When Mothering Was Nearly A Science...
Every young lady ought to learn how to take proper care of an
infant; for, even if she is never to become the responsible
guardian of a nursery, she will often be in situations
where she can render benevolent aid to others, in this most
fatiguing and anxious duty.
The writer has known instances in which young ladies, who had
been trained by their mothers properly to perform this duty,
were in some cases the means of saving the lives of infants,
and in others, of
relieving sick mothers from intolerable care and anguish by
their benevolent aid.
On this point, Dr. Coombe remarks, "All women are not destined,
course of nature, to become mothers; but how very small is the
number of those who are unconnected, by family ties, friendship,
or sympathy, with the children of others! How very few are there,
who, at some time
or other of their lives, would not find their usefulness and
happiness increased, by the possession of a kind of knowledge
intimately allied to their best feelings and affections! And
how important is it, to the mother herself, that her efforts
should be seconded by intelligent, instead of ignorant assistants!"
In order to be prepared for such benevolent ministries, every
young lady should improve the opportunity, whenever it is afforded
her, for learning how to wash, dress, and tend a young infant;
and whenever she meets with such a work as Dr. Combe's, on the
management of infants, she ought to read it, and remember its
It was the design of the author to fill this chapter chiefly
with extracts from various medical writers, giving some of the
most important directions on this subject; but finding these
extracts too prolix for a work of this kind, she has condensed
them into a shorter compass.
Some are quoted verbatim, and some are abridged, from the most
approved writers on this subject.
"Nearly one half of the deaths, Occurring during the first
two years of existence, are ascribable to mismanagement, and
to errors in diet. At birth, the stomach is feeble, and as yet
unaccustomed to food; its cravings are consequently easily satisfied,
and frequently renewed." "At that early age, there
ought to be no fixed time for giving nourishment. The stomach
can not be thus satisfied." "The active call of the
infant is a sign, which needs never be mistaken."
"But care must be taken to determine between, the crying
of pain or uneasiness, and the call for food; and the practice
of giving an infant food, to stop its cries, is often the means
of increasing its sufferings. After a child has satisfied its
hunger, from two to four hours should intervene before another
supply is given."
"At birth, the stomach and bowels, never having been used,
contain a quantity of mucous secretion, which requires to be
removed. To effect this, Nature has rendered the first portions
of the mother's milk purposely watery and laxative. Nurses,
however, distrusting Nature,
often hasten to administer some active purgative; and the consequence
often is, irritation in the stomach and bowels, not easily subdued."
It is only where the child is deprived of its mother's milk,
as the first food, that some gentle laxative should be given.
"It is a common mistake, to suppose that because a woman
is nursing, she ought to live very fully, and to add an allowance
of wine, porter, or other fermented liquor, to her usual diet.
The only result of this plan is, to cause an unnatural fullness
in the system, which places the nurse on the brink of disease,
and retards rather than increases the food of the infant. More
will be gained by the observance of the ordinary laws of health,
than by any foolish deviation, founded on
There is no point on which medical men so emphatically lift
the voice of warning as in reference to administering medicines
to infants. It is so difficult to discover what is the matter
with an infant, its
frame is so delicate and so susceptible, and slight causes have
such a powerful influence, that it requires the utmost skill
and judgment to ascertain what would be proper medicines, and
the proper quantity to be given.
Says Dr. Combe, "That there are cases in which active means
must be promptly used to save the child, is perfectly true.
But it is not less certain that these are cases of which no
mother or nurse ought to attempt the treatment. As a general
rule, where the child is well managed, medicine, of any kind,
is very rarely required; and if disease were more generally
regarded in its true light, not as something thrust into the
system, which requires to be expelled by force, but as an aberration
from a natural mode of action, produced by some external cause,
we should be in less haste to attack it by medicine, and more
watchful in its prevention. Accordingly, where a constant demand
for medicine exists in a nursery, the mother may rest assured
that there is something essentially wrong in the treatment of
From AMERICAN WOMAN'S HOME: OR, PRINCIPLES OF DOMESTIC SCIENCE
by Catherine E. Beecher & Harriet Beecher Stowe (who summered
in neighboring Hardenbergh)