Dress the infant so that it will be always warm, but not so as to cause perspiration. Be sure and keep its feet always warm; and for this often warm them at a fire, and use long dresses. Keep the neck and arms covered. For this purpose, wrappers, open in front, made high in the neck, with long sleeves, to put on over the frock, are now very fashionable.
It is better for both mother and child, that it should not sleep on the mother's arm at night, unless the weather be extremely cold. This practice keeps the child too warm, and leads it to seek food too frequently. A child should ordinarily take nourishment but once or twice in the night. A crib beside the mother, with plenty of warm and light covering, is best for the child; but the mother must be sure that it is always kept warm.
Never cover a child's head so that it will inhale the air of its own lungs. In very warm weather, especially in cities, great pains should be taken to find fresh and cool air by rides and sailing. Walks in a public square in the cool of the morning, and frequent excursions in ferry or steamboats, would often save a long bill for medical attendance. In hot nights, the windows should be kept open, and the infant laid on a mattress, or on folded blankets. A bit of straw matting, laid over a feather bed and covered with the under sheet, makes a very cool bed for an infant.
Cool bathing, in hot weather, is very useful; but the water should be very little cooler than the skin of the child. When the constitution is delicate, the water should be slightly warmed. Simply sponging the body freely in a tub, answers the same purpose as a regular bath. In very warm weather this should be done two or three times a day, always waiting two or three hours after food has been given.
"When the stomach is peculiarly irritable, (from teething,) it is of paramount necessity to withhold all the nostrums which have been so falsely lauded as 'sovereign cures for cholera infantum? The true restoratives for a child threatened with disease are cool air, cool bathing, and cool drinks of simple water, in addition to proper food, at stated intervals."
In many cases, change of air from sea to mountain, or the reverse, has an immediate healthful influence and is superior to every other treatment. Do not take the advice of mothers who tell of this, that, and the other thing, which have proved excellent remedies in their experience. Children have different constitutions, and there are multitudes of different causes for their sickness; and what might cure one child, might kill another which appeared to have the same complaint. A mother should go on the general rule of giving an infant very little medicine, and then only by the direction of a discreet and experienced physician. And there are cases when, according to the views of the most distinguished and competent practitioners, physicians themselves are much too free in using medicines, instead of adopting preventive measures.
Do not allow a child to form such habits that it will not be quiet unless tended and amused. A healthy child should be accustomed to lie or sit in its cradle much of the time; but it should occasionally be taken up and tossed, or carried about for exercise and amusement. An infant should be encouraged to creep, as an exercise very strengthening and useful. If the mother fears the soiling of its nice dresses, she can keep a long slip or apron which will entirely cover the dress, and can be removed when the child is taken in the arms. A child should not be allowed, when quite young, to bear its weight on its feet very long at a time, as this tends to weaken and distort the limbs.
Many mothers, with a little painstaking, succeed in putting their infants into their cradle while awake, at regular hours for sleep; and induce regularity in other habits, which saves much trouble. During this training process a child may cry, at first, a great deal; but, for a healthy child, this use of the lungs does no harm, and tends rather to strengthen than to injure them, unless it becomes exceedingly violent. A child who is trained to lie or sit and amuse itself, is happier than one who is carried and tended a great deal, and thus rendered restless and uneasy when not so indulged.
The most critical period in the life of an infant is that of dentition or teething, especially at the early stages. An adult has thirty-two teeth, but young children have only twenty, which gradually loosen and are followed by the permanent teeth. When the child has ten teeth on each jaw, all that are added are the permanent set, which should be carefully perserved; this caution is needful, as sometimes decay in the first double teeth of the second set are supposed to be of the transient set, and are so neglected, or are removed instead of being preserved by plugging. When the first teeth rise so as to press against the gums, there is always more or less inflammation, causing nervous fretfulness, and the impulse to put every thing into the mouth. Usually there is disturbed sleep, a slight fever, and greater flow of saliva; this is often relieved by letting the child have ice to bite, tied in a rag.
