The modern mother is just beginning to learn something about hygiene in the nursery. She realises that the pitfall of the old-fashioned mother was over-coddling. "Three simple meals a day" has become a household phrase, so that the new-fashioned mother is beginning to realise that over-feeding and habitual stuffing will not ensure health in the nursery. She even opens the windows, and keeps them open, in the warm weather, at least, which is a distinct advance on the nursery customs of ten years ago. But in the matter of clothing she has still much to learn. The old-fashioned idea that a child must be heavily clothed, like the theory about "flannel next the skin," dies hard. The average child is far too heavily clad for his health and comfort. The little girls especially are almost overwhelmed with the weight and multiplicity of their garments, except for a few short summer months every year. Every mother who has read the early articles on "Home Nursing" in this section knows that the healthy skin, when treated properly, has the power to contract to cold influence, and relax under warm conditions. Whenever we begin to cover the skin with heavy garments it loses this power, and one of the first principles with regard to clothing is that children should wear the fewest possible garments that will keep them sufficiently warm. From the health point of view we wear clothing to protect us from cold and sunshine, and the ideal amount of clothing for a healthy child should be the least that will keep him from feeling unduly cold under ordinary conditions. The natural method of keeping up heat is by movement. Whenever a child is over-clothed, he has not the incentive to run about and exercise his muscles and vital organs as he should do.
The small boy in an expensive, heavy overcoat, walking sedately by the side of his nurse, would be far better, from the health standpoint, if, coatless and hatless, he were compelled to run and jump in order to become warm. Fashion is too strong for people. Even those of us who know that hats are absolutely unnecessary in winter do not apply our knowledge with regard to the children. The scalp requires no protection from the cold, as we are already provided with a natural covering for the purpose, and the best preventive of baldness is to discard hats, and give the scalp its due allowance of air and light. It is said that the Blue Coat boys rarely become bald in after life, and loss of hair is simply an evidence of an unhygienic scalp. Children will require hats, of course, in summer, when the sun's rays are hot, they should be of the lightest description, and sufficiently broad to protect the eyes and the nape of the neck behind. Dutch bonnets and close caps are absurd.
From the health point of view, children will be far healthier if they are rather under-clothed than over-clothed, and in most cases the number of garments worn by the average boy and girl should be reduced. One light absorbent garment next the skin, a vest, jersey, and knickers, and, in the case of a girl, a skirt, in addition, provide ample clothing for any child, and these should invariably be loose. Loose clothing is warmer than tight, in contradiction to the general idea. The reason of this is that layers of air are allowed to lie between one garment and the next, and air is a bad conductor of heat. Thus the body is kept warmer.
Many mothers think that if they heap garment after garment of good, strong, durable flannel upon a child he is adequately guarded against chill. The reverse is true. The heavily clothed child is apt to get over-heated and to perspire. Unless the garment next the skin is porous, the perspiration lies on the skin, and has the same chilling effect as rain in the same situation would have. " But flannel is warm," replies the careful mother, who has a deep-rooted conviction that thick woollen garments are one of the essentials of health in the nursery. It is true that flannel is warm, in the sense that it does not allow heat to pass outwards.
It is a bad conductor of heat by reason of the air-spaces it contains in its meshes. The warmth of a garment placed next to the skin is of far less importance, however, than its absorbent quality. If it is absorbent and porous, moisture is carried away from the skin. If it is non-porous and non-absorbent, chill will probably result, because damp is allowed to remain in contact with the skin and chill the body. The point, therefore, that should be impressed upon mothers is that all flannel is not absorbent, that the newer makes of silk, linen, and cotton are made porous and efficient absorbers of moisture. When buying undergarments, whether they are woollen, silk, or linen, an inquiry should be made as to whether or not they are perforated. Hygienic underwear is an important measure for preserving health in the nursery, and it is worthy of some consideration on the part of every mother. Tight garments of all sorts must be avoided. Corsets and garters are quite unsuitable for children's wear. A loose, unboned bodice, to which knickers or underskirt can be buttoned, is best for both boys and girls, as shoulder braces are apt to encourage round shoulders in young boys.
Nothing should be allowed to press upon the chest or impede the breathing and development of the lungs. Free play for the muscles should he one of the health maxims in the nursery. The last point with regard to body clothing is to avoid cheap, dyed clothes likely to irritate the skin, and even cause skin affections by absorption of poison.
Good boots and shoes are a health necessity in the nursery and an economical investment in the long run. Damp feet, more than anything else, cause children to become chilled, because they rapidly lose heat, and their bodies being less in bulk than adults the risk of chill is greater. A child should wear boots or shoes with fairly thick soles, not tight or heavy, but well fitting and flexible. The same outdoor shoes should not be worn on two consecutive days, whilst house slippers should be put on immediately on coming indoors.
Light woollen stockings, aired at night, and changed at least twice a week, will also help to prevent chill from damp feet.
Lastly, all children's garments should be hung out to air during the night. The usual custom of laying each child's clothes in a heap on a chair may be neat and methodical, but it is unhygienic. The right plan is to have pieces of string fastened across the day nursery, or in a passage, on which to suspend the child's clothes from bed-time till next morning. Where there is no day nursery, and no available space for hanging clothes on lines, they can at least be aired on chairs in the room where the children sleep, if the windows are left open to provide the entry of fresh air.