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The baby that is healthy at birth possesses the power and ability to digest and assimilate, easily and continuously, an amount of food necessary to produce normal growth. This rate of growth cannot be exceeded, although it may be and often is retarded, by feeding the child excessively; for, as many children have growth checked by too much food as by a deficiency.
Most people have a mania for fat babies; they like to be able to say the baby gains a pound a week. This gives rise to excessive feeding. Most of the gastro-intestinal disorders in infants are due solely to too much nursing and can be remedied simply by giving the digestive organs a much needed rest.
When a baby is increasing in weight during the first three months after birth from a half to a pound a week it is merely a rolling on of fat--disease--and is not healthy growth. It is always abnormal and is a snare and a delusion. Fat children do not have great resistance to disease.
From time immemorial it has been thought necessary to keep babies stuffed with something, to keep them growing and fat--they must be fat. From the time they are born until they die, the greatest anxiety has been to keep their little bodies full of something. During the first year of their lives, infants are, as a rule, stuffed early and late. This is the chief cause of the great mortality at this time.
After the first year they are allowed more time between meals and hence a less proportion of them die. About one-third of the deaths are in children under one year and only about one-fifth between the ages of one and five. After the age of five, children are fed on something like a three-meal plan and comparatively few die between the ages of five and twenty. It is true, as a rule, the toughest and therefore the "fittest" do survive.
Dr. Page says:--"The farmer who wants to raise the best possible animal from the calf, lets the creature suckle in the morning at milking-time, and again, at night. He is wise enough to feed his calf only twice and the result is, the calf thrives from birth, and sickness is unknown.
"The same farmer has a baby born, and a contrary course is pursued, with a contrary result. Even before nature supplies the food--before the mother's milk comes--the ignorant nurse undertakes to supply the seeming deficiency, and doses the baby with sweetened water, cow's milk, safron, or the like, instead of giving nothing but what nature supplies, which for the first few days at least is sufficient.
"The dosing referred to results in stomach-ache, and the cries of pain being mistaken for cries of hunger down goes another dose, until finally, when the mother's milk does come, the child's stomach often is in a condition to revolt at anything. If the little victim goes along for a few weeks or months, it is generally fed every hour or oftener, unless it happens to be, as is often the case, in a lethargic state for several hours, sleeping off the surfeit as an adult sleeps off a 'drunk.'
"It is often the case that an infant is eating and vomiting, alternately, from morning till night; indeed, so common is this that it is regarded as altogether natural. It is expected that the child will 'throw up' continually, at least after being fed, and the nurse declares that it is all right--nature takes care of all of that."
"It is not all right; it is all wrong. Nature indeed revolts at this barbarous treatment of the baby's stomach. Early and late, often during the night, as through the day the stomach is kept full and distended, every hiccough is an attempt of the stomach to eject its overload, or evidence of an undigested residue, and the habitual vomiting is simply the result of cramming, until the little, helpless babe has become a confirmed dyspeptic. The mother or nurse habitually flies to the sugar-bowl to relieve the infant's hiccough. But the remedy is worse than the disease; and although the hiccough may disappear, it will, if the habit be continued, be succeeded sooner or later by symptoms of deeper disease in the form of so-called cold, feverishness, etc., the result of the excess of food and excess of saccharine matter."
Happily such gross feeding has disappeared among the better informed classes with a consequent improvement in the health of our babies. But it is still all too true that babies are greatly overfed and are frequently dosed. There are no reasons for doubting that dyspepsia which Page calls "the parent of nearly all our ills," is the result of overfeeding in infancy, confirmed by continued over-indulgence through life.
However well intentioned mothers and nurses may be, the almost universal custom of constantly feeding infants is extremely cruel, and we may be sure that were such mothers and nurses compelled to take food as often and in the same excessive quantities that it is forced upon the baby, night and day, the abuse would soon be ended. The cruelty of the practice would soon be apparent.
