Perhaps someone who reads the title of this paper may be inclined to inquire, "Why do you write the baby, as if there were but one baby instead of millions in the world?"
Ah! Every mother knows why; and every loving-hearted young nurse knows why. "My baby," says the young mother, "is the baby of all the world." And "our baby" is the same to the members of the household, if they are of the right sort.
Knowing, as I do, how many mothers of all ages, as well as their daughters, come to the pages of THE GIRL'S OWN PAPER, or apply to its editor, for information on all sorts of domestic subjects, I am most anxious to be of use both to them and their young folk. I feel especial sympathy for those who, until they became mothers, never had anything to do with the practical management of little children. Members of large families pick up their experience quite naturally amongst the little brothers and sisters, and the children of the elder ones furnish in turn a baby school for girl aunts. But where a girl is placed as I was (the latest-born and only survivor of a small family, whose only opportunity of nursing was with a borrowed baby, if there happened to be one in a neighbour's house) she is not likely to be very skilful in the management of a first arrival, at any rate, when she becomes a wife and mother.
Shall I ever forget my own awkwardness under such circumstances; my utter ignorance of the thousand little ways of making a baby comfortable; my yearning love towards the pink-faced girlie, and matronly pride in the possession of this living treasure, which an empire's wealth would not have sufficed to purchase?
Mingled with such thoughts was a lamentable sense of my own insufficiency and inability to discharge fitly the sacred trust which the possession of the helpless babe entailed upon me. And, as I lay in weakness, and saw skilful hands occupied about my little one and knew my deficiencies, even as regarded the care of its tender frame, other solemn thoughts crossed my mind about the living immortal soul of which that was the only covering.
"Lo! Children are an heritage of the Lord," says the inspired Psalmist, and this baby girl was, then, the first instalment which He had given to me. How comforting was the sweet thought that followed; "He who has bestowed will also teach me to treasure His gift and to nurse this child for Him!" I felt then, as I do still after many years, that if there is one human being who, more than another, needs to be instant in prayer, it is surely the mother to whom such a sacred charge is entrusted.
I smile sometimes when I look at the tall girls who call me mother, and who now, in the way of stature, look down on me, yet who run with willing feet in my service, and to save mine a needless step. I smile because I think of the time when I was their willing slave by night and by day, and far more frightened of the first, in her baby years, than all my children put together have ever been of me. But love is a good teacher – especially maternal love – and it is often said that babies bring that into the world with them, or they would never be cared for as they are.
I am not going to write directions suitable for the first few weeks of an infant's life. During that early period it is usually under the care of an experienced or professional nurse. Even in the poorest of homes, when the parents' means are so small the mother cannot afford to pay for the constant attendance of such a person, there is always some kindly neighbour who, without fee or reward, undertakes to wash and dress the baby.
My first advice shall be as to the preparation of the nurse for her work. Take to it in yourself a cleanly person and a good temper, which latter finds its outward reflection in a bright, cheerful countenance. Even the few weeks' old baby shows a marvellous susceptibility to externals, and it would be difficult to say how soon it begins to imitate, or to manifest pleasure at what it sees, if that be pleasant.
On the contrary, who has not noticed the shock which a baby receives from the sound of a harsh voice, or the sight of a sullen, angry face? I have seen a little creature gaze searchingly at its mother's countenance and, if there were no answering smile, the dear eyes have seemed to lose their dancing light, the sorrowful "pet lip," and perhaps a burst of crying has followed. The more intelligent the infant the more sensitive it is to what some would call trifles.
So, dear nurses, go to your care of the baby as to a real labour of love, and let the love shine in your faces, be heard in the ring of your voices, and be manifested by the absence of all impatience or hastiness of temper, even if you should have a very cross baby to deal with. Poor wee things! They cannot tell their troubles, and depend on it, if the baby is "fractious" it has some good reason for it, though you may not be able to find it out. So let your bright face, your endearing words, your cheery song, coax away the puckers from the face of your little charge if all these will do it. But in no case let its cross face be a reflection of your own.
