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
On this subject a writer in the London Literary Gazette of some eight or ten years ago, lays down the following general directions, to which, in cold weather, there can be but one possible objection, which is, they are not alamode, and are not, therefore, likely to be followed.
"All that a child requires, so far as regards clothing, in the first month of its existence, is a simple covering for the trunk and extremities of the body, made of a material soft and agreeable to the skin, and which can retain, in an equable degree, the animal temperature. These qualities are to be found in perfection in fine flannel; and I recommend that the only clothing, for the first month or six weeks, be a square piece of flannel, large enough to involve fully and overlap the whole of the babe, with the exception of the head, which should be left totally uncovered. This wrapper should be fixed by a button near the breast, and left so loose as to permit the arms and legs to be freely stretched, and moved in every direction. It should be succeeded by a loose flannel gown with sleeves, which should be worn till the end of the second month; after which it may be changed to the common clothing used by children of this age."
The advantages of such a dress are, that the movements of the infant will be, as we have already seen, free and unrestrained, and we shall escape the misery of hearing the screams which now so frequently accompany the dressing and undressing of almost every child. No chafings from friction, moreover, can occur; and as the insensible perspiration is in this way promoted over the whole surface of the body, the sympathy between the stomach and skin is happily maintained. A healthy sympathy of this kind, duly kept up, does much towards preserving the stomach in a good state, and the skin from eruptions and sores.
But as I apprehend that christianity is not yet very deeply rooted in the minds and hearts of parents, I have already expressed my doubts whether they are prepared to receive and profit by advice at once rational and physiological. Still I cannot help hoping that I shall succeed in persuading mothers to have every part of a child's dress perfectly loose, except the band already referred to; and that should be but moderately tight.
Common humanity ought to teach us better than to put the body of a helpless infant into a vise, and press it to death, as the first mark of our attention. Who has not been struck with a strange inconsistency in the conduct of mothers and nurses, who, while they are so exceedingly tender towards the infant in some points as to injure it by their kindness, are yet almost insensible to its cries of distress while dressing it? So far, indeed, are they from feeling emotions of pity, that they often make light of its cries, regarding them as signs of health and vigor.
There can be no doubt, I confess, that the first cries of an infant, if strong, both indicate and promote a healthy state of the lungs, to a certain extent; but there will always be unavoidable occasions enough for crying to promote health, even after we have done all we can in the way of avoiding pain. They who only draw the child's dress the tighter, the more it cries, are guilty of a crime of little less enormity than murder.
"Think," says Dr. Buchan, "of the immense number of children that die of convulsions soon after birth; and be assured that these (its cries) are much oftener owing to galling pressure, or some external injury, than to any inward cause." This same writer adds, that he has known a child which was "seized with convulsion fits" soon after being "swaddled," immediately relieved by taking off the rollers and bandages; and he says that a loose dress prevented the return of the disease.
I think it is obvious that the utmost extent to which we ought to go, in yielding to the fashion, as it regards form, is to use three pieces of clothing—the shirt, the petticoat and the frock; all of which must be as loose as possible; and before the infant begins to crawl about much, the latter should be long, for the salve of covering the feet and legs. At four or five years of age, loose trowsers, with boys, may be substituted for the petticoat; but it is a question whether something like the frock might not, with every individual, be usefully retained through life.
I wish it were unnecessary, in a book like this, to join in the general complaint against tight lacing any part of the body, but especially the chest. But as this work of torture is sometimes begun almost from the cradle, and as prevention is better than cure, the hope of preventing that for which no cure appears yet to have been found, leads me to make a few remarks on the subject.
As it has long been my opinion that one reason why mothers continue to overlook the subject is, that they do not understand the structure and motion of the chest, I have attempted the following explanation and illustration.
I have already said, that if we bandage tightly, for a considerable time, any part of the human frame, it is apt to become weaker. The more a portion of the frame which is furnished with muscles, those curious instruments of motion, is used, provided it is not over-exerted, the more vigorous it is. Bind up an arm, or a hand, or a foot, and keep it bound for twelve hours of the day for many years, and think you it will be as strong as it otherwise would have been? Facts prove the contrary. The Chinese swathe the feet of their infant females; and they are not only small, but weak.
I have said their feet are smaller for being bandaged. So is a hand or an arm. Action—healthy, constant action—is indispensable to the perfect development of the body and limbs. Why it is so, is another thing. But so it is; and it is a principle or law of the great Creator which cannot be evaded. More than this; if you bind some parts of the body tightly, so as to compress them as much as you can without producing actual pain, you will find that the part not only ceases to grow, but actually dwindles away. I have seen this tried again and again. Even the solid parts perish under pressure. When a person first wears a false head of hair, the clasp which rests upon the head, at the upper part of the forehead, being new and elastic, and pressing rather closely, will, in a few months, often make quite an indentation in the cranium or bone of the head.