Fascinating Advice from 1870 About Pregnancy and Childcare

Previously I introduced you to the 1870 advice book The Physical Life of Woman. In it, Dr. George H. Napheys shared advice for “the maiden, wife and mother” that proved indispensable for ladies of his day. His advice on dating, love, marriage and divorce proved quite entertaining to read thanks to the fact that though much of it is laughably outdated, a lot of it still holds true and was advanced for its time.

Dr. Napheys’s advice on pregnancy and nursing is – on the other hand – totally insane (see below), but much of his child rearing advice still applies. I especially love his take on child discipline. Enjoy:

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  • On a mother’s influence over what the baby looks like 1 of 16
    On a mother's influence over what the baby looks like
    A lady in the third month of her pregnancy was very much horrified by her husband being brought home one evening with a severe wound of the face, from which the blood was streaming. The shock to her was so great that she fainted, and subsequently had a hysterical attack, during which she was under Dr. Hammond's care. Soon after her recovery she told him that she was afraid her child would be affected in some way, and that even then she could not get rid of the impression the sight of her husband's bloody face had made upon her. In due time the child, a girl, was born. She had a dark red mark upon the face, corresponding in situation and extent with that which had been upon her father's face. She also proved to be idiotic.
  • How to ensure the sex of your baby 2 of 16
    How to ensure the sex of your baby
    Whenever intercourse has taken place in from two to six days after the cessation of the menses, girls have been produced; and whenever intercourse has taken place in from nine to twelve days after the cessation of the menses, boys have been produced.
  • Don’t worry about labor — or else 3 of 16
    Don't worry about labor -- or else
    A tranquil mind is of the first importance to the pregnant woman. Gloomy forebodings should not be encouraged. Pregnancy and labor are not, we repeat, diseased conditions. They are healthful processes, and should be looked upon as such by every woman. Bad labors are very infrequent. It is as foolish to dread them, as it is for the railway traveller to give way to misgivings in regard to his safety. Instead of desponding, science bids the woman to look forward with cheerfulness and hope to the joys of maternity.
  • How to have beautiful children 4 of 16
    How to have beautiful children
    During pregnancy the mother should often have some painting or engraving representing cheerful and beautiful figures before her eyes, or often contemplate some graceful statue. She should avoid looking at, or thinking of ugly people, or those marked with disfiguring diseases. She should take every precaution to escape injury, fright, and disease of any kind, especially chicken-pox, erysipelas, or such disorders as leave marks on the person. She should keep herself well nourished, as want of food nearly always injures the child. She should avoid ungraceful positions and awkward attitudes, as by some mysterious sympathy these are impressed on the child she carries. Let her cultivate grace and beauty in herself at such a time, and she will endow her child with them. As anger and irritability leave imprints on the features, she should maintain serenity and calmness.
  • On having smart kids 5 of 16
    On having smart kids
    It is a matter of daily observation, that parents gifted with bright minds, cultivated by education, generally engender intelligent children; while the offspring of those steeped in ignorance are stupid from birth. It may be objected, that men the most remarkable in ancient or modern times, as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Shakspeare, Milton, Buffon, Cuvier, etc., have not transmitted their vast intellectual powers to their progeny. In explanation, it has been stated that what is known as genius is not transmissible. The creation of a man of genius seems to require a special effort of Nature, after which, as if fatigued, she reposes a long time before again making a similar effort.
  • On twins 6 of 16
    On twins
    It has been asserted that compound pregnancies are more frequent in certain years than in others. But that which seems to exert the greatest actual influence over the production of twins is the age of the mother. Very extensive statistics have demonstrated that, from the earliest child-bearing period until the age of forty is reached, the fertility of mothers in twins gradually increases. Between the ages of twenty and thirty, fewest wives have twins. The average age of the twin-bearer is older than the general run of bearers. It is well known that by far the greater number of twins are born of elderly women. While three-fifths of all births occur among women under thirty years of age, three-fifths of all the twins are born to those over thirty years of age. Newly-married women are more likely to have twins at the first labour the older they are. The chance that a young wife from fifteen to nineteen shall bear twins is only as one to one hundred and eighty-nine; from thirty-five to thirty-nine the chance is as one to forty-five,—that is, the wives married youngest have fewest twins; and there is an increase as age advances, until forty is reached.

    Race seems to have some influence over plural births. They occur relatively oftener among the Irish than among the English.

