For You General

Then And Now – What We Have Learnt!

MedicineLittle in life remains the same – and just about every year, we hear about bans that have been imposed on seemingly innocent objects or items, and we wonder if the hype is really necessary, or is it just a case of society becoming too pedantic and far too over-sensitive.

Before we can answer this question, let’s go back through the years to see how much has changed over the ages.  First off, smoking – in 1911, it was acceptable to smoke (anywhere – even in hospitals). Those who chose not to smoke were thought to be out of the ordinary – and even pregnant and nursing moms were told that smoking would have no effect on their babies. When experts began to realise that there was a definite link between smoking and cancer, or when smoking was blamed for stillbirths or lowered birth weights in infants, the general public were probably unsure how they should react to the news. Probably the most common response was -I smoked and my babies are fine!

In 1963, almost 50 years ago, a book entitled -Expectant Motherhood’ was written by Nicholson J. Eastman, MD who recommended that expectant mothers should smoke no more than 10 cigarettes per day. The reason for Dr Eastman advising soon-to-be moms to cut down on the habit is because experts had made the connection that smoking could lead to a lower birth weight – however, he stated that if smoking is indeed the cause, it still has to be established!

When it comes to alcohol and pregnancy, the Canadian Mother and Child handbook, had peculiar views relating to drinking and pregnancy. In 1970, over 40 years ago, they advised women to limit their drinking – but not because the alcohol had an effect on the unborn baby, but because drinking could produce a false sense of security in that women may become careless about their health, and stay up too late. However, if women want to take a drink – a limited amount will do no harm!



In 1957, a little over 50 years ago, a wonder drug called, Thalidomide was launched. This incredible drug was thought to be the end-all cure for every ailment, from insomnia to coughs and colds, and pregnant women were prescribed Thalidomide to alleviate the effects of morning sickness. When the wonder drug was first launched, the developers of the drugs and the doctors who prescribed the drugs thought it was highly unlikely (if not impossible) that any drug could have any effect on an unborn baby and certainly the placental barrier would safeguard the developing foetus. Today, we know that this is not true, however, in the late 1950s and the early 1960s, over 10 000 babies were born with severe birth deformities (such as missing toes, fingers, limbs, etc.) – a direct result of their mother ingesting the all-new miracle wonder drug, Thalidomide.


Parenting advice

Over and above the prescription of drugs to reduce the symptoms of morning sickness, the parenting advice that was offered to young mothers was no less shocking. For instance, a 1928 advice columnist, Stella Pines wrote that mothers should only give birth in a hospital which trains newborns to sleep through the night! She is quoted in her parenting advice column as saying -Nearly all babies cry for the first five or six nights. It does them no harm unless in excess. In fact the exercise helps to establish good lung capacity.

Almost a decade later, parenting advice continued to roll in and in 1936, John W.S. McCullough, MD, stated that moms run the risk of spoiling their babies if they give them too much attention, he is quoted as saying, and –Children under two should not be in the parents’ company too much.

In the early 1940s, a very well-read and popular parenting handbook, -The Canadian Mother and Child’ writes about the importance of beginning toilet training as early as possible. Strangely the guidebook is not talking about starting potty training when a child reaches the age of two – these so- called childcare experts recommended that potty training should commence when baby is just one month old (yes, one month old)!!  The well-liked and widely accepted handbook gave moms some particularly startling advice to help with the potty training by writing, -Usually a child, when a month old, will go to stool at a definite time of the day, or it may be trained to this by the use of soap suppositories or a rubber catheter which will act as a stimulant to bowel action…. Later, at about the fifth or sixth month, the child may be made to sit on a specially constructed toilet chair.

Due to the popularity of this Canadian childcare book, one wonders, how much of this information and advice was taken to heart and how many parents actually tried to start potty training their newborn infant – or worse, used soap suppositories? With all the bizarre and almost barbaric advice being passed around by those who claimed to be experts on childcare and paediatrics, it is little wonder that Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care (1946) book become an instant hit and parents in many countries, around the world, heeded the fresh and seemingly level-headed advice that Dr Spock dished out. The difference between Dr Spock’s range of childcare books is that the advice was extremely flexible and his advice on childcare were based on his idea that parents should aim to treat their children as individuals (and that all babies are different). Parents were advised to attempt to meet their child’s needs, rather than raising children in a rigid manner.

Before Dr Spock, the so-called experts warned mothers against picking up a crying baby, that this was seen as spoiling them and they should be left to cry. Dr Spock also encouraged mothers to listen to their instincts, whereas previously experts blatantly told new mothers that childcare had to be learnt (from doctors and other professionals)! Prior to Dr Spock’s child-friendly advice, parents were told that infants and children should not be kissed or hugged, as this would make them weak and they would not build up a strong character, a necessary trait to make it in the world. Millions of parents began to willingly follow Dr Spock’s flexible and concerned childcare advice and his books have been accredited to a reversal in the harsh and rigid parenting techniques of the past! Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare book is still in circulation and can be found on the shelves of bookshops around the world.


The decline of breastfeeding

100 years ago, babies were breastfed exclusively and mothers who were unable to breastfeed needed to enlist the help of a wet nurse, who would breastfeed the baby on a mother’s behalf. However in 1970, the popular handbook The Canadian Mother and Child book reared its head and began to suggest alternatives to breastfeeding. In a 1970 edition, the guidebook suggested that fresh cow’s milk, canned evaporated whole or half-skimmed milk as well as powdered whole milk are ideal substitutes for breast milk, but moms would need to add granulated sugar or corn syrup to this formula!


Giving birth way back then…

In 1960, Canadair (an aircraft manufacturer) developed a rather odd contraption that was designed to assist women in childbirth. The contraption was called the -abdominal decompression chamber and was designed to fit snugly over the birthing mother’s abdomen. By reducing pressure on the abdomen, this somewhat odd contraption was believed to relax muscles and reduce pain during the early stages of labour! Fitted to the -abdominal decompression chamber was a standard vacuum cleaner! The question is how many women opted for this bizarre contraption. Thankfully, this new wonder invention did not become a hit and is hopefully now only found in the -Ripley’s Believe it or Not vault.

Today, women who give birth are thankful for the support that is provided by their partners during the delivery. However, in the 1960s and -70s expectant fathers were banned from labour wards. Most fathers did not even make it to the hospital and spent their day surrounded by friends in a nearby bar enjoying a round of celebratory drinks, while their wives were giving birth. In 1967, when many US and Canadian hospitals were toying with the idea of permitting fathers into the delivery room, not all obstetricians favoured the decision, many finding the thought of a husband present during the delivery to be quite distasteful! South African hospitals took a little longer to follow suit and by the early 1980s men were able to attend the birth of their child.

Parenting has undergone dozens of changes in the last 50 years – the question is will the decisions we have been making as parents, caregivers, etc. be considered as bizarre in 2051?


 – Kathy


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