April 20, 2009

We're From The Government, And We're Here To Help Stop Baby Tossing

When the Children's Bureau of the US Department of Health, Education & Welfare published its first edition of Infant Care in 1914, there was no data on birth rates or infant mortality, no child- and birth-related research, no pediatrics, and no sense of best practices for pregnancy, birth, and infancy at all. The first 87-page pamphlet was the culmination of two years of groundbreaking fieldwork which found that as many as 1 in 7 infants died in the first year in some US cities, and that most deaths could be easily prevented through prenatal care, sanitary delivery practices, and basic childcare information.

Not that a whole bunch of that advice would sound crazy to us today. The government officially condemned rocking chairs, pacifiers and picking up a crying baby. "Sea baths" were not to exceed one or two minutes. And the laughter-inducing play that fathers liked so much, i.e., "tickling, punching or tossing" actually caused "nervous disturbances" in the child, and was to be discouraged.

Anyway, when Infant Care was being re-researched and rewritten for the fifth time in 1951, a dad told the Children's Bureau:

I feel that instead of working on the fathers to get them to help with children, the book should work on the mothers so that the mother would let the father help with the children. A lot of fathers would be willing to do a darn sight more if the mothers would not consider them clumsy old oxes and let them tough those "fragile" things.
Amen, brother. Though I think we can all agree against an official government endorsement of baby punching.

The Maternal & Child Health Library at Georgetown has scans of hundreds of Children's Bureau documents, including the 1914 edition of Infant Care and the 50th anniversary history of Infant Care, which is where that quote came from. [mchlibrary.info]

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