The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Health Notes: Physiology in the Nursery

Edited by H. Laing Gordon, M.D.
Volume 11, 1900, pgs. 785-787

The nursery is certainly fitting as a temple for the worship of the goddess Hygeia, and it is right and proper to place within reach of parents the knowledge of elementary physiological facts which shall enable them to order and conduct the nursery in a rational manner. The Parents' Union has done much in this direction; most branches have lectures on nursery hygiene occasionally and have other means of disseminating the desired knowledge. Mothers and nurses who wish rational guidance in the nursery will find the "Physiological Nursery Chart," issued by The Scientific Press, 28, Southampton Street, W.C., useful for reference when the words of a lecturer are forgotten perhaps, for guidance in the details of nursery life--small but not unimportant,--and for use on the installation of a new nursery-maid.

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The chart in question gives a table indicating the proper method for preparing an ordinary infant's food, and simple directions for sterilization. This is followed by a weight chart, which enables the mother to record the infant's weight from week to week, and thus to see at a glance whether the growth is proceeding at the average rate, such as would be expected of a child in health. It will be seen that here is every opportunity for those who wish to mix their maternal love with a little physiology. The only serious fault that we can find in the chart is an implied one. The chart is based on the assumption that the hero or heroine of the nursery, the walls of which it is meant to adorn, is to be reared artificially. We should feel happier if the chart apologized for its appearance on the ground that babies sometimes must be fed artificially; and that the artificial feeding of infants carries certain risks which are not run by the naturally-fed infant.

As it stands, the chart implies that artificial feeding is the only "scientific" method of feeding infants, and ignores the fact that the natural method is not only more desirable and efficient, but also more truly scientific. Thus the chart may convey joy and comfort to the degenerate modern mother, who regards the natural feeding of infants as an old-fashioned and worn-out custom now surviving only in country parsonages,-- instead of making her feel just a little healthy pang of shame at her own incapacity, or a good sharp prick of conscience at her sacrifice of her child's interests to her own social desires.

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The side of the chart is filled with twenty-one aphorisms for the nursery, for which we have nothing but praise. The aphorisms refer to quite trivial details in the management of an infant and the conduct of the nursery, and only those who have experience of a variety of mothers, nurses, and nurseries can know how important are these little matters. Here are a few samples:--
(3) Do not feed a baby because it cries--a little crying does good, frequent feeding does harm.
(6) After feeding let the infant rest.
(8) The inside of a teat requires more cleaning than the outside.
(11) Let a baby grasp and pull at objects, and exercise its legs, arms and back against gentle resistance.
(14) In bathing, dip the thermometer before the infant.
(16) An open window is a portal of health.
(17) If you keep the nursery cool (60-64 degrees) the infant will keep itself warm.
(18) Many clothes hinder movement and cause weak muscles.
(21) A perspiring infant requires more air and less food.

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In a footnote upon the chart the possessor is referred to a pamphlet, published also by the Scientific Press, for further information upon the feeding of infants. We have perused this pamphlet, and find it a concise statement of present-day physiological knowledge on this particular subject; but we cannot agree that it is a book suitable to place in the hands of the average mother or nurse; unless the object be to overburden them with unnecessary knowledge and cause them needless anxiety. The average mother is apt to forget that the human infant varies naturally in its physical and mental capacities and performances, and when she reads, for instance, of the teeth, that "when cut singly and late, and there is much fretfulness with diarrhea and other signs of disturbed digestions, rickets should be suspected," she may be given many sleepless and anxious nights, quite unnecessarily, if her baby happens to cut his teeth late and singly, as many healthy children do, and be out of sorts at the same time. Surely the time has come to cease scolding educated parents, and threatening them will all sorts of dreadful diseases in their children. The study of causes is opening up a great field of discovery, and parents may well demand and make use of the practical deductions from the discoveries, without having a desire for abstract treatises. In any case there is an excellent opening for a physiologist with a cheerful view of the human body and its functions.

Proofreader's Note: I was unable to locate a copy of the "Physiological Nursery Chart" which is by Dr. Eric Pritchard, but I did find two of Pritchard's books on feeding babies at google books: Infant Education, and The Physiological Feeding of Infants - A Practical Handbook of Infant Feeding, and Key to the 'Physiological Nursey Chart'; page 428 of the Appendix also has a recipe and press for making your own raw meat juice!

Proofread May 2011, LNL