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CIO spin-off...how'd they do it 200 years ago?

post #1 of 74
Thread Starter 
Something I've been wondering about for a long time...

How did women respond to their babies needs back in colonial times and during the days of the pioneers? They had many kids and lots of work to do around the house. There were no dishwashers, clothes washers and driers or even showers! Didn't they have the babies in the cradle crying part of the time so they could make dinner on the hearth? It had to be crazy and there had to be some CIO going on.

I know many of them may have had extended family or older children to help, but not all. In fact, I know it was common for women to practically work themselves to death back then with all of the household responsibilities and the physical demands of childbirth/child rearing. How did those babies fair with all of that going on?

Imagine having 3 kids under 5 in some cabin in the middle of nowhere with no modern conveniences! Somebody must have been doing some crying (other than the moms, I mean. ) Was babywearing common in early America?

In other societies in developing nations, they must also face many of these problems. Does babywearing take care of all of these issues?

I put an incredible amount of pressure on myself to hold my dd as much as humanly possible when she was a baby, but what was humanly possible back then?
post #2 of 74
I doubt there was a lot of baby wearing going on in colonial times. I'm not basing that off of anything but a guess.

I know that some cultures in developing nations are big on babywearing. I did read something recently in National Geographic though that leads me to believe that it's not an across the board popular solution. I was reading about a people where the popular practice seems to be to train their children not to cry by making small cuts on their cheeks because tears make cuts sting. I imagine it's not the first group of people to figure that out.
post #3 of 74
Well, obviously most people had to nurse so they probably carried them around and nursed them a lot, out of necessity. I don't know if they tied them on with some kind of sling or something.

Someone here on MDC wrote that there was a group-- Pilgrims I think?-- who would swaddle the babies and hang them on hooks on the wall.

Obviously they must have had babies crying in the cradle some of the time, as you say. The big difference would have been that they wouldn't have CIO'd at night as a deliberate "training" method-- they tended to co-sleep or at least sleep in the same room, because when you only have one room, that's how it works.

Just curious, that group that makes cuts on the babies' cheeks-- do they live in a location where there are either lots of hostile people, or lots of dangerous large animals? Or did they in the fairly-recent past? Because I can see where in a place like that, keeping babies quiet to avoid alerting enemies to their presence could be considered the lesser of two evils.

I recently had a conversation with a woman who had her children in the 40s and 50s, out in the Georgia country where they were not yet on-grid back then-- they lived very 19th-century lives in that town, except for having better and more-available schools. She admired my Ergo and stroller, saying they just carried babies around everywhere when she had babies. I guess there was a lot of one-handed cooking going on.
post #4 of 74
Forget 200 years ago, out here, that's how people grew up only 60 yrs ago! DH's father had 11 brothers and sisters and grew up in a 4 room farmhouse with dirt floors and no indoor plumbing until he was in his teens. It was amazing to hear some of dh's grandmothers stories before she passed. 9 of her children were born at home, with no plumbing!!! She was my hero!

As for how her babies faired (and obviously it's a different situation)... but they are an amazingly close family. We live on a road with 8 of dh's aunts/uncles and we (as a family) still farm an 18 acre farm at the "old house" where FIL grew up. As for CIO specifically, the older kids were pretty much responsible for taking care of the little ones. While their mother was attentive, she was also incredibly busy (can you imagine having 12 kids in 17 years?). I think that they got most of their physical contact from their sibblings, and all the kids slept together in 2 rooms, so probably not a lot of crying at night either.

I can't even begin to imagine people cutting their children to stop them from crying. How heartbreaking.

eta - lolar2 good point about the safety of not crying, while I still can't imagine it, I can see how in that circumstance it might be the lesser of 2 evils.
post #5 of 74
I read WAY back when, in elementary school I think, about a white person visiting Native Americans (this wasn't a novel btw) and noticing the babies NEVER cried - in comparison to the babies who cried all the time where he came from. The "Indians" would put their hands over the babies' mouths and noses before they had their first cry, and I guess as long as it took to make sure they didn't cry. Somehow this extinguished the cry, even though a few babies died if they were smothered too long or fought too hard. They needed the babies to stay quiet so they wouldn't give their location away to enemies or prey.

I swore up and down I would do that when I grew up... it seemed a REALLY good idea to me when I was like seven years old. Yeahhhh maybe not.
post #6 of 74
Historically people lived in multigenerational homes where parents coslept with their babies and grandparents helped care for the next generation. As pointed out, when you had fewer rooms, everyone slept in the same room. Remember Laura Ingalls Wilder slept in a trundle bed in the shared bedroom with her parents.

