or a foot, and keep it bound for twelve hours of the day for many years, and think you it will be as strong as it otherwise would have been? Facts prove the contrary. The Chinese swathe the feet of their infant females; and they are not only small, but weak.
I have said their feet are smaller for being bandaged. So is a hand or an arm. Action—healthy, constant action—is indispensable to the perfect development of the body and limbs. Why it is so, is another thing. But so it is; and it is a principle or law of the great Creator which cannot be evaded. More than this; if you bind some parts of the body tightly, so as to compress them as much as you can without producing actual pain, you will find that the part not only ceases to grow, but actually dwindles away. I have seen this tried again and again. Even the solid parts perish under pressure. When a person first wears a false head of hair, the clasp which rests upon the head, at the upper part of the forehead, being new and elastic, and pressing rather closely, will, in a few months, often make quite an indentation in the cranium or bone of the head.
Now is it probable—nay, is it possible—that the lungs, especially those of young persons, can expand and come to their full and natural size under pressure, even though the pressure should be slight? Must they not be weakened? And if the pressure be strong, as it sometimes is, must they not dwindle away?
We know, too, from the nature and structure of the lungs themselves, that tight lacing must injure them. Many mothers have very imperfect notions of what physicians mean, when they say that corsets impede the circulation, by preventing the full and undisturbed action of the lungs. They get no higher ideas of the motion of the chest, than what is connected with bending the body forward and backward, from right to left, &c. They know that, if dressed too tightly, this motion is not so free as it otherwise would be; but if they are not so closely laced as to prevent that free bending of the body of which I have been speaking, they think there can be no danger; or at least, none of consequence.
Now it happens that this sort of motion is not that to which physicians refer, when they complain of corsets. Strictly speaking, this bending of the whole body is performed by the muscles of the back, and not those of the chest. The latter have very little to do with it. It is true, that even this motion ought not to be hindered; but if it is, the evil is one of little comparative magnitude.
Every time we breathe naturally, all the ribs, together with the breast bone, have motion. The ribs rise, and spread a little outward, especially towards the fore part. The breast bone not only rises, but swings forward a little, like a pendulum. But the moment the chest is swathed or bandaged, this motion must be hindered; and the more, in proportion to the tightness.
On this point, those persons make a sad mistake, who say that "a busk not too wide nor too rigid seems to correspond to the supporting spine, and to assist, rather than impede the efforts of nature, to keep the body erect."
Can we seriously compare the offices of the spine with those of the ribs, and suppose that because the former is fixed like a post, at the back part of the lungs, therefore an artificial post in front would be useful? Why, we might just as well argue in favor of hanging weights to a door, or a clog to a pendulum, in order to make it swing backwards and forwards more easily. We might almost as well say that the elbow ought to be made firm, to correspond with the shoulders, and thus become advocates for letting the stays or bandages enclose the arm above the elbow, and fasten it firmly to the side. Indeed, the consequences in the latter case, aside from a little inconvenience, would not be half so destructive to health as in the former. The ribs, where they join to the back bone, form hinges; and hinges are made for motion. But if you fasten them to a post in front, of what value are the hinges?
If mothers ask, of what use this motion of the lungs is, it is only necessary to refer them to the chapter on Ventilation, in which I trust the subject is made intelligible, and a satisfactory answer afforded.
But I might appeal to facts. Let us look at females around us generally. Do their countenances indicate that they enjoy as good health as they did when dress was worn more loosely? Have they not oftener a leaden hue, as if the blood in them was darker? Are they not oftener short-breathed than formerly? As they advance in life, have they not more chronic diseases? Are not their chests smaller and weaker? And as the doctrine that if one member suffers, all the other members suffer with it, is not less true in physiology than in morals, do we not find other organs besides the lungs weakened? Surgeons and physicians, who, like faithful sentinels, have watched at their post half a century, tell us, moreover, that if these foolish and injurious practices to which I refer are tolerated two centuries longer, every female will be deformed, and the whole race greatly degenerated, physically and morally.
Those with whom no arguments will avail, are recommended to read the following remarks from the first volume of the Library of Health, p. 119:
"It is related, on the authority of Macgill, that in Tunis, after a girl is engaged, or betrothed, she is then fattened. For this purpose, she is cooped up in a small room, and shackles of gold and silver are placed upon her ancles and wrists, as a piece of dress. If she is to be married to a man who has discharged, despatched, or lost a former wife, the shackles which the former wife wore are put on the new bride's limbs, and she is fed till they are filled up to a proper thickness. The food used for this custom worthy of the barbarians is called drough, which is of an extraordinary fattening quality, and also famous for rendering the milk of the nurse rich and abundant. With this and their national dish, cuscasoo, the bride is literally crammed, and many actually die under the spoon."
We laugh at all this, and well we may; but there are customs not very far from home, no less ridiculous.