Have nothing about you that can possibly hurt the little one. Rings, brooches, watch-chains, floating ribbons, and ornaments of all kinds are needless and out of place when you are busy with baby. Let your hair be smooth and tidy. Examine your dress to see that no stray pin has been stuck on the belt or waist, and that your sleeves are tucked up and fastened so that you neither get them wet nor have them loose and flapping about in baby's face.
Put on a wide flannel apron, of which every nurse should have two – "one to wash the other" – then you will always have a clean one for present use.
Be calm and patient about your work, neither hurrying nor occupying too much time over the washing and dressing business. Handle the little one very tenderly. Even if your work be one of necessity rather than of inclination, let the infant's helplessness pl with you; for member, a little impatience, a sudden jerk of those delicate limbs, might cause injury to your charge, and to yourself life-long repentance.
Inexperienced nurses are apt to become frightened and flurried if a baby cries, kicks, and screams. But, if the little one is in a passion, there is all the more need for the nurse to be calm, and to oppose patience and firmness to its struggle and clamour. Keep thoroughly master of yourself, dear young nurse, and you will manage baby all the more easily.
Have every requisite ready to your hands before you begin, and let each article of clothing be so placed as to come in its proper turn; so that there may be no rummaging amongst garments, or running about to seek something that ought to be close at your side when wanted. Such neglect tries baby's patience, exposes him to the risk of cold, and you to blame for your want of system and forethought.
Mind that baby, when undressed or in the bath, is not exposed to a draught of cold air. You may guard against this by extemporising a screen in the shape of a clothes'-horse with a sheet or quilt thrown over it.
Here I would say a few words about the clothing of infants. It, as well as the bedding, should combine lightness with warmth. It is of far more importance that it should be plentiful in quantity, and good in quality, so as to secure cleanliness by frequent changes and comfort in the use, than very elaborate in workmanship, or much ornamented.
If much trimming is used, by all means let it be in the shape of soft cambric frills or narrow torchon lace.
Muslin work – especially if a laundress is so ill-advised as to stiffen it in order to make it set well – is a great cause of irritation to an infant's tender neck and arms.
A good nurse will pass her finger round the bands and along the seams of all clothing that is likely to come in contact with the child's skin. If she finds any roughness or sharp points, she rubs them before putting on the garment.
This is not the place to enumerate the articles which compose an infant's wardrobe; but I should like to mention one. The little lawn or cambric shirts worn during the first few weeks are usually made open in the front, from top to bottom. I have always used and recommended a shirt made of one width of the linen, with a single seam at the side, but open on the shoulders, on each of which it fastens with a small linen button and loop. It is slipped over the head so easily; there is no twisting of arms to get them into sleeves; it is quickly fastened, and, when on, it keeps its place and looks pretty, which is more than can be said of the old-fashioned open article, with its useless laps and generally untidy effect.
As a baby should not only be washed, but have a bath every morning, the vessel used should be large enough to hold it comfortably, but rather shallow. The temperature of the water should be about 90 deg., but, as young nurses have not always a thermometer at hand, they should try it with the back of the hand, or, as I have seen some old nurses do, with the tip of the tongue. The whole hand is not a safe test, especially if it be one accustomed to work, s the skin becomes hardened and can bear much greater heat or cold than it would be safe to use for an infant's bath.
I have read some terrible cases of suffering, and even loss of life, which have been caused by the carelessness of young nurses in not ascertaining the water was of a proper temperature before putting in the child.
Soap of a non-irritating quality and a soft sponge must be used. If the infant is quite young, the left hand must be placed below its neck so as to support the head above water. The whole body, including the head, should be well soaped and then gently sponged, care being taken to rinse well all the little folds and creases, so that nothing impure or irritating be retained there. Soft, half-worn towels of nursery diaper are the best to dry with, and this should be tenderly done with due consideration for the delicate skin. The moisture should be absorbed from all bends and creases by gentle pressure – never by rubbing; though the back had limbs will be all the better for a little friction with the hand. Baby likes this when he is first undressed and after washing, and enjoys stretching his round limbs on his nurse's knee whilst she gives them a gentle chafing within reach of the warmth of a fire.
