We will suppose the little stranger fairly introduced into the world, and ready for its first bath. The room should be of a moderate temperature, and the possibility of currents of air from doors, windows or cracks carefully guarded against. Drafts of air would be highly injurious, as well as the near vicinity of a large fire where the rays fall directly on the child. The temperature of the water should be about blood heat. Warmer than this would produce relaxation and consequent debility, colder, the animal heat would be rapidly withdrawn from the child at a time when its power of generating heat would be very limited. In washing the child, all that is generally necessary, is a soft sponge, by which the warm water can be thoroughly applied in a manner not to injure the delicate skin and the mucous or oily covering of the child effectually removed. Sometimes the peculiar substance with which the child is covered cannot be removed merely by soap-water; in these cases the parts may be smeared with fresh lard, butter or the yolk of an egg, and then washed off. The face should be washed first, and with a different sponge from the rest of the body, and great care taken to prevent any of the soap from getting into the eyes. By failing to observe these simple directions, an ophthalmia of an exceedingly painful character is often induced.
While particular pains should be taken to have the child perfectly clean, it should not be forgotten that you are handling a delicate being, who is taking its first lesson in life. I have often seen nurses in the lower walks of life, and even where there was no excuse for their not knowing better, grasp the head firmly in one hand, with the other, armed with a rag, not of the softest quality, and plentifully covered with soap, scrub the little face with an energy and good will, which expended on pots and kettles would be highly meritorious, but which is not exactly the thing with the tender flesh of the young infant. If the child is very weak, it should not be still further fatigued by a long washing. In these cases, let the nurse make the child as clean as possible in a reasonable time, and leave the rest till the next washing. After the child has been washed and dried, the cord may be wrapped in a soft linen rag; over this a thin flannel bandage must be applied five or six inches in breadth, and long enough to go once or twice around the body. The object is partly warmth, and partly to prevent the bowels pressing out at the opening of the navel. In warm weather, or where the skin is very sensitive, a linen or cotton bandage can be substituted. The bandage should not, as is often the case, be drawn too tightly, for this would prevent the proper action of the abdomen in respiration, and thereby produce much evil. The cord generally suppurates, and drops off in five or six days, and it is not necessary previous to that to change its dressing more than once or twice, if at all. As it regards the dress, the mother can consult the prevailing fashion, or her own taste, providing she also consults common-sense, and while she uses light, soft, and warm clothing, such as will afford ample protection to the child, is careful to have it fit so as not to compress the body or prevent the utmost freedom of movement. The dress will of course vary somewhat according to the climate and season of the year. In the winter, or where the child is delicate, thin, soft flannel next the skin is generally preferable. The plan of rolling the child up in bandages like a mummy, thus preventing the expansion of the chest and abdomen, and the free motion of the limbs, has fortunately gone out of fashion. If flannel produces much perspiration and soreness, linen should be substituted. Whatever the clothing may be, it should be very frequently changed, and never put on until after it has been thoroughly aired and made comfortably warm. While the mother bears in mind the fact, that the supply of animal heat is the smallest in infancy, and therefore perceives the necessity of keeping her child sufficiently warm, she should not forget that too warm clothing, and too high a temperature in the room, are equally injurious as the other extreme.
As dressing is generally tiresome and irksome to the child, the garments should be made so as to be easily taken off or put on. Pins should be avoided wherever it is possible, and soft tapes, loops, or something of the kind substituted in their place. Unless great care is exercised, pins stick into the flesh, worry the child, and occasion paroxysms of crying, often attributed to disease. The practice of leaving the upper portion of the chest and arms naked for the first five or six years cannot be too strongly condemned. The chest must be protected, or you will stand a pretty good chance of being called to watch with agonized emotions by the side of your child, suffering from croup, inflammation of the lungs, fevers, and those varied diseases which prevail to such an alarming extent at this period of life. Children who have their bosoms, arms, and legs covered for the first two years, are far less liable to colds, coughs, croups, inflammation of the lungs, and that long list of diseases which annually sweep off so many of the bright and beautiful little prattlers.
Formerly it was the pride of the mother, to see her child with a beautiful cap on its head, now, mothers generally prefer to see the little head without any covering, except what nature gradually provides it in the form of hair. And this is much the wisest plan. Caps after all, make them as beautiful as you choose, are a great nuisance, and often productive of much harm. By them the head is kept too warm, inducing alarming diseases of the brain; and the tender scalp, constantly irritated, rendered much more liable to painful and fetid eruptions. The string also passing under the chin, often gives the poor thing the first sensation of hanging. Where the head is kept too warm, diseases of the brain, as a matter of course, are much more frequent. Pains should be taken to keep the temperature of the child as nearly alike at all times as possible. During the day the clothing may be very judicious, while at night the child is often almost buried in feathers and made to swelter under warm blankets. Considering, that two-thirds of the infant's life is spent in sleep, the danger of these sudden transitions from a high to a low temperature is very apparent.
In the course of a few months as the strength increases, a change of clothing becomes necessary, and the long dresses give place to those more suitable to increasing activity. The feet should now be protected by stockings, and whatever form of dress is adopted, the ridiculous fashion of leaving the legs, arms, and the upper portion of the chest naked, should never be indulged.