The Child's Physical Start In Life
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
ONE of the great facts of our time is the raising of the physical standard for the entire generation by the prevention and cure of disease. We no longer regard poor digestions and weak nerves as disciplinary arrangements of Providence, to be accepted uncomplainingly, but if we find ourselves handicapped by them we discover their cause and correct it. Better than this, we so start our children in life that they may avoid these and other evils and have sound nerves, strong digestions, and vigorous brains as a matter of course.
Health the First Care.-It is an unfortunate fact that American children come into the world over-intelligent, restless, too attractive; and it flatters our vanity to have this so. We so admire and stimulate them by every contact with them that we increase the very nervousness we deprecate in our saner moments, and with which later on we have to struggle. The great problem of the mother who means to have strong sons and daughters is so to fight this tendency to a too early development that the nerves on the surface may gradually disappear, and the precocious child may become a mere healthy little animal all through its early years; and for this fight it must have four things to help it: quiet; sleep; fresh air; and digestible food.
The Necessity of Quietness.-It is only the most unselfish of mothers who will systematically keep the baby quiet and forego her delight in watching his display of cunning ways, and relegate him to what one wise woman has called, "a warm, safe, happy background." It is such a joy to play with him, to toss and cuddle him, to see his eyes grow bright and hear him laugh aloud, that it takes Spartan self-control to let him lie peacefully by himself most of the time, and when she is with him to restrain herself from exciting his little brain, all too ready to wake up and be amused. But how it pays! The nervous little baby who starts at every sound, seems not to know how to sleep for any length of time, cries from over-fatigue, and cannot digest his food, may be transformed into a child who sleeps twelve hours at a time, eats everything given him and only wishes it were more; one who is calm, robust, and generally delightful, if only from the first he is well trained.
Often the mother of a first child will declare that no one shall share with her the sacred care of her own baby; she, and she alone, can be trusted to bathe and feed him, to watch over him from night till morning and from morning till night. But unfortunately, she had reckoned without counting the physical cost to herself of this constant devotion. The strain of watching and nursing him at night so tires her after a time that she wakes exhausted in the morning, and finds it impossible to be well-poised and cheerful with him all day; and so, little by little, as the care increases and her strength lessens, she makes him more and more nervous. It is far better, both for mother and child, to divide the work with some placid, trustworthy German or English woman; she rests him and quiets him as his high-strung, emotional, and imaginative mother cannot.
But where this is impossible, or even with it, the baby should at least be kept by itself much of the time, and when with others it should not have their entire attention. A woman who had eight children was asked how it was that all of them were so strong and nerveless; her reply was that each of them had spent the first six months of its life in a deep clothes-basket. This meant, it seemed, that they were kept apart from others, lying peaceful and contented, well fed and cared for, sleeping or dozing the greater part of the time, away from all noise and excitement; and so they acquired steady nerves.
Importance and Value of Sleep.-With this quietness it should be comparatively easy to give the baby plenty of sleep, but here mothers, especially young mothers, make a mistake. They do not get the child to sleep early enough in the evening, but keep it up, possibly till seven o'clock, or even later, and during the day they are careless how much or little sleep it actually gets; if it takes any nap at all, that in itself seems sufficient, no matter whether it is a short or long one. But a baby needs unlimited quantities of sleep; it cannot have too much, provided it takes it under good conditions. At night it should be undressed early, not later than half past five, bathed, rubbed, dressed in light, warm night-clothing, made perfectly comfortable, and then fed and put down in a darkened room to go to sleep by itself.
If this habit is begun at the very beginning of the baby's life, it will never rebel because it will never know any other way of going to sleep; but if it is kept up till it is overtired, and played with till it is wakeful, and then put down alone, a hard cry will undoubtedly result, and perhaps a struggle begin which it will take years to settle. It is a temptation to a mother to rock her baby to sleep and sing to it, and the baby enjoys it quite as much as the mother. Yet, if she is truly unselfish she will deny her-self and her baby, and by starting it right she will lay foundations for after life which will be invaluable.
As to naps, those necessarily grow shorter as the child grows older, till from taking two a day it takes but one, and then at perhaps four years, none at all. But at first these should be planned for and never unnecessarily shortened.
Side by side with the quiet and sleep a child needs, comes the need of fresh air; to-day we are learning that this is one of the great necessities of life; and yet even now, knowing this, too many babies get very little of it. A mother with one servant or none at all and many household cares, cannot spend her time on the street wheeling the baby carriage; so the child lives the greater part of its time indoors. And yet this is both unnecessary and wrong, for even with cramped surroundings it can practically be out of doors by itself.
Fresh Air Required.-When there is an available porch, this can be screened off, and a little bed put out there for naps, and also for the child to sit and play in. In summer a carriage is not a good thing to use because the pillow underneath the body over-heats it. If possible, all through the warm weather the child should sleep out on the porch all night, in this little bed.
Where there is no ready-made place for the bed and none can be made, then at least a room should be set aside for the baby to sleep in, which shall have its windows kept open day and night; even in winter, if it is well wrapped up and has a hot water bottle near-not on-its feet, it will sleep and grow strong as it cannot in a heated room even though the windows are kept open slightly, because the air there cannot be as fresh. The tiniest baby, well protected, may sleep out of doors during the day, and in summer during the night as well, in perfect safety. It is of the greatest importance that it should spend every possible moment in the open air.
Infant Diet a Science.-As to food for the little child, here too, we have advanced with strides of late. No longer do we follow traditions, or "use our judgment," in feeding him. In-stead, the doctor tells us exactly what to give, and how much at a time, and at what stated intervals, and we follow his directions. Even with no doctor at hand, there are books to be had which tell these things so clearly that any one can use them. Nothing pays better than the scrupulous preparation of a baby's food, the exact combinations of milk and water and strained cereal and all the rest of the items which take time and care. The second summer loses its terrors when from the first the baby has been fed with close attention to such details. Nowadays there is no excuse for hit-or-miss feeding such as was formerly tried; there should be no giving of undiluted cow's milk to the baby whose mother cannot nurse him, nor any feeding of him whenever he cries, or such obsolete follies. With perfect care in following intelligent rules a child may have, and will have, a strong, faultless digestion as it grows up.