What you can do when your baby has colic: Old-fashioned parenting advice from 1911

Mother and baby 1911

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Below is some parenting advice from more than 100 years ago. Please keep in mind that much of this is information is out-of-date and provided only as a historical perspective — and as such, often doesn’t match current infant colic advice from pediatricians. Please consult your child’s healthcare provider if you have concerns.

When the little one gets the colic

By Leonard Keene Hirshberg, A.B., M.D., Noted Baltimore Physician and Author

The usual American child, born at full term of healthy parents, is destined to suffer about ten times as many ills as nature intended. Why? you ask. Simply because of the ignorance of its mother, and the faulty logic, following the observations of other children, of its grandmother.

When the infant yells, “colic” nods the mother. She is apt then to do one of two things, either nurse it, making the child a glutton, or dose it with chamomile, fennel or other tea, or even a drug, which is worse.

Some other mothers coddle or bounce the babe until he is either sick at the stomach of vomits, usually both. Despite the universal notion that some babies are foreordained to suffer from colic, it is really preventable.

Colic is actually pain in the abdomen with more or less distension of gas in the intestines. Its presence indicates that the little sufferer has been given food his stomach can’t manage, or too much or too little of the food he actually needs.

If he is at the breast, it means that his mother’s diet needs adjusting, that she requires a certain amount of fresh water and milk for herself, that her habits are not regular, that she needs rest or exercise.

If fed from the bottle, it may be that the food, even though supposedly excellent milk, is poisoning him.

Vintage breastfeeding tips: The best way to keep your baby healthy (1915)

In each case, the remedy is an appointment with an efficient alert physician. He will determine exactly what the baby needs, what causes the colic.

Then he will write a prescription — not for drugs, not to alleviate for the time being the tummy ache — but one for the dairy or the milk laboratory, and for the mother.

The baby needs pure, nourishing, assimilable food. When a good material supply fails — the most perfect food in the world — cow’s milk properly modified, so that its native cow-sugars, cow-proteids, and cow-fats approach human milk, is made to fit the infant’s digestive powers.

Plain cow’s milk is poison to many babies. Even though freed from the various harmful germs, colic may be manifested. It lacks certain constituents that an infant needs, and contains others that are indigestible. Properly modified, and taken at the hours and intervals laid down by the up-to-date doctor, the child’s colic will fade away forever.

ALSO SEE: The top 50 baby names of 1910

If the doctor finds that the nocturnal crying is not due to ill health, the fault lies with the mother. She fed it whenever it cried; she caused it to associate the act of crying with the acquisition of a meal; she fastened upon it the habit of feeding when it should have been asleep. Such reflex responses are apparent in an infant ten days old.

Next to foolish feeding, as a source of apparent colic, comes over-coddling. Pampering, juggling and kissing a baby after it has been fed is more than likely to produce nausea, if not vomiting. The child cannot tell you of its nausea, so it groans, draws up its little legs, screws its face into pitiful molds — all signs of unhappiness.

Mom and baby 1912

The desire of all aunts, cousins, sisters and grandmothers to “hold baby” or to kiss it, and of all uncles, beaux, granddads and bachelor friends to hoist it to the ceiling, ride it upon ankles, or even to touch it, should be rigorously tabooed.

Now and forever, let there be an end to home doctoring! Though some mothers have learned to beware of the soothing syrups, most parents retain an unwholesome faith in paregoric. For colic, it unhappily remains a dangerous favorite.

While giving a dopey relief, thus removing the pain but not the intrinsic cause of the trouble, the morphine in it often causes the sleep that is mischievous. One or two drops overdose may remove the infant from all future pain. Paregoric [morphine!] should NEVER be used without the advice of your doctor.

Your baby does not need drugs at all. Throw away pernicious pacifiers, chest protectors and belly bands. Give him loose clothing and muscular leeway. Clean frocks, clean milk, clean air, and lots of sunshine will make him free.

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