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
For some time after its birth, the infant should sleep near its mother, though not in the same bed. The bedstead should be of the usual height of bedsteads, and should be enclosed with a railing sufficient to secure the infant from falling out, but not of such a structure as to hinder, in any degree, a free circulation of the air.
The reasons why a child ought to sleep alone, and not with the mother or nurse, are numerous; but the following are the principal;
1. The heat accumulated by the bodies of the mother and child both, is often too great for health.
2. The air is too impure. I have already spoken of the change in the purity of the air which is produced by breathing in it. It is bad enough for two adults to sleep in the same bed, breathing over and over again the impure air, as they must do more or less, even if the bed is very large;—but it is still worse for infants. Their lungs demand atmospheric air in its utmost purity; and if denied it, they must eventually suffer.
3. But besides the change of the air by breathing, the surface of the body is perpetually changing it in the same manner, as was stated in the chapter on Ventilation. Now a child will almost inevitably breathe a stream of this bad air, as it issues from the bed; and what is still worse, it is very apt, in spite of every precaution, to get its head covered up with the clothes, where it can hardly breathe anything else. This, if frequently repeated, is slow but certain death;—as much so as if the child were to drink poison in moderate quantities.
Let me not be told that this is an exaggeration; that thousands of mothers make it a point to cover up the beads of their infants; and that notwithstanding this, they are as healthy as the infants of their neighbors. I have not said that they would droop and die while infants. The fumes of lead, which is a certain poison, may be inhaled, and yet the child or adult who inhales them may live on, in tolerable health, for many years. But suffer he must, in the end, in spite of every effort and every hope. So must the child, whose head is covered habitually with the bed clothing, where it is compelled to breathe not only the air spoiled by its own skin, but also that which is spoiled by the much larger surface of body of the mother or nurse.
But I have proof on this subject. Friedlander, in his "Physical Education," says expressly, that in Great Britain alone, between the years 1686 and 1800, no less than 40,000 children died in consequence of this practice of allowing them to sleep near their nurses. I was at first disposed to doubt the accuracy of this most remarkable statement. But when I consider the respectability of the authority from which it emanated, and that it is only about 350 a year for that great empire, I cannot doubt that the estimate is substantially correct. What a sacrifice at the shrine of ignorance and folly!
It should be added, in this place, both to confirm the foregoing sentiment, and to show that British mothers and nurses are not alone, that Dr. Dewees has witnessed, in the circle of his practice, four deaths from the same cause. If every physician in the United States has met with as many cases of the kind, in proportion to his practice, as Dr. D., the evil is about as great in this country as Dr. F. says it is in Great Britain.
If a child sleeps alone, it cannot of course be liable to as much suffering of this kind as if it slept with another person; though much precaution will still be necessary to keep its head uncovered, and prevent its inhaling air spoiled by its own lungs and skin.
4. There is one more evil which will be avoided by having a child sleep alone. Many a mother has seriously injured her child by pressure. I do not here allude to those monsters in human nature, whose besotted habits have been the frequent cause of the suffocation and death of their offspring, but to the more careful and tender mother, who would sooner injure herself than her own child. Such mothers, even, have been known to dislocate or fracture a limb![Footnote: There may be instances where the debility of an infant will be so great that the mother or a nurse must sleep with it, to keep it warm. But such cases of disease are very rare.]
To cap the climax of error in this matter, some mothers allow their infants to lie on their arm, as a pillow. This practice not only exposes them to all or nearly all the evils which have been mentioned, but to one more; viz. the danger of being thrown from the bed.
A young mother, with whom I was well acquainted, was sleeping one night with her infant on her arm, when she made a sudden and rather violent effort to turn in the bed, in doing which she threw the child upon the floor with such violence as to fracture its little skull, and cause its death.
Enough, I trust, has now been said to convince every reasonable young mother, where absolute poverty does not preclude comfort and health, that her child ought never to be permitted to sleep in the same bed with her; but that it should be placed on a bedstead by itself at a short distance from her, and properly guarded from accidents—and above all, from inhaling impure air.
At a suitable age, a child may be removed from the nursery to a separate chamber. Here, if the circumstances permit, it should still sleep by itself; and if the bedstead be somewhat lower than ordinary, and the room be not too small, it will need no watching.
Perhaps this may be the proper place to say that there are more reasons than one—and some of them are of a moral nature, too—why a child should continue to sleep alone, after it leaves the nursery. Nor is it sufficient to prohibit its sleeping with younger persons, and yet crowd it into the bed with an aged grandfather or grandmother, or with both. There is no excuse for a course like this, except the iron hand of necessity. And even then, I should prefer to have a child of mine sleep on the hard floor, at least during the summer season, rather than with an aged person.
Let it not be supposed I have imbibed the fashionable idea that it is peculiarly unhealthy for the young to sleep with the old. I know this doctrine has many learned advocates. And yet I doubt its correctness. I believe that the manners and habits of the old may injure the young who sleep with them, and I know that they render the air impure, like other people. But I cannot see why the mere circumstance of their being old should be a source of unhealthiness to their younger bed-fellows. Still I say, that there are reasons enough against the practice I am opposing, without this.
Some parents allow dogs and cats to sleep with children. Others have a prejudice against cats, but not against dogs. The truth is, that they both contaminate the air by respiration and perspiration, in the same manner that adults do. And aside from the fact that they are often infested by lice and other insects, and addicted to uncleanly habits, they ought always to be excluded, and with iron bars and bolts, if necessary, from the beds of children. But of this, too, I have treated elsewhere.