"There is a country four or five thousand miles westward of Tunis, where the females, to a very great extent, are emaciated for marriage, instead being fattened. This process is begun, in part, by shackles—not of gold and silver, perhaps, but of wood—but instead of being put on loosely, and causing the body or limbs to fill them, they are made to compress the body in the outset; and as the size of the latter diminishes, the shackles are contracted or tightened. As with the eastern, so with the western females, many of them die under the process; though a far greater number die at a remote period, as the consequence of it."
SEC. 3. Material.
I have already committed myself to the reader as favoring the use of soft flannel in cold weather, especially for children who are not yet able to run about freely in the open air. The advantages of an early use of this material, at least for under-clothes, are numerous. The following are a few of them.
1. Flannel, next to the skin, is a pleasant flesh brush; keeping up a gentle and equable irritation, and promoting perspiration and every other function which it is the office of the skin to perform, or assist in performing.
2. It guards the body against the cooling effects of evaporation, when in a state of profuse perspiration.
3. By preventing the heat of the body from escaping too rapidly, it keeps up a steadier temperature on the surface than any other known substance. The importance of the last consideration is greater, in a climate like our own, than elsewhere.
But there are limits to the use of this article of clothing. Whenever the temperature of the atmosphere is so great, even without artificial heat, that we no longer wish to retain the heat of the body by the clothing, then all flannel should be removed at once, and linen should be substituted; taking care to replace the flannel whenever the temperature of the atmosphere, as indicated by the thermometer, or by the child's feelings, may seem to require it.
It should also be kept clean. There is a very general mistake abroad on this subject. Many suppose that flannel can be worn longer without washing than other kinds of cloth. On the contrary, it should be changed oftener than cotton, or even linen, because it will absorb a great deal of fluid, especially the matter of perspiration, which, if long retained, is believed to ferment, and produce unhealthy, if not poisonous gases. For this reason, too, flannel for children's clothing should be white, that it may show dirt the more readily, and obtain the more frequent washing; although it is for this very reason—its liability to exhibit the least particles of dirt—that it is commonly rejected.
One caution more in regard to the use of flannel may be necessary. With some children, owing to a peculiarity of constitution, flannel will produce eruptions on the skin, which are very troublesome. Whenever this is the case, the flannel should be immediately laid aside; upon which the eruptions usually disappear.
If parents would take proper pains to get the lighter, softer kinds of flannel for this purpose, and be particular about its looseness and quantity, I should prefer, as I have already intimated, to have very young children, in our climate, wear this material the greater part of the year, excepting perhaps July and August.
My reasons for this course would be, first, that I like the stimulus of soft flannel on the skin, if changed sufficiently often, better than that of any other kind of clothing. Secondly, cotton is so liable to take fire, that its use in the nursery and among little children seems very hazardous. Thirdly, silk is not quite the appropriate material, as a general thing, besides being too expensive; and fourthly, linen is not warm enough, except in mid-summer.
Except, therefore, in July and August, and in cases of idiosyncracy, such as have just been alluded to, I would use flannel for the under-clothes of young children, throughout the year. But whenever they acquire sufficient strength to walk and run, and play much in the open air, I would gradually lay aside the use of all flannel, even in winter. Great attention, however, must be paid to the quantity. The parent who, guided by this rule, should keep on her child the same amount of flannel, and of the same thickness, from January to June 30th, and then, on the first of July, should suddenly exchange it for thin linen, in moderate quantity, might find trouble from it. It is better to make the changes more gradually; otherwise, whatever may be the material of the dress, the child will be likely to suffer.
SEC. 4. Quantity.
The quantity of clothing used by different individuals of the same age, in the same climate, possessing constitutions nearly alike, and following similar occupations, is so different as to strike us with surprise when we first observe the fact.
One will wear nothing but a coarse linen or cotton shirt, coarse coat, waistcoat, and pantaloons, and boots, in the coldest weather. He never, unless it be on the Sabbath, puts on even a cravat, and never in any case stockings or mittens.
Another, in similar circumstances in all respects, constantly wears his thick stockings, flannel wrapper and drawers, and cravat; and seldom goes out, in cold weather, without mittens and an overcoat. He is not a whit warmer: indeed he often suffers more from the cold, than his neighbor who dresses in the manner just described.
Why all this difference? It is no doubt the result of habit. Any individual may accustom himself to much or little clothing. And the earlier the habit is begun, the greater is its influence.
Some persons, observing how little clothing one may accustom himself to use and yet be comfortable, have told us, that so far as mere temperature is concerned, we need no clothing at all. They relate the story of the Scythian and Alexander. Alexander asked the former how he could go without clothes in such a cold climate. He replied, by asking Alexander how he could go with his face naked. "Habit reconciles us to this;" was the reply. "Think me, then, all face," said the Scythian.
