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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Health Notes

Edited by H. Laing Gordon, M.D.
Volume 10, 1899, pg. 608


Sea Bathing for Children*
by Cecil Latter, M.D. (Cantar)

Now that the season for sea bathing is at hand, a few words on the subject may not be out of place. On such a subject, the substance of a medical man's advice is, for the most part, that which common sense would suggest. This, of course, refers merely to children generally: special advice is of course needed for special cases of impaired health.

The remarks that follow are intended to refer principally to children in good health. Much misapprehension exists in the lay mind with regard to the rules which prudence would suggest. A bathe before breakfast, for example, is considered by some parents--fathers in particular--a most excellent institution.

Now let us consider the average daily life of the child who has come to the sea-side for the holidays. Such a child is inspired with the deep-seated resolve to do as much and to enjoy as much as it possibly can during this idyllic period. The day is one of unceasing activity, which necessarily makes extensive demands upon the vital powers of the strongest.

A child who has bathed before breakfast may be alert and brisk enough up to the time of the mid-day meal, but when that meal has been consumed, there sets in a drowsiness and lassitude which is nature's signal for repose. But to a child of from ten to sixteen years of age, to lie down to rest in the early afternoon, is a degrading reversion to infantile practices to which submission is, of course, impossible. The afternoon has its engagements and excursions, and the already tired child sets forth upon some exciting expedition which makes still further demands upon the tired frame.

It must be admitted that to many children no harm results from an early bathe, followed by an active day; but we must not from this infer that the habit is prudent. The most popular time for bathing is about eleven o'clock, and it is in many ways wisely chosen. The process of digestion of the first meal has been accomplished, and therefore is not interfered with by the bathe; and the bathe produces a good appetite for what should be the principal meal of the day. A bathe directly after a full meal is unwise, because the violent interference with the circulation and the no less violent, though bracing effect of the shock to the nerves, derange the process of digestion, a process which above all demands to be let alone. No less foolish is the practice of bathing when the body is fatigued by long exertion. If the body is merely hot from brisk exercise, no harm will result in a healthy child; but the strain on the heart is necessarily more severe, and it would be imprudent to allow such a bathe in the case of a weakly child.

The prevalent fault is to stay in the water too long. It must be remembered that the sea takes a long time to get warm, and the intense heat of July and August does not make the sea as warm as the air above it. To stay in the water till the hands are blue and the whole frame shivering, is dangerous and sometimes disastrous. When the first glowing reaction has passed away and the child looks cold, (no one should wait for a child to complain of cold), that child should come out at once, dry and dress as quickly as possible, and take vigorous exercise until it is warm.

It follows from the above that there should always be some older person at hand during the bathe. The natural rivalry of children among themselves must often hinder the weaker among them from owning that they have had enough.

It is important to dry thoroughly. If salt water dries on the skin, the salt of course remains there. This salt attracts the moisture of the air, and produces the sticky feeling familiar to all sea bathers. This sticky dampness should be averted by a quick sponge over from a bucket of fresh water before drying, or a fresh-water bath as soon as possible.

It may be well here to give a short description of the physiological effects of bathing on the system. The skin is richly supplied with minute arteries round which are coiled innumerable fibres of muscle. When a child in the glow of health plunges into cold water, these muscle fibres contract all over the surface of the body, and the blood is "driven inwards." The heart, consequently, is forced to bear part of the strain of this extra quantity of fluid "driven inwards." Such a stain is no more than a healthy heart can bear, and is indeed beneficial; just as variations in strain are beneficial to the muscles of the limbs.

This first effect, however, upon the arteries of the skin is not maintained for an indefinite period, and presently under the stimulus of swimming, or attempting to swim, the arteries relax, and the body though still in the water feels warm. After a longer period this feeling of warmth disappears. Its disapperarance is nature's command to leave the water.

Where children are concerned, this command should not be waited for, and the necessity of the warning given above that it is wise for an older person to be present is evident. There is one more inference to be drawn from these physiological facts, namely, the necessity for constant exercise throughout the whole of the bathe. No object is more pitiable than a passive, frightened child, hanging limp in the grasp of a Herculean and ruthless bathing woman.

As a last word--no child should bathe twice in one day.

*These valuable Notes have been held over with much regret, owing to want of space.