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
Although I have given these rules for those who are determined to use the cold bath with their children, yet, for fear I shall be misunderstood, I must be suffered to repeat, in this place, that, uninformed as people generally are in regard to physiology, I cannot advise even its moderate use. On the contrary, I would gladly dissuade from it, as most likely, in the way it would inevitably be used, to do more harm than good.
There is no sort of objection to what might be called local bathing with cold water. If the child's head is hot at any time, the temples, and indeed the whole upper part of the head, may be very properly wet with moderately cold water—taking care to avoid wetting the clothes. But avoid, by all means, the common but foolish practice of putting spirits in the water.
A tea-spoonful of cold water cannot be too early put into the mouth of the infant. The object is to cleanse or rinse the mouth; and the process may be aided by wiping it out with a piece of soft linen rag. If a part or all of the water should be swallowed, no harm will be done. This practice, commenced almost as soon as children are born, has saved many a sore mouth.
There are other forms of bathing besides those already mentioned; among which are the shower bath, the vapor bath, and the medicated bath. The shower bath—for which purpose the water is commonly used cold—is but poorly adapted to the wants of infants. The shock is much greater than the common cold bath, and more apt to frighten; and fear is unfavorable to reaction, or the production of a genial glow.
The vapor bath is much better; and probably has quite as good an effect as the common warm bath. The trouble and expense of procuring the necessary apparatus is somewhat greater, however, as a mere bathing tub costs but little, and can be made by every father who possesses common ingenuity. But whatever may be the expense, it is indispensable in every family; and whenever the pores of the skin are obstructed, a vapor bathing apparatus is equally desirable.
The medicated vapor bath is sometimes used; but I am not now treating of infants who are sick, but of those who are in a state of health.
The common warm bath is sometimes medicated by putting in salt. This, of course, renders the water more stimulating to the skin; but except when the perspiration is checked, or the skin peculiarly inactive from some other cause—in other words, unless we are sick—it is seldom expedient to use it.
There is one substitute for the bathing tub, in the case of the cold bath. I refer to the use of a wet cloth or sponge, applied rapidly to the whole surface of the body. When this is done, the skin should be wiped thoroughly dry immediately afterwards, as in the case of complete immersion.
The application of either a cloth or a sponge, filled with warm water, to the skin, in this manner, even if continued for several minutes together, is less efficacious than a continuous immersion. I repeat it—no family ought to be without conveniences for bathing in warm water daily. I speak now of every member of the family, young and old, as well as the infant; and I refer particularly to the summer season: though I do not think the practice ought to be wholly discontinued during the winter.
It will still be objected that this care of, and attention to the young, in reference to health—this provision for bathing daily, and care to see that it is performed—can never be afforded by the laboring portion of the community. But I shall as strenuously insist on the contrary; and trust I shall, in the sequel, produce reasons which will be satisfactory.
The great difficulty is, to convince parents that these things are vastly more productive of health and happiness to their children—more truly necessaries—than a great many things for which they now expend their time and money. There is, and always has been—except, perhaps, among the Jews, in the earliest periods of the history of that wonderful nation—a strange disposition to overlook the happiness of the young. It is not necessary to represent this dereliction as peculiar to modern times, for we find traces of the same thing thousands of years ago.
The Roman emperors—Dioclesian in particular—could make provision for bathing, to an extent which now astonishes us; but for whom? For whom, I repeat it, was incurred the enormous expense of fitting up and keeping in repair accommodations for bathing at once 18,000 people? For adults; and for adults alone. I do not say that children were not admitted, in any case; but I say they were not contemplated in these arrangements. Nothing was done—not a single thing—that would not have been done, had there been no child under ten years of age in the whole empire.
And what better than this do WE, now? We make provision for the happiness of the adult. The most indigent person will find time and money to spend for the gratification of his own senses, his pride, or his curiosity; but his children—they may be overlooked! Or, if he has an eye to the future happiness of his child, he conceives that he is promoting it in the best possible degree, by endeavoring to lay up a few dollars for his use, after his character is formed—at a period, as it too often happens, when money will do him little good, since it can neither purchase health, peace of mind, nor reputation.
Far be it from me to say, that the poor—ground into the dust as they are, by the force of circumstances operating with their own concurrence, to make them ignorant, vicious, or miserable—can do for their children all that is desirable. By no means. But they have it in their power to do much more than they are at present doing. They have it in their power, at least, to use the same good sense in the management of the human being that they do in that of a pig, a calf, or a colt, or even a young vegetable. No parent, let him be ever so poor, is found in the habit of neglecting either of these in proportion to its infancy, and of exerting himself only in proportion as it grows older. Common sense tells him that the contrary is the true course; that however poor he may be, he will be still poorer, if he do not take special pains with the young animal, to rear it and with the young vegetable, to give it the right direction, by keeping down the weeds, and pruning and watering it. And I say again, that however deserving of censure the wealthy of a Christian community may be in not directing the ignorant and vicious into the right path, and in not expending more of their wealth on those who are poor, in elevating their minds and their manners, and promoting their health, still the latter are inexcusable for their present neglect of their infant offspring, while they would not think of neglecting, on the same principle, the offspring of their domestic animals.