A Guide to Health/Part 2/Chapter 9

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A Guide to Health  (1921) 
Mohandas K. Gandhi, translated by A. Rama Iyer
Care of Child
S. Ganesan pages 121-126

Chapter IX


We do not propose in this chapter to describe the duties of a midwife or wet nurse, but only to point out how the child should be cared for after birth. Those who have read the foregoing chapters need not be told how injurious it is to keep the mother during the period of confinement in a dark and ill-ventilated closet and to make her lie on a dirty bed with a fire underneath. These practices, however time-honoured they may be, are nevertheless fraught with dangerous consequences. No doubt, during the cold season, the mother should be kept warm, but this is best done by using good blankets. If the apartment is too cold and a fire has to be kept, it must be lighted outside and only brought in when all the smoke has disappeared, and even then it should not be kept under the cot on which she lies. Warmth may also be given by keeping bottles of hot water on the bed. All the clothes and sheets should be thoroughly cleansed after child-birth, and before being used again.

As the health of the child will depend entirely on that of the mother, special attention must be paid to her diet and mode of living. If she is fed on wheat, with plenty of good fruits like the plantain, and olive oil she would feel warm and strong, and have plenty of milk. Olive oil gives aperient properties to the mother's milk, and thus serves to keep the child free from constipation. If the child is unwell, attention must be turned to the state of the mother's health. Administering drugs to the child is as good as murdering it, for the child with its delicate constitution, easily succumbs to their poisonous effects. Hence the medicine should be administered to the mother, so that its beneficial properties may be transmitted to the child through her milk. If the child suffers, as it often does, from cough or loose bowels, there is no cause for alarm; we should wait for a day or so, and try to get at the root of the trouble, and then remove it. Making fuss over it and falling into a panic only makes matters worse.

The child should invariably be bathed in tepid water. Its clothing should be as little as possible; for a few months it is best to have none at all. The child should be laid on a thin soft white sheet and covered with a warm cloth. This will obviate the need for the use of shirts, prevent the clothes from getting dirty, and make the child hardy and strong. A fine piece of cloth folded into four should be placed over the navel-string, and kept in position by a band over it. The practice of tying a thread to the navel-string and hanging it round the neck is highly injurious. The navel-band should be kept loose. If the part round the navel be moist, fine well-sifted flour may be gently applied over it.

As long as the supply of the mother's milk is sufficient, the child should be fed exclusively on it; but, when it gets insufficient, fried wheat well powdered, and mixed with hot water and a little of jaggery, may be used as a substitute with quite good results. Half a plantain well mashed and mixed with half a spoonful of olive oil is also particularly beneficial. If cow's milk has to be given, it should at first be mixed with water in the proportion of three to one, and then heated until it just begins to boil, when a little of pure jaggery should also be added. The use of sugar instead of jaggery is harmful. The child should gradually be accustomed to a fruit-diet, so that its blood may be kept pure from the very beginning, and it may grow manly and bright. Those mothers who begin to feed their children on things like rice, vegetables and dhall, as soon as or even before its teeth have appeared, are doing them infinite harm. Needless to say, coffee and tea should be strictly eschewed.

When the child has grown big enough to walk, it may be clothed with kurta and the like, but its feet should still be kept bare, so that it may be free to roam about at will. The use of shoes prevents the free circulation of blood and the development of hardy feet and legs. Dressing the child in silk or lace cloths, with cap and coat, and ornaments, is a barbarous practice. Our attempt to enhance by such ridiculous means the beauty that Nature has given, only bespeaks our vanity and ignorance. We should always remember that the education of the child really begins from its very birth, and is best given by the parents themselves. The use of threats and punishments, and the practice of gorging the children with food, are an outrage on the principles of true education. As the old saying has it, "like parent, like child"; hence the example and practice of the parents necessarily shape the conduct and character of the children. If they are weaklings, their children also grow up weak and delicate; if they talk clearly and distinctly, so too will the children; but if they talk with a lisp, the children will also learn to do so. If they use foul language, or are addicted to bad habits, the children necessarily imitate them, and develop into bad characters. In fact, there is no field of human activity in which the child does not imitate the example of its parents.

We see, then, how heavy is the responsibility that rests on the shoulders of parents. The very first duty of a man is to give such education to his children as will make them honest and truthful, and an ornament to the society in which they live. In the animal and vegetable kingdoms, the offspring invariably takes after the parent. Man alone has violated this law of Nature. It is only among men that we see such incongruities as vicious children being born to virtuous parents, or sickly ones to the healthy. This is due to the fact that we thoughtlessly become parents when we are not mature enough to assume the responsibilities of that position. It is the solemn duty of all virtuous parents to train their children in noble ways. This requires that both the father and the mother should themselves have received a sound education. Where the parents lack such education and are aware of their imperfections, it is their duty to entrust their children to the care of proper guardians. It is foolish to expect that a high character can be developed in the children by merely sending them to school. Where the training given at school is inconsistent with that given at home, there can be no hope of improvement for the child.

As already pointed out, the true education of the child begins from the very moment of its birth. The rudiments of knowledge are imbibed almost in the course of play. This, indeed, was the ancient tradition; the practice of sending children to school is a growth of yesterday. If only the parents would do their duty by their children, there would be no limit to the possibilities of their advancement. But, in fact, we make playthings of our children. We deck their persons with fine clothes and jewels, we gorge them with sweetmeats, and spoil them from their very infancy by fondlings and caresses. We let them go unchecked on their way in our false affection for them. Being ourselves miserly, sensuous, dishonest, slothful and uncleanly, is it to be wondered at that our children should follow in our foot steps, and turn out weak and vicious, selfish and slothful, sensuous and immoral? Let all thoughtful parents ponder well over these matters; for on them depends the future of our land.