October 21, 2007

Cough Medicine, The New Opiates Of The Masses' Children, Ain't Got Nothin' On The Old Opiates

It's funny what three years of parenting will do to your attitudes on drugging children. Last week, I was plotting to promote an underground band of renegade dads, calculating their own doses of contraband decongestants, but in August 2004, when the kid was six months old, I was apparently shocked that people were giving their kids ibuprofen.

mrs_winslows_suboxone.jpg

That was when I found out about the widespread use of opium as a childcare aid in Victorian-era England. Parents would dope up their kids while they were away at work, then they'd dope'em up again so the parents could sleep. Frazzled working parents bought "Quietness" at the local druggist, and used a whole range of opium-based elixirs and syrups to keep their kids "slept."

I wanted to know more about this chapter in the grand history of infant doping, so I just bought a PDF copy of Elia Vallone Chepaitis' 1985 dissertation at the University of Connecticut, The Opium of the Children: Domestic Opium and Infant Drugging in Early Victorian England. If there are even five more paragraphs in it like this one [p. 2], it will be the best $37 I've ever, ever spent:

Child doping was most scandalous in the 1830's and 1840's. Early Victorian attitudes varied, but critics generally criticized drugging but did not recommend public control. The sangfroid of investigators dealing with the maiming and killing of children is startling, especailly in contrast with twentieth century antagonism toward drug abuse. However, early Victorians frequently noted their limitations --inmedical theory, in law enforcement, and in altering custom and the social order: they were especially reluctant to interfere with child rearing and family matters. Reformers predicted that opium abuse would decrease when more information was gathered and disseminated. ALthough their inaction may seem callous, even grisly, they were correct...
Oh wait, here's one, on page 5:
It is remarkable that child drugging has not been studied thoroughly. Swaddling is the only custom which can be compared historically with opium in its interference with infant development. Far more children have been affected by swaddling than by opium, since swaddling appears in many cultures since antiquity, but opium feeding was far more damaging to the infants affected.

Like swaddling, the practice of feeding opiates to children was not clandestine and was considered inhumane by contemporaries. In 1845, for example, Engels criticized opium feeding in The Condition of the Working Class in England; Marx mentioned it in Capital. [emphasis added for fun]

Uh-oh, I think it's Opium Week here at Daddy Types, people.

Chepaitis, E.V., THE OPIUM OF THE CHILDREN: DOMESTIC OPIUM AND INFANT DRUGGING IN EARLY VICTORIAN ENGLAND, 1985 [digitalcommons.uconn.edu]
Buy a PDF copy of THE OPIUM OF THE CHILDREN, $37 (other options available, too) [proquest.umi.com]
Previously: Opium - It's not just for teething any more

3 Comments

Wow -- swaddling is like an opiate? Will that be banned next? Harvey Karp, America turns its tired eyes to you...

I recently read that Edgar Allen Poe's nursemaids used to give him a rag soaked in gin as a pacifier.. and he turned out okay! (Well, not so okay...)

Wait. What's the matter with swaddling?

A quick Google suggests that swaddling is a danger when the baby can kick the swaddling off during sleep, allowing the swaddling cloth/blanket/whatever to become a smothering risk if it manages to cover the baby's nose and mouth. Could also be a problem if you swaddle excessively to keep the baby tractable rather than holding the baby a fair bit each day. The proverbial "They" (in this case many doctors, etc.) suggest that Baby sleep with only one additional thin layer of clothing on than you yourself would wear to be comfortable in the room, on a firm mattress with a tightly fitted sheet, in a non-recalled crib that is otherwise devoid of any other objects, bedding, etc. (me pictures vast, firm white padded expanse surrounded by smooth fencing with approved-width slats with single baby on it's back in center, wearing only a white onesie...)

So I sound defensive - can't get my lovely wife to agree that the bumpers she hand-made shouldn't be in the crib, and Baby should have no blanket, nor stuffed Eeyore for comfort during sleep. Baby is 8 months healthy and the bumpers/toys will come out soon when Baby is able to step on them to get higher and my lovely wife realizes the fall -out-of-the-crib hazard that represents.

Oh, and the crib is recalled, though I'm not worried on that score because mine is actually put together correctly. So's the collapsible porta-crib, for that matter, but I don't put Baby in with the changing table deployed. My Mom took the changing table off of her porta-crib because she thought it was dangerous, though even she knows not to have the table deployed when Baby is in the porta-crib... In both cases, the recall is to deal with potential hazards that only exist when directions are not followed correctly. I wonder whether the "repair kit" for my correctly-assembled crib will be worth installing? At least the porta-crib fix is probably easy. In both cases, I'll probably just stick the parts with the instructions and when it's time to sell/give them away I'll take them back apart (to fit in the delivery vehicle) and throw out the "bad parts".

Thanks for reading,
-cajun

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