Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Victorian Babies

 I picked up a book at the library on a whim a couple of weeks ago, and couldn't put it down. It's fascinating! It's titled Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England, by Judith Flanders. It's a very lengthy book, and very thoroughly researched. Ms. Flanders follows the timeline of a life from infancy to death, and uses that timeline to go through each room of a Victorian London home. And the thing I love most about this book is that she doesn't limit herself to a simple catalog of items in the rooms - she explains in great detail the "zeitgeist" of the times, including etiquette, social expectations, finances, servant/child/parent/guest relationships, etc. So many things that have been mentioned in passing in other books (Anne of Green Gables, Little Women for examples) now make more sense and have a much more substantial meaning. And it also makes me very happy that I didn't live in Victorian London because quite frankly it sounds filthy!!

Anyway, all nerdiness aside, my favorite parts of the book involve the care of infants and children. It's so interesting seeing how infants were cared for, and how much infant care has evolved from the 1840's to now. Here are some of the tidbits I've learned - I thought other mommas might find this fun to read too!

* The average married woman in the 1870's spent a dozen years of her married life either being pregnant or breastfeeding, with an average of 5.5 births.

* Infants that weren't able to nurse for whatever reason were fed from bottles. In 1860, infants were generally given a gruel made from some combination of bread crumbs, flour, sugar, and cow's milk or water. Prepared infant food had just become available but it was very expensive and many families couldn't afford it.

* Teething was a dreaded ailment for Victorian babies, and was blamed for everything and anything, including fever, convulsions, rolling of the eyes, and labored breathing. If teething was left untreated (by purgatives, warm baths, teething ring, or lancing the gums), it was believed that it would lead to serious problems like brain inflammation, rickets, or water on the brain (no idea what that means).

* Many children and infant medicines at the time contained opium, chloral hydrate, and cannabis.

* The Victorian medical community had concerns about keeping infant bowels in place, so mothers would wrap their infants in a tight belly band underneath their clothes.

* Rich or "superfluous" foods were considered unwholesome, and feeding your child such foods was thought to lead to a corruption of moral character, as well as indigestion. Even at the end of the 19th century, the common advice for children was to only give them vegetables on occasion, and fruits rarely - if ever. Potatoes were not considered to be a vegetable and given at almost every lunch and dinner. Breakfast for children was usually toast, porridge, and milk or water.

* Victorian funerals went through a very elaborate phase, with plenty of pageantry. The "pageant" costumes for adults were all black, but if the funeral was for a child, all of the costumes, drapery, and other fabrics were switched out for white.

(much thanks to for the Victorian images!)

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