All the creases below the arms, knees, in the dimpled neck, behind the ears, between the thighs and body should be well powdered to prevent the chafing of the skin, and this ought to be done after every change of clothing or sponging, by night or day. A very able and experienced medical man, who has written a valuable work, within a very small compass, on sick and other nursing, advises the use of powdered starch for what we call puffing the baby.
Considering how much we have heard of the introduction of deleterious ingredients into what are called "violet powders," we must recognise the wisdom of this advice. It is of no consequence whether the powder is perfumed or not, but it is of the greatest importance that it should be pure and harmless. The powdering must never be neglected if baby's skin has been damped, so whenever sponging is requisite, the puff is also absolutely necessary.
One occasionally sees the scalp of an infant covered or patched with an unsightly crust. This is usually the result of insufficient or careless washing. At the first sign of it, the spot should be anointed with a bit of pure lard or a little olive oil. This will soften the crust, and it will generally come off during washing; but great care must be taken not to use any degree of violence to remove it. The simple application named and persistent cleanliness are the proper remedies both to take it away and prevent its recurrence.
A quite young baby needs, as I have already said, the supporting hand of the nurse to keep the head above water. An older infant that can sit up strongly and has learned to kick about in and enjoy the water, equally needs the watchful eye of the nurse, and should never be left in the bath for a moment.
A very little water and a very short time have proved sufficient to drown an infant before now, during the momentary absence of the nurse.
In fastening the clothes, use as few pins as possible, and let the pins be well-made safety pins. Wherever strings, buttons, and loops, or a stitch can be used instead, by all means substitute one of these. Always have a needle and thread beside you during the dressing process.
A second bath at night is not necessary, only light sponging o nurse's knee. The head should not be wetted I' evening, and after the morning bath the hair should be gently but thoroughly dried, and brushed with a very soft brush. Warm or tepid water is necessary during the first two or three years of a child's life, perhaps even longer in the cases of delicate children.
It is astonishing how very soon infants may be taught habits of cleanliness and regularly in taking food and rest. These things depend almost wholly on the care and attention bestowed by those who have the charge of them. Remember, dear mothers and young nurses, that it is from you, who are always about it, the little one receives its first and most durable impressions, whether for good or evil, and as regards both mind and body. Can you, then, e too careful with respect to what you do for it; or too prayerful and watchful over yourself in order that from you it may receive nothing but what is good?
After the bath a baby is generally ready for its food, and the meal is pretty certain to be followed by its morning sleep. If the mother nurses her infant herself and a young helper has washed and dressed it, the latter should put away the articles that are done with, empty and dry the bath, and expose night clothes and towels, if possible, to the open air. Never be in a hurry to wrap up clothing or cover up beds. Let them have plenty of fresh air, or at least as much as you can possibly give them. I ought to have said the moment baby is taken out of his cot, the bed should be shaken up and all the bedding spread out and thus exposed. It is an excellent plan to have two sets of sheets in use, one for nights and the other for days; then this airing can be well carried out.
Often, when travelling in Switzerland, I have been struck with the carefulness of the people in airing their beds. As you pass through a village in the early morning, if you look from the windows of the diligence, you will see the beds, which are small, light and much more portable than ours, hanging from every casement. They are turned over and exposed for hours to the fresh air and light, a process which must tend greatly to their purification and to the health of those who use them.
By all means imitate as far as possible this excellent example, and though our cumbrous beds cannot be hung out in like manner, we may give them the benefit of frequent exposure to air and light.
Baby's little bed or mattress, from its small size, has a better chance than any other, so let him have the full advantage of this.
In my next chapter I shall try to give simple instructions on "How to Nurse the Baby."