Children thus punished sooner or later arrive at a condition where their digestive organs are unable to function efficiently. The constant overwork will impair and cripple them. Then it is that we see children literally starving to death on five, six and even more meals a day. As paradoxical as it may seem, many children starve because of being overfed, just as many adults do.
Dr. Tilden well says: "If mothers could be made to see the fearful price they pay for keeping their babies fat they would hasten to learn a better plan of feeding. Children who are overweight are more susceptible to disease influences than smaller and lighter children. The fat, chubby baby, everything else being equal, is always the one to take the croup, tonsillitis, diphtheria, scarlet fever and, when a few years older, pneumonia, rheumatism and other forms of common diseases."
In his In A Nut Shell, Dr. Dio. Lewis relates the following experience of his: "When I was a boy my sympathies were awakened by what I thought the cruel starving of calves. They were fed only twice a day, morning and evening. Eating all day myself, I thought it very cruel to tie up these poor helpless things, and give them no food or drink from morning till night.
"Each of my brothers had a calf, my sister had a calf, and I had a calf. The others were satisfied with John's assurance that twice a day was enough. I knew better and made such a fuss about their starving my poor little Sam, that the 'powers that be," ordained that the feeding in the case of young Samuel be as his owner directed. Upon the proclamation of this ukase I determined to show 'em what's what, and to make sure I fed Samuel myself, and gave him all he wanted once in two hours.
"At the end of six weeks how the rest of 'em did crow over me. It was true, as they said, that at the beginning of my sausage-stuffing system, as they called it, Samuel was the biggest calf in the lot, but at the end of six weeks what a fall was there my countrymen. Even my smallest brother's little Fan could give Samuel odds. To cap the climax, when we untied and turned them all out together, little spotted Fan went at my Sam, upon whom my hopes had centered as the bully of the yard, and walloped him in no time. For a long time they wouldn't stop plaguing me about that good-for-nothing calf. My little sister asked me one morning at the breakfast table, "how's 'ep 'opher Sam'el this morning.'
"From that day to this I have never advocated the frequent feeding of calves. They do best on two meals a day, and now I have no doubt that some calves I wot of would do vastly better on two meals a day."
At my father's dairy we fed the calves twice a day and they thrived well. I do not recall that we ever had a calf to lie and only one or two to ever be sick. I recall an occasion or two when a calf escaped from the pen and got too much milk, whereupon it would develop a severe diarrhea known among farmers and dairymen as the "scours." In our home the babies were fed every two hours during the day and everytime they cried at night. Colic, constipation, diarrhea, hives, feverishness, croup, colds, and more severe types of disease were as frequent among the children as they were rare among the calves.
In those days the medical profession urged two hour feedings and night feedings as well. Many older peoples have not gotten away from this view yet. They still think that children should be gorged until they are surfeited and sickened or else they are not fed enough.
Long prior to this time, however, Dr. Page and others had proven that three meals a day are enough for a baby. Asserting that no infant can thrive unless well fed and assuming that a well fed baby is one that secures the minimum amount of suitable food that will suffice to produce a comfortable, happy, thriving baby, with body ana limbs well-rounded with flesh, not fat, and whose growth shall be uniform throughout its whole life, and until the frame is fully developed, he declared: "It is my belief, verified by experience in the case of my own infant, and from other substantial proof, that three meals a day, with sufficient restriction at each, will accomplish this end, and are all that should be permitted from birth, and the intervals should be at least five or six hours between meals."
He assumed, and probably correctly, that the rate of growth of the infant after birth should correspond with its rate of growth before birth. In the case of his own child, he says:--"Our three-meal infant has doubled in weight at nine months, verifying, to that extent, my theory that the normal growth of infants corresponds to the (normal) foetal growth. She is taller than the average child at this age, and though less heavy than most children, she is more muscular, and, had I permitted it would have become fat, for she has given abundant evidence of the ability to fatten rapidly on three meals."
