Many mothers have found during the winter a tendency to colds and chest ailments in the nursery. Certain children are liable to bronchitis in winter, and in the uncertain weather of spring they are always catching cold and running the risk of a more serious illness, such as measles, and even broncho-pneumonia.
Still, it is the season of the year when every mother should make up her mind that before next winter, at any rate, she will have successfully dealt with weak chests in the nursery. In some cases a system of over-coddling makes matters worse. Weak chest may mean that a child's lungs are delicate, or that the framework is not robust. Whatever the cause may be, the one treatment that will prove satisfactory is the strengthening of a child's resistance, developing his lungs, and enlarging the capacity of his chest.
Before beginning treatment it is a good plan to measure the capacity of the chest, and take a note of it. First measure the chest with a tape at its widest part below the armpit whilst the child is resting. Then tell him to take a deep breath, and note to what extent he can expand the chest wall. At the end of every week make the same measurements, and you will be surprised how gradually the chest expansion improves with suitable exercises. Exercises should be simple. They should last for only ten minutes at a time, or even less to begin with, so that the child is not tired or bored, and runs no risk of losing interest. The following exercises will answer admirably:
With the arms stretched out in front, level with the shoulders, swing them backwards as far as possible, keeping them level with the shoulders whilst inhaling. Let the breath go whilst bringing them forward to the original position.
The child with a weak chest, like the boy or girl with swollen glands, or with a tendency to consumption, requires special attention to be paid to his diet. Food of the wrong sort or given at the wrong times will increase any tendency to chest weakness. Milk should be given in abundance. Plenty of butter, cream, and fresh eggs are all suitable foods. Nourishing soups of haricot beans or lentils made with milk are good, whilst new spring vegetables should be used as much as possible.
The child whose chest is delicate is nearly always of the rather thin build. That is why the doctor so often orders cod-liver oil, and if a small dose (one teaspoonful) is taken twice a day all through the spring it will help to build up the child's strength and vitality. Rubbing the chest back and front with olive oil is another excellent measure which helps the muscles to develop and nourishes the tissues.
The best tonic which can be taken is pure fresh air. The child with a delicate chest will improve steadily by the simple expedient of getting him accustomed to open windows and sleeping in the nursery, with the window pulled down a little more and a little more every week, until it is wide open in the early summer. Breathing exercises will make the child use his lungs properly, so that the "apices" - that is, the parts projecting above the collarbones - are developed.
The great danger of shallow breathing is that the inspired air does not reach these parts at all, and the seeds of consumption have a chance of attacking them when their vitality is low. If, however, fresh air is drawn into the lungs, up into the apices, the oxygen is a tonic which can directly destroy these deadly germs. Every cold the child contracts lowers his resistance still further, but lung exercises will prevent spring colds and strengthen the chest walls.
Second movement: Swing the arms downwards and backwards as far as possible. This brings the chest forward and the shoulder blades will lie flat against the back
A common mistake is to overclothe the child with a weak chest. A heavy, thick garment, with perhaps a layer of flannel underneath, which is worn round the chest in many cases prevents it from expanding because of the pressure. Heavy clothing is injurious, and it is absolutely essential to get light, woollen underclothing which will keep the chest warm, and yet allow free movement.
Winter garments should be discarded as soon as the weather permits, and the children encouraged to run about to keep warm on occasional cold days in spring. There is nothing better as an outer garment than the loose woollen jersey for both boys and girls. It does not impede movement or restrict the breathing in any way, and it provides warmth for the chest and arms, right down to below the waist. As the weather gets warmer a lighter one can be used instead, but even in summer the jersey is perhaps the best and most hygienic garment for children.
Lastly, encourage the child with a weak chest to exercise and move about and play games. Too often such children are apt to get into a slack habit, and prefer sedentary occupations, which habit is the reverse of what one wishes. The more they can romp about and exercise their muscles, the better. If it is impossible to get them to exercise their lungs in any other way give them singing lessons; but, as a rule, the exercises described, with an increased interest in outdoor games, will in themselves bring about very quickly a rapid improvement in the health and strength of the lungs and chest.