( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE study of dietetics as applied to the nursery and the period of childhood is constantly brought to our notice as an important phase of domestic education.
The first step we should take as mothers in regard to the careful feeding of our children should be to convince ourselves thoroughly of its necessity.
Many mothers may say: "But I don't need any dietetic rules for my baby of eighteen months or two years. He eats every-thing, and is quite well." Dr. L. Emmett Holt, of the Babies' Hospital of New York, says he has had quite a large experience with those children who " ate everything" and seemed to relish it, and has followed a number of them to their graves as the ultimate result of such unreasonable and inconsiderate practice.
Dr. Rotch, Professor of Children's Diseases at Harvard, says it is worse than folly for mothers to attempt at an early age, as is frequently done, to accustom their children to the use of everything and anything from the table.
Prof. Fonssagrives, of Paris, says the number of cases of disease which can be arrested in children by instituting a preventive diet is almost incredible. Rousseau dwells strongly upon the facts that a weak body in a child enfeebles the soul; that the education of man begins at his birth; that simplicity in diet is an absolute necessity for sound physical growth; and that the most dangerous period in human life is the interval between birth and the age of twelve. He also says, in speaking of mental growth, that the soul must have leisure to perfect its powers before it is called upon to use them. This is equally true of physical growth. We are working for future resistance, not for immediate results only, when we consider the dietetic and hygienic needs of our children, and we must not forget that there is a lifetime for mental development, and only part of one during which the physical building-up process can be regulated. If we will but keep in mind Rousseau's suggestive statement that the most important, the most useful rule in all education is not to gain time, but to lose it, we will move slowly but carefully in our work of building up a sound mind in a sound body. Just as at first in mental education we endeavor to shield a child from evil and error, instead of directly teaching virtue and truth, so in physical education, prevention instead of cure should be our watchword. Froebel says parents and nurses should ever remember, as underlying every precept in this direction, the general principles that simplicity and frugality in food and in other physical needs during the years of childhood enhance man's power of attaining happiness and vigor-true creativeness in every respect. He says that if parents would consider that not only much individual and personal happiness, but even much domestic happiness and general prosperity depend on this, how very differently they would act; but here the foolish mother, there the childish father is to blame. We see them give their children all kinds of poison in every form, coarse and fine. That this is true, even to-day-fifty years later-shows how little advance has been made in general in the direction of dietary reform. Incredible as it may seem, I have seen a child of four drink beer-from habit-and I was looked upon in the light of a faddist for protesting where I was not properly introduced.
Another instance of this kind I noted while awaiting my turn one day in the office of a prominent New York physician for children, when I saw a mother with a child apparently two years old leave the house for a few moments to get something, as I heard her say, "to quiet the child," who was crying. As she went out she said to the servant at the door that she had brought the child to the physician because he wasn't well, and wouldn't eat. She returned in a few minutes, and it was eating a so-called ripe banana. The skin was green, and I felt impelled to send word to the physician to forewarn him, as the mother's turn preceded mine, but I did not do it. I think I was prevented by the apparent hopelessness of convincing such a mother that she was doing harm, and both the child and physician had my sympathy for various reasons.
Too much stress can not be laid upon the necessity in infant feeding for consulting physicians in regard to substitute feeding and all important changes to be made in a growing child's diet, and equally upon a strict following to the letter of all directions given, without relying too implicitly upon others for supervision where personal attention is necessary. Conditions requiring a special knowledge of dietetics are met with in infants as well as in older children, and it is true that the importance of receiving a physician's advice upon the question of food is not always duly estimated by mothers. On the other hand, physicians, as a rule, in their preoccupied and busy lives, are too much inclined to think that a mother knows what seems simple to them; hence, unless they are directly asked for in-formation, they are likely to trust to the mother's judgment for carrying out small details. In one instance brought to my notice a physician was hurriedly called ten miles away at midnight to see an infant that was apparently very ill. He suggested giving the child some water to drink, which was done. The child slept, and there was no further difficulty. The mother said her physician had never told her of the necessity for giving the infant water to drink. He no doubt took it for granted that the mother's common sense would suggest the use of water from the very beginning of the child's life, and, on the other hand, the mother waited for specific directions in every detail.
Relative to this whole subject, Sir Henry Thompson, a noted English physician, and an authority upon dietetics, says: "I have come to the conclusion that more than half the disease which embitters the middle and latter half of life is due to avoidable errors in diet [to which might be added `more particularly in early years']... and that more mischief in the form of actual disease, of impaired vigor, and of shortened life accrues to civilized man from erroneous habits of eating than from the habitual use of alcoholic drink, considerable as I know that evil to be."
Schools, public and private, should not overlook the importance of the study of dietetics, and the press, on account of its ability to reach the people, must realize the opportunity of supplying the need felt everywhere for practical instruction. Then all mothers and home-makers in the land, those indirect nation-makers, will easily come to understand the underlying principles involved, and will apply this knowledge in such a way as to benefit all who are dependent upon their efforts.