  • On how to get your figure back after the baby is born 7 of 16
    On how to get your figure back after the baby is born
    This is a matter of great anxiety with many women; and it is proper that it should be, for a flabby, pendulous abdomen is not only destructive to grace of movement and harmony of outline, but is a positive inconvenience. To avoid it, be careful not to leave the bed too early. If the walls of the abdomen are much relaxed, the bed should be kept from two to three weeks. Gentle frictions daily with spirits and water will give tone to the muscles. But the most important point is to wear for several months a well-fitting bandage—not a towel pinned around the person, but a body-case of strong linen, cut bias, setting snugly to the form, but not exerting unpleasant pressure.
  • Rules for nursing 8 of 16
    Rules for nursing
    The new-born child should be nursed about every second hour during the day, and not more than once or twice at night. Too much ardor may be displayed by the young mother in the performance of her duties. Not knowing the fact that an infant quite as frequently cries from being overfed as from want of nourishment, she is apt to give it the breast at every cry, day and night. In this manner her health is broken down, and she is compelled perhaps to wean her child, which, with more prudence and knowledge, she might have continued to nurse without detriment to herself. It is particularly important that the child shall acquire the habit of not requiring the breast more than once or twice at night. This, with a little perseverance, can readily be accomplished, so that the hours for rest at night, so much needed by the mother, may not be interfered with.
  • On the influence of breastmilk 9 of 16
    On the influence of breastmilk
    Nervous agitation may so alter the quality of the milk as to make it poisonous. A fretful temper, fits of anger, grief, anxiety of mind, fear, and sudden terror, not only lessen the quantity of the milk, but render it thin and unhealthful, inducing disturbances of the child's bowels, diarrhœa, griping, and fever. Intense mental emotion may even so alter the milk as to cause the death of the child. A physician states, in the Lancet, that, having removed a small tumour from behind the ear of a mother, all went on well until she fell into a violent passion. The child being suckled soon afterwards, it died in convulsions.
  • On bathing the baby 10 of 16
    On bathing the baby
    An infant should be immersed in its tub every morning. Besides the regular morning bath, it is often advisable to put the child for a few minutes in tepid water in the evening. This will quiet the nervous system, and induce sleep. The bath should not be too long a one, for fear of exciting perspiration; nor, for the same reason, should the water be too warm. If the child be of a delicate constitution, the evening bath will be especially useful, and can be made more so by the addition of two table-spoonfuls of salt to the water necessary for the bath.
  • On co-sleeping 11 of 16
    On co-sleeping
    We have mentioned the danger of being overlain to which it is exposed when in bed with its mother or nurse. On the other hand, it must be remembered that an infant keeps warm with difficulty even when well covered, and that contact with the mother's body is the best way of securing its own warmth. Hence, during the first months the child had better be allowed to sleep with its mother. How, then, can the risk of being suffocated, which is no imaginary one, be lessened? The following rules are those given by a physician of reputation, to prevent an infant from being accidentally overlain.

    'Let the baby while asleep have plenty of room in the bed. Do not allow him to be too near, or, if this be unavoidable from the small size of the bed, let his face be turned to the opposite side. Let him lie fairly, either on his side or on his back. Be careful to ascertain that his mouth be not covered with the bed-clothes. Do not smother his face with clothes, as a plentiful supply of pure air is as necessary as when he is awake. Never let him lie low in the bed. Let there be no pillow near the one his head is resting on, lest he roll to it and bury his head in it.'

  • On walking 12 of 16
    On walking
    The first efforts of the little one to support and propel itself are to be carefully watched, but not unnecessarily interfered with; neither frightened by expressions of fear, nor rendered timid by too frequent warnings.
  • On the importance of play 13 of 16
    On the importance of play
    The first seven years of life should be one grand holiday for all sports and amusements which will bring into play the muscles, and divert at the same time the mind. Time cannot be more usefully employed than in thus laying the foundation of health, upon which alone can rest the physical, mental, and moral well-being of after-life.

    No greater mistake can be made by parents than to deprive the young of the innocent pleasures of childhood. Yet there are persons occasionally met with who think it their duty to check the natural lightness and gaiety of heart of their children for fear that they shall become too fond of pleasure. In this way great harm is done to both mind and body, and the very fault created which it is desired to avoid.

  • On going outside 14 of 16
    On going outside
    Fresh air is necessary for the robust development of infancy and childhood. Infants born in the summer season should be carried out daily when the weather is pleasant, from the second or third day after birth. Those born in the winter should be kept in the house for two or three months before being introduced to the outer world on some sunny noonday. Older children can scarcely pass too much time in the open air.
  • How to feed babies and children 15 of 16
    How to feed babies and children
    Let mothers bear in mind that proper food cannot be too abundantly eaten by children, and that the greatest danger to which they are exposed arises from defective nutrition. We would again urge the value of a large amount of milk in the dietary of young people. The disorders of the bowels, which are not uncommon in infancy and childhood, are due to errors in diet by which improper food is supplied, and not to an excess of simple and proper nourishment.

    As an example of a diet suitable for a child two years of age we append the following:—In the mornings, between six and seven o'clock in summer, or between seven and eight in winter, milk-gruel; between nine and ten o'clock, a piece of wheat bread with a little butter on it; at twelve o'clock, well-prepared beef-tea, or chicken, lamb, mutton broth, or meat with a little gravy; or in place of the meat, a meal-broth prepared with eggs, but with very little fat; green vegetables to be allowed very rarely, and in very small quantities. At this noon meal a mealy well-mashed potato is unobjectionable; so also is rice pudding for a change. In the afternoon, between three and four, bread and milk, with the addition in summer of fresh ripe fruit; in the evening, at seven, bread and milk.

    After the third or fourth year children are able to eat all kinds of vegetables.

  • On discipline 16 of 16
    On discipline
    Most carefully should we avoid the error which some parents, not (otherwise) deficient in good sense commit, of imposing gratuitous restrictions and privations, and purposely inflicting needless disappointments, for the purpose of inuring children to the pains and troubles they will meet with in after life. Yes; be assured they will meet with quite enough in every portion of life, including childhood, without your strewing their paths with thorns of your own providing. And often enough you will have to limit their amusements for the sake of needful study, to restrain their appetites for the sake of health, to chastise them for faults, and in various ways to inflict pain or privations for the sake of avoiding some greater evils. Let this always be explained to them whenever it is possible to do so; and endeavor in all cases to make them look on the parent as never the voluntary giver of anything but good. To any hardships which they are convinced you inflict reluctantly, and to those which occur through the dispensation of the All-wise, they will more easily be trained to submit with a good grace, than to any gratuitous sufferings devised for them by fallible man. To raise hopes on purpose to produce disappointment, to give provocation merely to exercise the temper, and, in short, to inflict pain of any kind, merely as a training for patience and fortitude—this is a kind of discipline which man should not presume to attempt.

All images via iStock.

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