But admitting that certain individuals, and even a few rude tribes, have gone without clothing; did they therefore follow, in this respect, the intentions of nature? The greatest stickler for adhering to nature's plan, cannot prove this. Analogy is against it. Most of the other animals, even in hot climates, are furnished with a hairy covering from the first; and in cold climates, the Author of their being has even provided them with an increase of clothing for the winter. Their fur, on the approach of cold weather, not only becomes whiter, and therefore conducts the heat away from the body more slowly, but, as every dealer in furs well understands, it becomes softer and thicker. And yet the blood of the furred animals of cold countries is as warm as ours, if not warmer.
The inferences which it seems to me we ought to make from this are, that if other animals require clothing, and even a change of clothing, so does man; and that as the Creator has left him to provide, by his own ingenuity, for a great many of his wants, instead of furnishing him with instinct to direct him, so in relation to dress. And even if it could be proved that dress were naturally unnecessary, with reference to temperature, I should still defend its use on other principles. The few speculative minds, therefore, that in the vagaries of their fancy, but never in their practice, reject it, are not to be regarded.
The principle laid down in the commencement of the chapter on Temperature, is the great principle which should guide us in regard to dress. But although we should always keep a little too cool rather than a little too warm, it is by no means desirable to be cold. Any degree of chilliness, long continued, interrupts the functions which the skin ought to perform, and thus produces mischief.
The same rules, in this respect, apply to eating, as well as to dress. It is better to eat a little less than nature requires, than a little more. It is a generally received opinion, however, that mankind frequently, at least in this country, eat about twice as much as health requires. This is owing to habit; and perhaps the power of the latter is as great in this respect as in regard to dress.
The great point in regard to food or dress is, to begin right, and, observing what nature requires—studying at the same time the testimony of others—to endeavor to keep within the bounds she has assigned. It has already been more than intimated, that if the nursery be kept in a proper temperature, a single loose piece of dress is, for some time, all that is required. In pursuance of this principle, through life, I believe few persons would be found who would need more at one time than a single suit of woollen clothes, even in the severest winters of our northern climate.
I have always observed that they who wear the greatest amount of clothing, are most subject to colds. There are obvious reasons why it should be so. This, then, if a fact, is one of the strongest reasons in favor of acquiring a habit of going as thinly clad as we possibly can, and not at the same time feel any inconvenience.
But after all, whether it be winter or summer, we must vary our clothing with the variations of the weather, as indicated by the thermometer, and our own feelings. Sometimes, in our ever-changing and ever-changeable climate, it may be necessary to vary our dress three or four times a day. Some cry out against this practice as dangerous, but I have never found it so. I have known persons who made it a constant practice; and I never found that they sustained any injury from it, except the loss of a little time; and the increase of comfort was more than enough to compensate for that. There is one thing to be avoided, however, whether we change our clothing—our linen especially—twice a day, or only twice a week—which is, dampness.
SEC. 5. Caps.
The practice of putting caps on infants is happily going by; and perhaps it may be thought unnecessary for me to dwell a single moment on the subject. But as the practice still prevails in some parts of the country, it may be well to bestow upon it a few passing remarks.
Many mothers have not considered that the circulation of the blood in young infants is peculiarly active; that a large amount of blood is at that period carried to the head; that in consequence of this, the head is proportionably hotter than in adults; and that from this source arises the tendency of very young children to brain-fever, dropsy in the head, and other diseases of this part of the system. But these are most undoubted facts.
Hence one reason why the heads of infants should be kept as cool as possible; and though a thin cap confines less heat than a thick head of hair does when they are older, yet they are less able to bear it. The truth is, that nature furnishes a covering for the head, just about as fast as a covering is required, and the child's safety will permit.
At the present day, few persons will probably be found, who will defend the utility of caps, any longer than till the hair is grown. The general apology for their use after this period, and indeed in most instances before, is, that they look pretty. "What would people say to see my darling without a cap?"
But when the head is kept, from the first, totally uncovered, the hair grows more rapidly, dandruff and other scurfy diseases rarely attack the scalp; catarrh, snuffles, and other similar complaints, and above all, dropsy in the head, seldom show themselves; and the period of cutting teeth, that most dangerous period in the life of an infant, is passed over with much more safety.
"Nothing but custom," says a foreign writer, "can reconcile us to the cap, with all its lace and trumpery ornaments, on the beautiful head of a child; and I would ask any one to say candidly, whether he thinks the children in the pictures of Titian and Raffaelle would be improved by having their heads covered with caps, instead of the silken curls—the adornment of nature—which cluster round their smiling faces. If there were no other reason for disusing caps for infants, but the improvement which it produces in the appearance of the child, I would maintain that this is a sufficient inducement." And I concur with him fully.
