Saturday, February 14, 2015

People Used to Do What to Their Kids?

Godfrey's Cordial, a.k.a. "Mother's Friend"
image: pharmacy e-museum.

I tend to avoid many modern inventions made for baby. But I'm not a blind fan of the way we used to raise children, either. When I say "we", I mean western civilization. If you're a parent, you can read these and feel grateful for the advances that science and women's rights have made since these times.

1. Cry-it-out was one-size-fits-all. By the 19th century, showing affection to babies was scorned as a sure way to spoil a child. In their 1906 book The Mother and her Child, the physician couple William S. Sadler and his wife Lena Kellogg-Sadler (of the Kellogg's cereal family) stated "crying is absolutely essential to the development of good strong lungs. A baby should cry vigorously several times a day." Their instructions continue: "[I]t will sometimes cry so hard that it will get black in the face and may even have a convulsion; occasionally a small blood vessel may be ruptured on some part of the body, usually the face. When you see the little one approaching this point, turn it over and administer a sound spanking and it will instantly catch its breath."

Apparently, baby whispering was not a sought-after art.

2. It was easier to just drug babies. In the early Victorian England, babies were doped using one of many opiate elixirs, including a mixture of opium, molasses, water, and spices called "Godfrey's Cordial". Drugged babies lost interest in feeding, leading to a high infant mortality rate due to starvation. It was the Industrial Revolution when working mothers were subjected to 18-hour work days:

"Infants were drugged at mid-day when mothers could not leave work to breastfeed them, and again when parents returned exhausted from work. They were often unable or unwilling go share their little disposable time and their modest domestic haven with an active youngster. [...] It was easier to sedate him again than to try to bully him into silence and immobility."

3. Babies were to poop on schedule, like this. American infant care guides that circulated in the 1930s urged parents to impose strict elimination schedules for their infants. This "coercive bowel training" was supposedly achieved by inserting "about two inches into the rectum, a tapered soap stick, keep it there from 3 to 5 minutes... The movement will usually occur under this stimulus." (Usually? Imagine subjecting your baby to that discomfort for possibly nothing.) In addition, bowel movements were to take place "twice daily, after the morning and evening bath, not varying the time by as much as five minutes."

4. Babies were fed sugar water, not "filthy" breast milk. In the 16th-19th centuries in central northern Europe, breastfeeding was considered unclean, animalistic, and improper. Even today, some rural communities in the world believe that the first milk (colostrum) that comes from the mother's breast after childbirth is impure, thus water with sugar or honey is given during the babies' first days. The psychology and politics of these beliefs are complex, but it has certainly resulted in uncountable deaths. Back in his day, Mozart had his children fed sugar water, as he himself had been fed; four of his six children died before their third year due to lack of nutrients.

I'll stop here. If you think about it, these practices – like doping babies so mom could work – arose from the necessities of civilization, and an interesting discussion about this can be found here. Yes, humans have made quite a few bizarre missteps in child rearing; no wonder our species has gotten a little off kilter, just look at this morning's news headlines. However, the pendulum is swinging the other direction and the benefits of pre-industrial, non-western infant care are getting a second glance. Not that life for an infant in an indigenous tribe doesn't have its dangers. Modernity has reduced much physical suffering for all the spiritual discontents it has created. But by the virtues of our knowledge – obtaining, storing, and sharing it – we can benefit most from the entire history of infant care from the Stone Age until today.

More knowledge, more grooves.

1 comment:

  1. No-no-no-NOOOOOO! I'm going to have nightmares! These are terrible...!