Babies then and now
‘Crying is good exercise’ and other gems from when granny had her babies.
Each time I was in hospital having my babies, I was struck by the conviction with which some of the nurses spouted utter tripe about baby care:

‘You should feed him every four hours,’ one offered sagely.

‘If she only feeds from one breast, she’s not getting enough,’ warned another of my little bird-girl who weighed less than 2kg at the time.

‘She should go back to the nursery because she’ll get cold here in the room with you,’ argued yet another.

Fortunately, we’ve moved on from scheduled feeding and believing baby should never be in our bed. But I was intrigued enough by those outdated beliefs to find out just how different it was for moms of former generations.

Injecting a rabbit

Dr Ingrid de Kok, author of Your Baby and You (1957), writes that ‘you will realize that even your doctor cannot be absolutely certain you have conceived until about 3 months after your baby’s conception. If, for some special reason, you wish to be certain much sooner, you can have a special pregnancy test. For this purpose a specimen of your early morning urine is necessary. This is sent to a laboratory. In these tests the urine is injected into an animal, and if pregnancy has occurred, certain changes in the animal take place. The result of the test can generally be obtained in four or five days.’

A world away from my pregnancy with my last baby: It was about 5 minutes after conception (I’m only half-joking) when I hot-footed it to a pharmacy to buy a R16 pregnancy test. By the next morning, it was confirmed that Jonah was on his way.

Healthy pregnancy

It’s common sense to eat healthily during pregnancy. But someone forgot to pass that memo on to my body. During my first pregnancy, I craved only green things. So lettuce leaves, spinach, avocado and brussel sprouts were my staples. During the second pregnancy, though, I couldn’t cram enough Big Macs into my body. I craved them for breakfast, tea, lunch, and supper. Not a great diet for baby, but before you judge me, feast your eyes on this outdated wisdom:

De Kok writes of staying healthy: ‘A large number of women find they lose all desire to smoke when they become pregnant. This is as it should be. It is wise…to give up cigarettes for your baby’s sake, or at any rate reduce them to only a few a day. Alcohol, too, should only be taken in moderation.’

Feeding baby

Eileen Unwin, author of Child Care (1963) asserts that ‘baby should be fed every four hours – at 6am, 10am, 2pm, 6pm, 10pm, unless otherwise suggested by a doctor or the health visitor. A healthy baby, who is taking his food well and having enough of it, will soon learn to sleep through the night. This should be encouraged from the first. Mother should not start a habit of taking him into her bed during the night or giving him a feed.’

Try telling my children that. They were hungry when they were hungry and despite all the best intentions, all of them spent most of their first year in the marital bed.

Hurrah for modern methods!

There are plenty more gems in baby care books of the 1950s and 60s: babies being left to cry because it’s good exercise for the lungs; parked outside in their prams because fresh air wards off disease; and moms told not to pick their babies up too much for fear of spoiling them.

We all adopt different methods to care for our babies, but let’s raise a glass to modern medicine and those forward-thinkers who gave us permission to feed our babies when they’re hungry, cuddle them just because they’re so delicious, and raise them to be human beings and not automatons.

What outdated wisdom are you glad is no longer applied?

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.


Read Parent24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.


Want to know what your baby looks like and what you can expect at this stage?




Play creatively

Don’t let your little one’s frustration with wanting to ‘get things just right’ stop them from playing creatively.

See more >


Everything from parties to pre-schools in your area.