Sometimes the disorder of the mouth extends to the whole system. In difficult teething, one symptom is the jerking back of the head when taking the breath, as if in pain, owing to the extreme soreness of the gums. This is, in extreme cases, attended with increased saliva and a gummy secretion in the corners of the eyes, itching of the nose, redness of cheeks, rash, convulsive twitching of lips and the muscles generally, fever, constipation, and sometimes by a diarrhea, which last is favorable if slight; difficulty of breathing, dilation of the pupils of the eyes, restless motion and moaning; and finally, if not relieved, convulsions and death. The most effective relief is gained by lancing the gums. Every woman, and especially every mother, should know the time and order in which the infant teeth come, and, when any of the above symptoms appear, should examine the mouth, and if a gum is swollen and inflamed, should either have a physician lance it, or if this can not be done, should perform the operation herself. A sharp pen-knife and steady hand, making an incision to touch the rising tooth, will cause no more pain than a simple scratch of the gum, and usually will give speedy relief.
The temporary teeth should not be removed until the new ones appear, as it injures the jaw and coming teeth; but as soon as a new tooth is seen pressing upward, the temporary tooth should be removed, or the new tooth will come out of its proper place. If there is not room where the new tooth appears, the next temporary tooth must be taken out. Great mischief has been done by removing the first teeth before the second appear, thus making a contraction of the jaw.
Most trouble with the teeth of young children comes from neglect to use the brush to remove the tartar that accumulates near the gum, causing disease and decay. This disease is sometimes called scurvy, and is shown by an accumulation around the teeth and by inflamed gums that bleed easily. Removal of the tartar by a dentist and cleaning the teeth after every meal with a brush will usually cure this evil, which causes loosening of the teeth and a bad breath.
Much injury is often done to teeth by using improper tooth-powder. The tooth-brush should be used after every meal, and floss silk pressed between the teeth to remove food lodged there. This method will usually save the teeth from decay till old age, and there is no need of tooth-powder.
When an infant seems ill during the period of dentition, the following directions from an experienced physician may be of service. It is now an accepted principle of the medical world that fevers are to be reduced by cold applications; but an infant demands careful and judicious treatment in this direction; some have extremely sensitive nerves, and cold is painful. For such, tepid sponging should be used near a fire, and the coldness increased gradually. The sensations of the child should be the guide. Usually, but not always, children that are healthy will learn by degrees to prefer cold water, and then it may safely be used.
When an infant becomes feverish, wrapping its body in a towel wrung out in tepid or cold water, and then keeping it warm in a woolen blanket, is a very safe and soothing remedy.
In case of constipation, this preparation of food is useful:
One table-spoonful of unbolted flour wet with cold water. Add one pint of hot water, and boil twenty minutes. Add, when taken up, one pint of milk. If the stomach seems delicate and irritable, strain out the bran, but in most cases retain it.
Where the mother's milk fails, and good cow's milk can not be insured, there are preparations of oat-meal and barley-meal that are next best. These may be used when the mother's milk is injured by ill health. A trial must be made to see which is best. Make a thin gruel, and add half a tea-spoonful of condensed milk, or four great spoonfuls of milk to a coffee-cup of the gruel for a young infant, and a full one for an older child.
In case of diarrhea, walk with the child in arms a great deal in the open air, and give it rice-water to drink.
The warmth and vital influences of the nurse are very-important, and make this mode of exercise both more soothing and more efficacious, especially in the open air, the infant being warmly clad.
In case of feverishness from teething or from any other cause, wrap the infant in a towel wrung out in tepid water, and then wrap it in a woolen blanket. The water may be cooler according as the child is older and stronger. The evaporation of the water draws off the heat, while the moisture soothes the nerves, and usually the child will fall into a quiet sleep. As soon as it becomes restless, change the wet towel and proceed as before.
The leading physicians of Europe and of this country, in all cases of fevers, use cool water to reduce them, by this and other modes of application. This method is more soothing than any other, and is as effective for adults as for infants.
Some of the most distinguished physicians of New York who have examined this chapter give their full approval of the advice given. If there is still distrust as to this mode of using water to reduce fevers, it will be advantageous to read an address on the use of cold applications in fevers, delivered by Dr. William Neftel, before the New York Academy of Medicine, published in the New York Medical Record for November, 1868; this can be obtained by inclosing twenty cents to the editor, with the post-office address of the applicant.