The sensible mother says to herself, "My baby is never going to be ill at all. If he does not thrive, the fault will be my own. If he is not healthy and robust, I shall have to find out what particular mistake I am making and rectify it."
During the second year there are various pitfalls to avoid. The child has to be guarded against chills and catarrhs. He has to be made resistant to infectious disease. He has to be kept so healthy, so well dieted, so inherently robust, that he will cut his double back teeth without a murmur. The old-fashioned mother always imagined that baby had to go through certain childish ailments, and the younger he got them over the better. That idea is entirely wrong. In the first place, there is no reason why a child should catch any infectious disease at all In the second place, the older he is, if he is unfortunate enough to be ill, the better. During the first, second, and third years baby is far less able to resist the attacks of disease microbes than he will be a few years hence. So that the mother must first guard baby, and bring him up on the lines we have suggested in the series of Baby's First and Second Years; and, secondly, watch for definite signs of illness and deal with them at the beginning.
What are the special signs a mother should look out for, and how should she deal with them when they occur? That is the practical question that will occur to anyone.
In early childhood the baby is not able to say definitely what is the matter with him. He may whimper or fret. He cannot state that he feels pain, and even when he is old enough to do so he will certainly indicate the wrong situation to anyone ignorant enough to ask where the pain is. There are certain little signs which serve as a warning that all is not well with the child.
Loss of appetite. When a child is going to be ill, one of the very earliest signs is that he turns away from food. As a rule, a mother immediately begins to press baby to eat, and will almost force him to swallow his dinner with the idea that food invariably does good. This will simply diminish a child's last chance of destroying the microbes which have gained entrance to the body. A gentle purgative and very little food is the best treatment at the beginning of any infectious ailment. If, on the other hand, the child's seediness is due to too much food or some error in diet, rest for the digestive organs is just what is required.
Drowsiness. During the first two or three years of life, when a child is going to be ill he often seems to be sleepy and drowsy for a day or two before. This is due to the fact that the blood contains poisons which act as a sort of narcotic upon the brain and nervous system. A light diet, fresh air, and sleep should be provided for baby, who must be kept as quiet as possible if he is to get easily over his particular attack.
When baby appears hot and restless the temperature should be taken at once. A hot, dry skin, restlessness, and general signs of discomfort should make one suspect fever. Of course, it does not do to be over anxious, because a child's temperature will often go up for very little reason. Some error in diet will in itself raise the temperature for a time, when a purgative and semi-starvation will put the matter right. Feverishness is an early symptom in rheumatism, bronchitis, and the infectious ailments such as measles or scarlet fever. Whenever it occurs the child should be put to bed, guarded from chill, and given only liquid milk diet.
Sore throat is a symptom of several serious diseases of childhood such as scarlet fever and diphtheria, so that the sensible mother never regards this sign as anything but one requiring immediate attention. A very good rule in the nursery is that when a child is feverish and complaining of sore throat, the doctor should be called in as quickly as possible. Even if it is a case of tonsilitis the child should be under professional care, as nobody but a doctor can possibly say what a sore throat may lead to.
Rash. A child's skin should be examined at least once a day to see that it is free from anything in the shape of a rash. Rashes appear even when the child is not sickening for a special "fever." After some dietetic mistake, for instance, a sort of nettlerash may be present, whilst eczema is very often due to some error of digestion. The rash is always a sign that the blood is out of order. A gentle purgative and light diet with a warm bath at bedtime should be given. If the rash is associated with other signs of illness, such as fever, sickness, and loss of appetite, a doctor should be in charge of the case.
An old physician once remarked that the tongue is the mirror of the stomach as the eye is of the soul. Certainly a baby's tongue serves as a very useful guide as to its health. When it is clean baby's digestion has probably very little the matter with it. When it shows white patches or little ulcers, such as appear in thrush, the food requires careful attention, and the tongue needs to be kept clean. In scarlet fever the tongue is unduly red. In most childish ailments it is furred. In an article in this series, entitled "The Baby's Toilet," the necessity for keeping the tongue clean in health was noted. When baby is ill, the mouth will be kept healthy if it is occasionally wiped out with a little glycerine and borax.
These are the main points for the mother to notice and attend to in the nursery, and the earlier illness is dealt with the better for the child. By warmth, dieting, and rest many an illness, even if it cannot be stopped at the beginning, is very much lightened in its effects. The "stitch in time" principle can be very usefully applied to the question of health in the nursery.