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
Its importance. Danger of repressing a tendency to cry. Anecdote from Dr. Rush. Physiology of crying. Folly of attempting wholly to suppress it.
"Crying," says Dr. Dewees, "should be looked upon as an exercise of much importance;" and he is sustained in this view by many eminent medical writers.
But people generally think otherwise. Nothing is more common than the idea that to cry is unbecoming; and children are everywhere taught, when they suffer pain, to brave it out, and not cry. Such a direction—to say nothing of its tendency to encourage hypocrisy—is wholly unphilosophical. The following anecdote may serve in part to illustrate my meaning. It is said to have been related by Dr. Rush.
A gentleman in South Carolina was about to undergo a very painful surgical operation. He had imbibed the idea that it was beneath the dignity of a man ever to say or do anything expressive of pain. He therefore refused to submit to the usual precaution of securing the hands and feet by bandages, declaring to his surgeon that he had nothing to fear from his being untied, for he would not move a muscle of his body. He kept his word, it is true; but he died instantly after the operation, from apoplexy.
There is very little doubt, in the mind of any physiologist, in regard to the cause of apoplexy in this case; and that it might have been prevented by the relief which is always afforded by groans and tears.
It is, I believe, very generally known, that in the profoundest grief, people do not, and cannot shed tears; and that when the latter begin to flow, it affords immediate relief.
I do not undertake to argue from this, that crying is so important, either to the young or the old, that it is ever worth while to excite or continue it by artificial means; or that a habit of crying, so easily and readily acquired by the young, is not to be guarded against as a serious, evil. My object was first to show the folly of those who denounce all crying, and secondly, to point out some of its advantages—in the hope of preventing parents from going to that extreme which borders upon stoicism.
One of the most intelligent men I ever knew, frequently made it his boast that he neither laughed nor cried on any occasion; and on being told that both laughing and crying were physiologically useful, he only ridiculed the sentiment.
Crying is useful to very young infants, because it favors the passage of blood in their lungs, where it had not before been accustomed to travel, and where its motion is now indispensable. And it not only promotes the circulation of the blood, but expands the air-cells of the lungs, and thus helps forward that great change, by which the dark-colored impure blood of the veins is changed at once into pure blood, and thus rendered fit to nourish the system, and sustain life.
But this is not all. Crying strengthens the lungs themselves. It does this by expanding the little air-cells of which I have just spoken, and not only accustoms them to being stretched, at a period, of all others, the most favorable for this purpose, but frees them at the same time from mucus, and other injurious accumulations.
They, therefore, who oppose an infant's crying, know not what they do. So far is it from being hurtful to the child, that its occasional recurrence is, as we have already seen, positively useful. Some practitioners of medicine, in some of the more trying situations in which human nature can be placed, even encourage their patients to suffer tears to flow, as a means of relief.
Infants, it should also be recollected, have no other language by which to express their wants and feelings, than sighs and tears. Crying is not always an expression of positive pain; it sometimes indicates hunger and thirst, and sometimes the want of a change of posture. This last consideration deserves great attention, and all the inconveniences of crying ought to be borne cheerfully, for the sake of having the little sufferer remind us when nature demands a change of position. No child ought to be permitted to remain in one position longer than two hours, even while sleeping; nor half that time, while awake; and if nurses and mothers will overlook this matter, as they often do, it is a favorable circumstance that the child should remind them of it.
Crying has been called the "waste gate" of the human system; the door of escape to that excess of excitability which sometimes prevails, especially among children and nervous adults. To all such persons it is healthy—most undoubtedly so; nor do I know that its occasional recurrence is injurious to any adult—a fastidious public sentiment to the contrary notwithstanding.
Some have supposed, that what is here said will be construed by the young mother into a license to suffer her child to cry unnecessarily. Perhaps, say they, she is a laboring woman, and wishes to be at work. Well, she lays down her child in the cradle, or on the bed, and goes to her work. Presently the child, becoming wet perhaps, begins to cry, as well he might. But, instead of going to him and taking care of him, she continues at her employment; and when one remonstrates against her conduct as cruelty, she pleads the authority of the author of the "Young Mother."
All this may happen; but if it should, I am not answerable for it. I have insisted strongly on guarding the child against wet clothing, and on watching him with the utmost care to prevent all real suffering. Mothers, like the specimen here given, if they happen to have a little sensibility to suffering, and not much love of their offspring, generally know of a shorter way to quiet their infants and procure time to work, than that which is here mentioned. They have nothing to do but to give them some cordial or elixir, whose basis is opium. Startle not, reader, at the statement;—this abominable practice is followed by many a female who claims the sacred name of mother. And many a wretch has thus, in her ignorance, indolence or avarice, slowly destroyed her children!
I repeat, therefore, that I do not think my remarks on crying are necessarily liable to abuse; though I am not sure that there are not a few individuals to be found who may apply them in the manner above mentioned—an application, however, which is as far removed from the original intention of the author, as can possibly be conceived.