This section is from the "The Young Mother. Management of Children in Regard to Health" book, by William A. Alcott. Also available from Amazon: The Young Mother
SEC. 1. General principles.—SEC. 2. Conduct of the mother.—SEC. 3. Nursing—rules in regard to it.—SEC. 4. Quantity of food. Errors. Over-feeding. Gluttony.—SEC. 5. How long should milk be the child's only food?—SEC. 6 Feeding before teething. Cow's milk. Sucking bottles. Cleanliness. Nurses.—SEC. 7. Treatment from teething to weaning.—SEC. 8. Process of weaning-rules in regard to it.—SEC. 9. First food to be used after weaning. Importance of good bread. Other kinds of food.—SEC. 10. Remarks on fruit.—SEC. 11. Evils and dangers of confectionary.—SEC. 12. Mischiefs of pastry.—SEC. 13. Crude and raw substances.
The mother's milk, in suitable quantity, and under suitable regulations, is so obviously the appropriate food of an infant during the first months of its existence, that it seems almost unnecessary to repeat the fact. And yet the violations of this rule are so numerous and constant, as to require a few passing remarks.
There are some mothers who seem to have a perfect hatred of children; and if they can find any plausible apology for neglecting to nurse them, they will. Few, indeed, will publicly acknowledge a state of feeling so unnatural; but there are some even of such. On the latter, all argument would, I fear, be utterly lost. Of the former, there may, be hope.
They tell us—and they are often sustained by those around them—that it is very inconvenient to be so confined to a child that they cannot leave home for a little while. Can it be their duty—for in these days, when virtue and religion, and everything good, are so highly complimented, no people are more ready to talk of duty than they who have the least regard to it—can it be their duty, they ask, to exclude themselves from the pleasures and comforts of social life for half or two thirds of their most active and happy years? Ought they not to go abroad, at least occasionally? But if so, and their children have no other source of dependence, must they not suffer? Is it not better, therefore, that they should be early accustomed to other food, for a part of the time? Besides, they may be sick; and then the child must rely on others; and will it not be useful to accustom it early to do so?
Perhaps few mothers are conscious that this train of reasoning passes through their minds. But that something like it is often made the occasion of substituting food which is less proper, for that furnished by Divine Providence, there cannot be a doubt. And the mischief is, that she who has gone so far, will not scruple, ere long, to go farther. And, strange and unnatural as it may seem, that mothers should turn over their children to be nursed wholly by others, in order to get rid of the inconvenience of nursing them at their own bosoms, it is only carrying out to its fullest extent, and reducing to practice, the train of reasoning mentioned above.
Nor is it necessary that I should stop here to denounce a course of conduct so unchristian and savage. I know it is very common in some countries; and those American mothers who ape the other eastern fashions, or countenance their sons and daughters in doing it, will not be slow to imitate this also—especially as it is a very convenient fashion. And I question whether I shall succeed in reasoning them out of it. Habit, both of thought and action, is exceedingly powerful. I will, therefore, confine myself chiefly to those efforts at prevention, from which much more is to be hoped, in the present state of society, than from direct attempts at cure.
It will be soon enough to leave a child with another person, when the mother is actually sick, or unavoidably absent; or when some other adequate cause is known to exist. We are to be governed, in these and similar cases, by general rules, and not by exceptions. The general rule, in the present case, is, that mothers can nurse their own children; and, if they have the proper disposition, that they can do it uninterruptedly.
But those who are so ready to become counsellors on these occasions, will tell us, perhaps, that the child must be "fed to spare the mother." That is to say, nursing weakens the mother, and the child must be taken away, a part of the time, to save her strength.
Now it may safely be doubted whether the process of nursing, in itself considered, does weaken, at all. The Author of nature has made provision for the secretion (formation) of the milk, whether the child receives it or not. If it is not taken by the child, or drawn off in some other way, one of two things must follow;—either it must be taken up by what are called absorbent vessels, and carried into the circulation, and chiefly thrown out of the system as waste matter, or it will prove a source of irritation, if not of inflammation, to the organs themselves which secrete it. In both cases, the strength of the mother is quite as likely to be taxed, as if the child received the milk in the way that nature intended.
Besides, on this very principle, the plan of saving a mother's strength by requiring another to nurse for her, is but saying that we will weaken one person to save another. Or if we feed the child, to "spare its mother," what is this, in practice, but to say that the works of the Creator are very imperfect; and that he has thrown upon the mass of mankind a task to which they are not equal? For the mass of mankind are poor; and the poor, having neither the means nor the time to escape the duties in question, must submit to them, while their more wealthy neighbors escape.
But it is idle to defend customs so monstrous. They admit of no defence that has the slightest claim to solidity. The general rule then is, that mothers should nurse their own children.