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Poor, suffering humanity

Published: 
Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I’ve been reading up a bit about the advice parents used to be given in the past by paediatricians and came across a fascinating booklet. “Caring for Infants, Then and Now: 1935 to the Present” by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Note, this advice is no longer recommended, even if a couple of things seem eerily similar to some of the nonsense one hears today.

Let’s start with the role of the father. In 1935, Infant Care provided very little information on the role of fathers in relation to caring for infants. Fathers are mentioned twice, in the sections on prevention of tuberculosis and “training” the baby at birth. The good old days when real men could rock back and smoke cigars!

In 1935 Infant Care advised “To keep a baby healthy, there should be continued supervision by a doctor trained in the care of babies.” Ahah! Good advice still. How many of the doctors in our Health Centres are trained in the care of babies? Ask the Minister of Health the next time you see him.

“The mother and baby should be seen by the doctor whether at his office or at a well-baby clinic, at least once a month, and oftener if he is artificially fed.” Well that’s nonsense although I see paediatricians now routinely making daily visits to private nursing homes to see very healthy newborns, as long as the mother is hospitalised. Something about “you cannot be too careful.” All that does is create the doctor dependency syndrome which is very helpful for the bank account.

I recommend a prenatal visit, newborn visit, first week visit, and follow-up visits at the second, fourth, sixth, ninth months and one year of life.

Immunizations. In 1935 there was a vaccination against smallpox before one year and immunization against diphtheria at six months (or as soon as possible) with three doses of toxoid, quite similar to today.

They then recommended a “Schick test” six months later to see whether the treatment had protected him against the disease. Note, it was always “him”, never “her”. The only “Schick” we know today is razors.

Nowadays we can protect you against hepatitis B, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, polio, Haemophilus influenzae type b, pneumococccus, and rotavirus, all done in the first six months.

Feeding. The most important thing mentioned and something that hasn’t changed is “The death rate of babies not breast fed is higher than the death rate of breast-fed babies.” If the baby had to be artificially fed they recommended that you saw the baby’s doctor every month to make sure the baby was growing well, that you bought good, fresh milk, preferably pasteurized, then boiled to kill germs and that sometimes goat’s milk could be substituted.

None of these are now medically advised despite the best efforts of “doctors of naturopathic medicine” whatever that is, and who are obviously on to a good thing because they are all over local radio. The only meaningful alternative today for a mother who cannot breastfeed, usually because of having to return to work, is expressing and storing her breastmilk or iron-fortified formula. Interestingly, the 1935 edition did suggest a “wet nurse” or buying breastmilk from a hospital and this second is back in vogue.

As the child aged, some of the foods recommended were cod-liver oil to prevent weak bones or rickets. Orange juice was supposed to be started at two weeks to prevent the “limey” disease or scurvy. No wonder we are all full of allergies.

Finally sleep. I now understand where that miserable piece of advice to let your child cry comes from. Here this, it could be taken straight from the Annals of Child Abuse: “The baby should be trained from birth to have his longest unbroken sleep at night. He should always sleep in a bed by himself, and whenever possible in a room by himself, where he need not be disturbed.

Poor, suffering humanity.

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