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Health, or, How to Live

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    DRESS OF CHILDREN

    MANY of the most serious consequences are conferred on the human race by bad management in infancy, and not unfrequently many diseases may be attributed to the mode of dress adopted by parents and nurses for their children.HHTL 261.1

    The state of infancy and childhood is impatient of restraint, through the restless activity incident to youth, which makes it delight to be in perpetual motion, and to see everything around it. See the happiness and delight a child expresses, by its features, every time it is undressed and rubbed with a soft hand; observe the pleasure it experiences as soon as it is taken out of the fetters in which it is bound. It instantly ceases crying; no sooner is it undressed, than it begins to smile, and to show signs of joy; even though it should be hungry now, it proves by its joy and its movements, that it wanted liberty still more than the breast. Bandage it up again, it becomes uneasy, its countenance is sad, and its cries are renewed. It should be borne in mind that the sole object of clothing a child is for warmth, and not for the purpose of giving support, as is generally supposed. Upon the first sight of a new-born infant, every one is struck with the idea of its weakness and helplessness: it is designed to be weak and tender in its infant state, as indeed is every other object around us. Take a survey of nature, from the first opening leaves of vernal flower, or the more delicate foliage of the sensitive plant, to the young lion or the elephant; they are all in their several orders, proportionably weak, and can not exist without some exterior support. But they stand in need of nothing but what nature has prepared for them. If seed be cast into a proper soil, it wants only the surrounding elements to insure vigor and maturity. So if the tender infant be born of healthy parents, and at its full time, it is usually sufficiently strong, proper food and nursing are the elements whose fostering influence it requires; if it have these, it will need nothing more.HHTL 261.2

    It is true, the new-born infant is very weak; but is it, therefore, to be tightly rolled, under the idea of supporting it, and giving it strength? A child is nothing more than a mass of tender vessels through which a fluid is to pass, undisturbed, to be equally distributed throughout the body, and which are, therefore, surrounded by a soft medium, capable of yielding to the impetus of their contents. Hence we cannot but conceive how injurious any great pressure must be to so delicate a frame.HHTL 262.1

    Nurses, indeed, appear to feel it a part of their duty to bind infants up with thick rollers, flannels, pilches, and wrappers, all ingeniously tightened and fastened, with so many strings and pins, that you feel amazed at beholding how adroitly they succeed in placing the poor little child in so much misery and confinement.HHTL 262.2

    Looseness is very important in an infant’s dress; there should be a free circulation of air between the skin and the clothes, as well as a slight friction upon the surface. All confinement distresses, and when it amounts to tightness, it may, and does frequently, occasion deformity before the evil is suspected. Full room should be allowed for the increase which is continually and rapidly going on. For this reason every part should be fastened with strings, the greatest care should be taken not to draw them too tight. And it is proper, after the strings have been tied, particularly those under the chin, and round the waist, to ascertain by feeling with the finger that the dress is not drawn too tight. Pins should be used as seldom as possible. The growth of children is so rapid, it is proper to examine, frequently, their clothing, as a few weeks will make a great difference in relation to the size, and the pressure or restraint is often the cause of much crying and fretfulness; it is, therefore, proper that children’s dresses should be made so that they may be easily enlarged, particularly round the waist, throat, arm-holes, and across the chest and back. Bandages round the head, or tight caps, or anything which compresses the brain, should be strictly avoided. Many instances of idiotism, fits, and deformity, are owing to tight bandages; not unfrequently infants are very restless at night, owing to tight night clothes.HHTL 262.3

    The more easily the dress can be put on and off, the better and more comfortable for the child; there should be no other fashion than what is dictated by convenience and comfort. The fashion of long clothing or skirts confines the infant, and prevents the activity of the limbs, so essential to a free circulation of the blood and advancement of its growth. Loose gowns, fastening in front, are therefore preferable to frocks, for two or three months, however less fashionable. All unnecessary tight or stiff clothing should be avoided; every thing which surrounds the body of an infant should be soft, and of yielding nature, so as to prevent any painful pressure upon the muscles or bones, or excoriation or chafing of the skin. Every article of the child’s dress should be made and arranged — regardless as to fashion — so as to be adapted to its comfort and health; this will be found to consist in guarding against the variations of external temperature, in preserving a genial warmth for the maintenance of the various functions, and in protecting the body and limbs against external injuries. Pride and fashion must always be laid aside when it interrupts the comfort of health of the child. This, however, unfortunately is not the case with some foolish mothers, who would rather risk the life of their infants than deviate from the last style of dress which Madame Humbug has lately received from Paris.HHTL 263.1

    Were it possible for us to visit our fashionable circles, we should behold the embroidered lace, worked ruffles, and stiffly starched linen, scratching and chafing the tender skin of the poor infant, with some important regions of the body entirely unclothed and exposed, and others superabundantly clad, and amidst this empty pride, every consideration of comfort, and the health of the child, is entirely overlooked. On the contrary, a course nearly opposite is pursued by those filling the humbler walks of life, whose means are not adequate to the ever-varying demands of fashion, and who have the satisfaction of seeing their children in the enjoyment of uninterrupted health and vigor of constitution, by pursuing a course from which their circumstances will not permit them to deviate; and this is usually the cause that health is, in particular, the blessing of the poor, while the rich are more generally the subjects of disease.HHTL 264.1

