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
While the washing is performed, the temperature of the room should be but a few degrees lower than that of the water; and the child should not be exposed to currents of cold air. If the weather is severe, or if currents of air in the room cannot otherwise be avoided, the dressing, undressing, washing, &c., may be done near the fire. And I repeat the rule, it should always be done with as much rapidity as is compatible with safety.
Here will be seen one great advantage of simplicity in the form of dress. If the more rational suggestions of our chapter on that subject are attended to, it will greatly facilitate the process of washing, and the subsequent daily process of bathing, which I am about to recommend to my readers.
This washing process is also an introduction to bathing. For it should be repeated every day; but with less and less attention to the washing, and more and more reference to the bathing. How long the child should stay in the bath, must be left to experience. If he is quiet, fifteen minutes can never be too long; and I should not object to twenty. If otherwise, and you are obliged to remove him in five minutes, or even in three, still the bathing will be of too much service to be dispensed with.
Nothing should be mixed with the water, if the infant is healthy, except a little soap, as already mentioned. Some are fond of using salt; but it is by no means necessary, and may do harm.
The proper hour for bathing is the early part of the day, or about the middle of the forenoon. This season is selected, because the process, manage it as carefully as we may, is at first a little exhausting. As the child grows older, however, and not only becomes stronger, but appears to be actually refreshed and invigorated by the bath, it will be advisable to defer it to a later and later hour. By the time the babe is three months old, particularly in the warm season, the hour of bathing may be at sunset.
The degree of heat must be determined, in part, by observing its effect on the child; and in part by a thermometer. For this, and for other purposes, a thermometer, as I have already more than hinted, is indispensable in every nursery. Our own sensations are often at best a very unsafe guide. There is one rule which should always be observed—never to have the temperature of the bath below that of the air of the room. If the thermometer show the latter to be 70°, the bath should be something like 80° perhaps with feeble children, rather more.
Great care ought always to be taken to proportion the air of the room and the water of the bath to each other. If, for example, the temperature of the room have been, for some time, unusually warm, that of the water must not be so low as if it had been otherwise. On the contrary, if the room have been, for a considerable time, rather cool, the bath may be made several degrees cooler than in other circumstances. But in no case and in no circumstances must a warm bath—intended as such, simply—be so warm or so cold, as to make the child uncomfortable; whether the temperature be 70°, 80°, or 90°.
It is hardly necessary to add, that in bathing a young child, the vessel used for the purpose should be large enough to give free scope to all the motions of its extremities. Most children are delighted to play and scramble about in the water. I know, indeed, that the contrary sometimes happens; but when it does, it is usually—I do not say always—because the countenances of those who are around express fear or apprehension; for it is surprising how early these little beings learn to decipher our feelings by our very countenances.
Some of our readers may be surprised at the intimation that there are mothers and nurses who have fears or apprehensions in regard to the effects of the warm bath; but others—and it is for such that I write this paragraph—will fully understand me. I have been often surprised at the fact, but it is undoubted, that there is a strong prejudice against warm bathing, in many parts of the country. In endeavoring to trace the cause, I have usually found that it arose from having seen or heard of some child who died soon after its application. I have had many a parent remonstrate with me on the danger of the warm bath; and this, too, in circumstances when it appeared to me, that the child's existence depended, under God, on that very measure. Perhaps it is useless in such cases, however, to reason with parents on the subject. The medical practitioner must do his duty boldly and fearlessly, and risk the consequences.
But as I am writing, not for persons under immediate excitement, but for those that may be reasoned with, it is proper to say, that in medicine, the warm bath is so often used in extreme cases, and as a last resort, even when death has already grasped, or is about to fix his grasp on the sufferer, that it would be very strange if many persons did not die, just after bathing. But that the bathing itself ever produced this result, in one case in a thousand, there is not the slightest reason for believing. [Footnote: Let me not be understood as intimating that, the general neglect of bathing, of which I complain so loudly, is chiefly owing to this unreasonable prejudice, though this no doubt has its sway. On the contrary, I believe it is much oftener owing to ignorance, indolence, and parsimony.]
There are many more whims connected with bathing, as with almost everything else, which it were equally desirable to remove. Some nurses and mothers think that if the child's skin is wiped dry after bathing, it will impair, if not destroy, the good effects of the operation. Others still, shocking to relate, will even put it to bed in its wet clothes; this, too, from principle. Not unlike this, is the belief, very common among adults, that if we get our clothes wet—even our stockings—we must, by all means, suffer them to dry on us; a belief which, in its results, has sent thousands to a premature grave—and, what is still worse, made invalids, for life, of a still greater number.