He tells us that her sleep was perfect, sound and continuous, there was entire exemption from hiccough, throwing up, colic, constipation, diarrhea, stomach trouble, and all other troubles, and she completely escaped the fat disease, with its pasty complexion. Her limbs lengthened by normal growth, were well-covered and rounded with muscle, her complexion was brown and ruddy from being perfectly nourished and being in the open air during winter, as well as in the spring and summer. She was able to hold her head erect from the fourth day onward, and sat erect on the floor without support at four months.
My own experience corroborates all of this: I believe it to be an invariable rule that babies fed as herein directed grow faster and develop better than the overfed children of the average home. They do not weigh as much, for they are never permitted to become fat. More than once I have stopped all food but orange juice in my own children to counteract a tendency to get too fat.
Any normal baby should be able to hold its head erect at four to six days of age. My own children sat erect in my hand without support, I of course balancing them, at one week. They could stand erect in my hand at three months, and stiffen their little backs and hold themselves out on a perfectly horizontal plane, without support, as I held them just above the knees, at four months. At five months the two boys could, while lying on the back, their feet held down, raise themselves up to a sitting position several times in succession. The girl was practically six months old before she could do this. But she accomplished a new "stunt" I tried. She held herself out horizontally, being held by the legs only, with her back down. All three of them could make a wrestler's bridge at four months. These are only a few of the things they did that the average child does not do.
If children are fed three meals a day and are not overfed, the following high standard will be attained: "ease and comfort through the day and perfect rest at night; freedom from hiccough, vomiting, constipation, 'colds,' diarrhea, digestive disorders, skin eruptions, etc." "There will be a steady gain from month to month, by reason of healthy growth, without the abnormal accumulation of fat so surely indicative of disease." There will be the greatest possible happiness for both the baby and those who care for him. It will not be forever fretting and crying, due to the discomfort of gluttony. Its chances of growing into hale and hearty manhood and womanhood, with good health, and splendid physique, will be increased many-fold.
There is no reasonable basis for the statement, often made, that, while some infants thrive on three meals a day, some probably most, infants would starve unless fed more often. We know that in the feeding of hogs, cows, horses, etc., the ration that suffices for one individual suffices for all. Among adult men and women we do not find the need to feed some of them but three meals a day and others six or eight meals a day .
Infants are fundamentally the same. Their bodies are all constructed alike and function in accordance with the same general principles. One man is a type of the whole race. Young animals, like the calf, kid, etc., which grow more rapidly than does the human infant and reach maturity before the infant has passed babyhood, do not require to be fed as often as we are in the habit of feeding infants.
Dr. Page weaned a kitten at six weeks of age and put her on two meals a day of milk and whole wheat bread. Her meals were served at 8 A. M. and at 8 P. M. When she was two-thirds grown, he says of her that she "has outstripped the others of the same litter, who have been fed oftener in thrift and growth, and in muscular activity she excels them all. Certainly no one could well imagine a livelier kitten than 'Topsy.' In flesh her condition has remained about the same as when feeding was commenced."
That overfeeding tends to stunt growth is well proven. Why should we go on stuffing our children in an effort to fatten them or to force them to grow more rapidly than normal?
Dr. Tilden says that: "If a child (on the three meal plan) grows thin and really loses weight after the second week it will not be an indication that it is not fed often enough. My experience has been that the mother's milk is deficient is some of the important elements, or that she does not give enough."
In discussing the three meal plan he says: "If an infant is properly cared for from birth it will not be awake oftener than two or three times we will say three times in twenty-four hours. This, then, I assume is as often as nursing children should be fed, and I have succeeded in influencing a few mothers to feed their babies according to this plan, and the results have been gratifying, indeed.
"The children are smaller (not fat) and very active, and much stronger and brighter than children fed in the ordinary way."
He also says: "Children fed three times a day will not be troubled with constipation and will not have white curds in the discharges from the bowels."