    One of the most important parts of an infant’s clothing is a soft flannel bandage, commonly called the belly-band, which is intended to give support to the abdomen or belly, particularly the naval; and it likewise supports the internal covering of the intestines, and prevents the child from any distension, or, in plain language, a big belly.HHTL 264.2

    In putting on this support, or bandage, you must recollect that there is distinction between support and pressure; the first is very important to health, the second is the cause of many serious diseases, such as rupture, which is owing to neglect or ignorance in putting it on properly, so as to avoid pressure, or, in plainer language, tightness. Besides, the action of the bowels is impeded by this compression, occasioning great pain and costiveness. It should be taken off morning and night, and put on smooth and carefully, and a clean one put on every two or three days, as it is apt to get wet and rumpled, and unfit for use till washed and ironed. With some children I have found it necessary to use it for many months, to prevent an enlargement of the abdomen or belly, and delicate children are sustained by it in their attempts to sit up.HHTL 264.3

    As regards the quality of clothing best suited to the infant, flannel is perhaps more extensively and advantageously used than any other article of which clothing for children is made. Public sentiment, as much as it is perverted on many subjects connected with the management of infants, appears to be right on this.HHTL 265.1

    The superiority of flannel to other substances used, consists, 1. “In its protecting power against sudden reduction of temperature;” i.e. its non-conducting power prevents the natural heat escaping from the surface of the body when the surrounding temperature is materially lower; wool being a better non-conductor of caloric than flax or cotton, is consequently better adapted to the purposes of wearing in cold or variable weather. 2. In guarding the body against the cooling effects of evaporation. When the surface of the body is bedewed with perspiration, the flannel prevents too rapid an escape of the warmth from the body; and as it passes off gradually, the moisture is absorbed by the flannel, whence it evaporates from the body imperceptibly. Thus it is perceived, that the temperature of the body can be but little affected during the process of “drying up the sweat,” as it is called, which must be otherwise, were linen or muslin employed in its stead, because they conduct off the heat much more rapidly, and absorb the moisture with less facility; hence a cold dampness must of course pervade the surface of the body during the drying process and hence the advantage of flannel next to the skin. 3. In producing over the surface of the body a healthful and “agreeable irritation,” by means of which insensible perspiration is advantageously promoted — a function indispensable to the health of the child; its use, in this respect, approaches in effect that of the flesh-brush; by producing this grateful action upon the skin, it equalizes the circulation; the blood is being constantly invited to the surface, which lessens the liability to congestion of the internal organs, by its being thrown upon them in too great abundance.HHTL 265.2

    From these considerations it is evident that flannel next to the skin, in cold and variable seasons, not only adds to the comfort, but also exerts a salutary influence on the health of the child, so much so, that its adoption cannot but be considered an important, if not an indispensable item in the successful management of the infant.HHTL 266.1

    Flannel is to be preferred for children; it keeps the body in that degree of heat which is most agreeable, as well as most suitable to the functions and actions of health. The perspiration is necessarily increased; the matter perspired is conveyed through the flannel to the atmosphere, and the skin remains dry, warm, and comfortable. Flannel co-operates with the powers of generating heat in living systems, and thus constantly preserves us in that temperature which is most pleasurable, as well as most natural and beneficial.HHTL 266.2

    Doctor Dewees, Professor of Midwifery, of Philadelphia, says: “There is a very common error upon the subject of flannel, which deserves to be corrected; namely, that it can remain longer dirty, without doing mischief by the filth, than any other substance; but in this there is no truth — flannel, from its very texture, is capable of absorbing a great deal of fluid, which it will retain so long, if permitted, as to allow a fermentative process to go on, and gives rise to the extrication of some deleterious gases; therefore flannel should not be worn even so long, on this very account as linen substances.HHTL 266.3

    “The flannel should always be of the white kind, where the circumstances of the parents will permit it — not that the first cost of the white need be greater than that of the colored, but because it will, for the sake of the eye, require to be more frequently changed, as it will more readily show any dirt that may attach to it; but, for this very reason it should be employed, whenever it be practicable. Another reason may also be assigned: the white can always be procured of a finer quality, which sometimes,” — we would say always — “is desirable.”HHTL 266.4

    The principal articles of clothing are to be made of fine flannel; they generally are called the underclothes; fashion, caprice, or fortune may regulate the rest, provided the garments for the feet and legs to be excepted.HHTL 266.5

    We are confident that if more attention were bestowed on the real necessities and wants of children in this particular, or, in plain language, suitable clothing, and the system preserved from sudden changes, infantile suffering would be greatly diminished, to say nothing of the long list of chronic complaints by which it is to be tortured in after years, and its whole life doomed to wretchedness and misery by fashion, and neglect in preserving a uniform warmth over the whole body and limbs, as a legitimate means of insuring health and comfort to the child. — Gunn’s Home Book of Health.HHTL 267.1

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