As to the notion—now I hope nearly exploded—that it is necessary to cover up the "open of the head," as it is called, nothing can be more idle. This part of the head requires no more covering than any other part; and if it did, all the dress in the world could not affect it in the least, except to retard the growth of the bones, which, in due time, ought to close up the space; and this effect, anything which keeps the head too hot might help to produce. Of the folly of wetting the head with spirits, or any other medicated lotions, and of making daily efforts to bring it into shape, it is unnecessary to speak in the present chapter.
SEC. 6. Hats and Bonnets.
The hats worn in this country are almost universally too warm. But if it is a great mistake in adults to wear thick, heavy hats, it is much more so in the case of children.
The infant in the nursery, as we have already seen, needs no covering of the kind. It is absolutely necessary that the head should be kept as cool as possible; and absolutely dangerous to cover it too warmly. At a later period, however, the danger greatly diminishes, because the circulation of the blood becomes more equal, and does not tend so much towards the brain.
Still, however, the head is hotter than the limbs, especially the hands and feet; and I cannot help thinking that the hair is the only covering which is perfectly safe, either in childhood or age; except in the sunshine or in the storm. There may be—there probably is—some danger in going without hat or bonnet in the hot sun; though I have known many children, and some grown persons, who were constantly exposed in this way, and yet appeared not to suffer from it.
But this may be the proper place to state that we are ever in great danger of deceiving ourselves on this subject. If the individuals who follow practices usually regarded as pernicious, while their habits in other respects are just like those of other persons around them who have similar strength, &c. of constitution,—if these individuals, I say, were wholly to escape disease, through life, or if they were to be so much more free from it, and live to an age so much greater than others as to constitute a striking and obvious difference in their favor, we might then safely argue that the practices which they follow are at least without dangers, if not of obvious advantage. But when we see them beset with ills, like other people, it is not safe to pronounce their habits favorable to health, since it is impossible to know whether some of the ills which they suffer are not produced by them.
These remarks are applicable to the disuse of any covering for the head in the sun and in the rain. For you will find those who adopt this practice from early infancy,[Footnote: I say, from early infancy; because we may adopt the best habits in mature years, after our constitutions have been broken up by error and vice, without effecting anything more than to keep us from actually sinking at once. Indeed, in most cases we ought not to expect more.] subject to as many diseases as those around them with similar constitutions, but with habits somewhat different; and as our diseases are generally the consequences of our errors in one way or another, it is impossible to say with certainty that some of them might not have arisen from exposure of the head.
I should not hesitate, therefore, to advise all mothers to put a light hat or bonnet on the heads of their children, whenever they are to be exposed to the direct rays of the summer sun, or to the rain. And as we cannot always foresee when and where these exposures will arise, and as it is believed that these coverings, if light, will never be productive of much injury while we are abroad in the open air, it will follow that it is better to wear than to omit them.
But while I contend for their use as consistent with health and sound philosophy, I must not be understood as admitting the use of such hats as are worn at present, even by children. They are, as I have said before, too hot. What should be substituted, I am unable to determine; but until something can be supplied, which would not be half so oppressive as our common wool hats, I should regard it as the lesser evil to omit them entirely. The danger of going bare-headed, if the practice is commenced early, we know from the customs of some savage nations, can never be very great.
SEC. 7. Covering for the Feet.
The same reason for avoiding the use of any covering for the head, in early infancy, is a sufficient reason for covering the feet well. For just in proportion as the blood is sent to the head in superabundance, and keeps up in it an undue degree of heat, just in the same proportion is it sent to the feet in too small a quantity, leaving these parts liable to cold. Now it is a fundamental law with medical men, that the feet ought to be kept warmer than the head, if possible; especially while the child is very young, and exposed to brain diseases.
So long, therefore, as children are young, and unable to exercise their feet, stockings ought to be used, both in summer and winter; but I prefer to have them short, unless long ones can be used without garters. Everything in the shape of a garter or ligature round the limbs, body, or neck of a child, except a single body-band, already mentioned in another chapter, ought forever to be banished.
It has often been objected, I know, that stockings will make the feet tender. But as no child was ever hardened by continued and severe cold applied to any part of the body, but the contrary, so no one was ever made more tender by being kept moderately warm. Excess of heat, like excess of cold, will alike weaken either children or adults; but there is little danger of heating the feet and legs of infants too much during the first year of infancy.
It is also said that stockings are apt to receive and retain wet. But as I shall show in another place that wet clothes should be frequently changed, this objection would be equally strong against wearing coats and diapers.
As to shoes, there is some variety of opinion among medical men. A few hold that they cramp the feet, and prevent children from learning to walk as early as they otherwise would. If it were best for children that they should learn to walk as early as possible, the last objection might have weight. But it seems to me not at all desirable to be in haste about their walking. Indeed, I greatly prefer to retard their progress, in this respect, rather than to hasten it.