As we have before remarked, while the child is in the mother's womb, it has no need of appetite, as all its nutriment is imparted without any exertion on its part through the circulation of the mother. When the connecting link, which for nine months has bound the child so closely to its mother, is severed, and the little being is ushered into the world, the various organs commence their proper functions, developing as a matter of course, appetite, and the first few days of a child is divided almost entirely between sleeping and gratifying its appetite. At this period it often is only aroused by hunger, and when this is appeased, drops to sleep.
Several years since, when engaged in the practice of my profession in a beautiful country village, I was called out late one evening by a Frenchman to see his little child, then about three days old. The father had called at my office several times during the evening before my return, and was then so much excited, that he could not give me any rational account of the difficulty until I reached the house, where I found the mother in tears, sobbing as if her heart would break, and insisting, in broken English, that "mine child shall die." Her tears however were quickly changed to smiles, when I told her, that six months hence she would be delighted, if her child slept as quietly. There was nothing the matter.
The child was merely obeying the first demands of its being. In the course of a few hours, as soon as the mother has obtained a little rest, it is always best to place the child by her side, and let it receive its first nourishment from her breast. The milk at this time, if there is any, is thin and watery, of a whey-like consistency, and does not gain its rich and creamy character, until the lapse of several days. In this we see another beautiful arrangement of nature. The milk is precisely of the character best adapted to the wants of the child. It acts gently on the bowels, causing the removal of the dark and slimy meconium, with which they are loaded at birth, and gradually, as it becomes richer in its properties, prepares the stomach for its reception. The mother's milk is of itself a laxative, and generally all the laxative the child requires. The habit of dosing the little being with castor-oil, catnip-tea, rhubarb and even calomel, cannot be too strongly condemned. Bear in mind the delicate organization, and remember that the organs are all new and unused, requiring the most delicate stimulus. However much the robust system may be abused, infancy will not be trifled with without showing the effects of it in cries, fretfulness, convulsions, colic, diarrhoea and often death. The bills of mortality show, that an enormous percentage of death, nearly one-third, occurs before the age of three years. We are to look, as one frightful cause of this mortality, to the trifling with nature. and the kindly meant, though unwise intermeddling of friends and relatives. If, after the lapse of four or five hours there should be no movement from the bowels, and the child is evidently suffering from this cause, a small amount of tepid sugar and water, or molasses and water, will generally be all that is necessary to relieve the difficulty.
If those having the care of an infant would bear in mind the fact, that up to the moment of birth it has been nourished by the rich blood of the mother, they would be less anxious to crowd its delicate stomach with food of their own contriving, often to its injury. The cramps, colics, and cries of pain, which are so often heard in the nursery, are frequently the result of this forcing system. The cry of pain, which tortures the ear, is too often the voice of nature, protesting in the strongest terms against this abuse of her laws. An ordinary flow of milk is generally established in three or four days, and this gradually becoming rich and nourishing, as the wants of the child demand it, is with but few exceptions, all that it requires. If however during the first few days there is not a sufficient secretion of milk its want may be supplied by a little tepid sugar and water, or weak milk and water. System and order are necessary in all things, and in nothing more than in the care of the infant. The practice is very common, whenever the child cries, to stop its mouth with the breast. This is often done fifty or a hundred times a day, and at night, the mother's sleep is broken every half hour by the cries of her child; thus both are deprived of their natural rest, the mother becomes a slave to her child, and the child develops as a reward a peevish and restless temper. This habit strongly reminds us of an anecdote of an old lady, who in the fullness of her kindness begged her guest to "eat, eat, eat till you split. I really wish you would."
The stomach of an infant, when a few days old, is very small, holding not much more than a tablespoonful; as the child increases in age, of course the stomach becomes larger, but this repeated filling it with food in too large quantities, leaves it no time for digestion, and produces flatulence, colic, diarrhoea, indigestion, and sometimes entails on the young being a lasting disease. Crying is not always an indication of hunger. The babe can tell its sufferings in no other way, and it just as often cries from repletion, as from lack of food. It cries when too warm or too cold, or whenever anything affects its delicate organization unpleasantly. Crying, however unpleasant it may be, is not unfrequently highly beneficial. The organs of respiration are developed and strengthened by the exercise. As we have already stated in speaking of the adult, the amount of food should be proportioned to the waste in the system. Crowding the stomach with food more than it can digest, whether in the adult or infant, leads to the most serious difficulties. During the first few weeks of infancy the child requires food oftener than when a few months old, but even then every three hours will as a general thing be all-sufficient, unless it should be demanded more frequently by those evident signs of hunger which no mother need mistake. If the breast is not offered on every occasion and for every cry, it will only be demanded at stated intervals. As the child advances in age, the length of time between the period of taking nourishment will of course be proportionally increased. At first the child will require nourishment three or four times in the course of the night, but after a short time once late in the evening and again early in the morning will be all that is necessary. The child may, in a warm room, be suffering from thirst, and a drink of water be all that is necessary to still its crying.
It is a curious fact, that great fatigue, strong mental emotion, fear, passion, or wild and excessive grief often produce a strong effect on the mother's milk. Hence she should by no means give the breast when suffering from great fatigue, or violent mental emotion. The case recorded of the German woman, is probably familiar to all. A soldier attacked her husband with a drawn sword. At first she was paralyzed with terror, but in a moment she sprang forward with fury, wrenched the sword from the soldier's hand, and parted the combatants. While in this strong state of excitement she took her child from the cradle and placed it to her breast. The doom of the little being, at the time perfectly healthy, was sealed, for in a few moments it was dead. Will those who will believe in nothing but tangible doses, tell us how much poison was contained in the mother's milk, and how the chemical change was produced, instantaneously, by the action of the mind?
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Than are dreamed of in your philosophy."