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
I am aware, that in rejecting the indiscriminate cold bathing of infants, I am treading on ground which is rather unpopular, even with medical men; a large proportion of whom seem to believe that the practice may be useful. But I am not wholly alone. Dr. Dewees—of whose large experience I have already spoken—and some others, do not hesitate to avow similar sentiments.
The objections of Dr. Dewees to cold bathing are the following. 1. There often exists a predisposition to disease, which cold bathing is sure to rouse to action. Or if the disease have already begun to affect the system, the bath is sure to aggravate it. 2. Some children have such feeble constitutions that they are sure to be permanently weakened by it, rather than invigorated. 3. To those in whom there is the tendency of a large quantity of blood to the head, lungs, liver, &c., it is injurious. 4. In some, the shock produces a species of syncope, or catalepsy. 5. The reaction, as shown by the heat which follows the cold bath, is, in some cases, so great as to produce a degree of fever, and consequent debility. 6. It never answers the purposes of cleanliness—one great object of bathing—so well as the warm bath. 7. It is always unpleasant or painful to the child; especially at first. 8. It sometimes produces severe pain in the bowels.
This is a very formidable list of objections; and certainly deserves consideration. There is one statement made by Dr. D. in the progress of his remarks on this subject, in which I do not concur. He says—"The object of all bathing is to remove impurities arising from dust, perspiration, &c., from the surface; that the skin may not be obstructed in the performance of its proper offices."
But the object of cold bathing, with many, is to harden; consequently it is not true that cleanliness is the only object. If he means, even, that cleanliness is the only legitimate object of all bathing, I shall still be compelled to dissent.
If the cold bath could be used, always, by and with the direction of a skilful physician, I believe its occasional use might be rendered salutary. And although as it is now commonly used, I believe its effects are almost anything but salutary, I do not deny that if its use were cautiously and gradually begun, and judiciously conducted, it might be the means of making children who are already robust, still more hardy and healthy than before, and better able to resist those sudden changes of temperature so common in our climate, and so apt to produce cold, fever, and consumption.
Cold bathing, in the hands of those who are ignorant of the laws of the human frame—and such unfortunately and unaccountably most fathers and mothers are—I cannot help regarding as a highly dangerous weapon; and therefore it is, that in view of the whole subject, I cannot recommend its general and indiscriminate use.
If there are individuals, however, who are determined to employ it, in the case of their more vigorous children, and without the advice or direction of their family physician, I beg them to attend to the following rules or principles, expressed as briefly as possible.
In no ordinary case whatever, is the cold bath useful, unless it is succeeded by that degree of warmth on the surface of the body which is usually called a glow. This is a leading and important principle. The contrary, that is, the injurious effects of cold bathing—its immediate bad effects, I mean—are shown by the skin remaining pale and shrivelled after coming out of the bath, by its blue appearance, and by its coldness, as well as by a sunken state of the eyes, and much general languor.
To secure this point—I mean the GLOW—it is indispensably important to begin the use of cold water gradually; that is, to use it at first of so high a temperature as to produce only a slight sensation of cold, and to take special care that the skin be immediately wiped very dry, and the temperature of the room be quite as high as usual. Afterward the water may be cooled gradually, from week to week, though never more than a degree or two at once.
It will probably be unsafe to commence this practice of cold bathing—even in the case of the most robust children—until they are at least six months of age.
The appropriate season will be the middle of the forenoon, the hour when the system is usually the most vigorous, and at which we shall be most likely to secure a reaction. At first, twice or three times a week are as often as it will be safe to repeat it. Some writers recommend it twice a day; but once is enough, under any ordinary circumstances.
The method at first is, to give the infant a single plunge. Afterward, when he becomes older, and more inured to it, he may be plunged several times in succession.
On taking him out of the bath, the skin should be wiped perfectly dry, as in the case of the warm bath, and with the same or an increased degree of attention to other circumstances—the temperature of the room, the avoiding currents of air, &c. He should next be put in a soft, warm blanket, and be kept for some time in a state of gentle motion; and after a little time, should be dressed.
I have already mentioned the importance of avoiding the manifestation of fear, when we bathe a child; and the caution is particularly necessary in the administration of the cold bath. Some writers even recommend, that during the whole process of undressing, bathing, exercising, and dressing, singing should be employed. There is philosophy in this advice, and it is easily tried; but I cannot speak of it from experience.
There is one thing which may serve to calm our apprehensions—if we have any—of danger; which is, that though the child's lungs are feeble at first, from their not having been, like the heart, accustomed to previous action, yet when they get fairly into motion and action, and the child is a few months old, they are probably as strong, if not stronger, in proportion, than those of adults.
Bathing in cold water should never be performed immediately after a full meal. Neither is it desirable to go to the contrary extreme, and bathe when the stomach has been long empty; nor when the child's mental or bodily powers are more than usually exhausted by fatigue.