Re: that story about Indians putting their hands over babies mouths. I am extremely suspicious of that story. Usually stories like that were written by european colonists who viewed everything the indians did with suspicion and considered them savages. The reason indian babies didn't cry was because they were carried everywhere and everyone coslept.

btw, I use the term "indians" as used by the colonists. No disrespect intended.

Keeping babies separate from their parents is a modern, western 20th century idea.
post #7 of 74
Quote:
Originally Posted by lolar2 View Post
Just curious, that group that makes cuts on the babies' cheeks-- do they live in a location where there are either lots of hostile people, or lots of dangerous large animals? Or did they in the fairly-recent past? Because I can see where in a place like that, keeping babies quiet to avoid alerting enemies to their presence could be considered the lesser of two evils.
This group is one of the last truly nomadic hunter-gatherer groups in the world. So the cutting most likely developed as a survival mechanism, yes.
post #8 of 74
Yes - I always think the intense anti-crying, pro-babywearing, "it's natural", thing is kind of funny. In an actual tribal culture, say, you don't wear your baby because it's "better", you wear your baby because you have to go dig roots or nobody eats. And if your baby cries all the way to the root field and back, that's just too bad.

I'm pretty sure parents have always had a pretty tough time.
post #9 of 74
Quote:
Originally Posted by verde View Post
The reason indian babies didn't cry was because they were carried everywhere and everyone coslept.
So was my DS and he cried nonstop for the first year.
post #10 of 74
I would also think that if there was a, say, colicky baby who jeopardized the group by scaring away prey or alerting enemies, well, probably they would be left in the bush or something unless babies were really scarce. Just as children with disabilities were often abandoned as well. Sad but I guess it's natural selection. I've read that mothers who have difficult children (more difficult than just "difficult" but ones with actual special needs) often don't bond with them and want to "replace" them with another baby - presumably because it's not worth the energy investment to have a sickly baby. (ETA: OBVIOUSLY this is not meant as a jab at all mothers of difficult babies, please don't start flaming. It's NOT a given. But I know I've read that women who have less social support and resources AND who have needier-than-normal babies have an increased risk of postpartum depression where they don't bond with the baby - presumably because it's more energy to keep him/her alive than is "evolutionarily" acceptable. Please don't take my comment wrong - I know it's not the case in all scenarios!!)

Of course, humans are, well, humans and not purely animal, although I think the instincts are there and they come out at some points of human history depending on the current culture. We *do* keep sick people alive, we do care for the old who are no longer contributing, etc. But basically in a situation where the tribe's well-being depends on the ability to stay silent, I can't imagine a baby would be allowed to jeopardize that. (Obviously this is way back, not colonial time or whatever.)
post #11 of 74
I've thought about this before and my assumption is that babies likely spent a lot of time crying. Diaper rash would have been one big thing, it was commonplace for a baby to be changed once a day. I remember reading that in a history of diapers when researching cloth diapers. There was also a lot of infant and childhood mortality so I would think mothers wouldn't bond with their babies the way we do today. I remember being told by my 99 year old great aunt that she was sickly as a child and a relative told her mother when she was four years old to "not get too attached to this one". It was assumed at the turn of the last century that not all of your children would live into adulthood. I guess if I was faced with that knowledge I would be more callous to my children since it could potentially be heartbreaking to bond with them. I guess my point is that maybe women 100+ years ago didn't care about the crying, to them it was just something babies did.
post #12 of 74

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Edited by GoestoShow - 1/11/11 at 10:07am
post #13 of 74
Maybe I'm showing my ignorance of history, but as far as colonial times in the US, weren't children/babies raised by babynurses? Seen and not heard? The women would have the children and pass them off to the wetnurse/nanny. Usually a black woman? I feel terrible even typing that but I seem to recall a lot of this in imagery even from Colonial Williamsburg and in paintings I learned in art history courses.

I believe that in the days of pioneers and the push towards the west, the women were more more hands on and I believe they did babywear. But I also think the more children they had the more responsibility the older children had to raise their brothers and sisters, leaving the mother free to do more housework and chores.
post #14 of 74
Quote:
Originally Posted by verde View Post
Historically people lived in multigenerational homes where parents coslept with their babies and grandparents helped care for the next generation. As pointed out, when you had fewer rooms, everyone slept in the same room. Remember Laura Ingalls Wilder slept in a trundle bed in the shared bedroom with her parents.

Re: that story about Indians putting their hands over babies mouths. I am extremely suspicious of that story. Usually stories like that were written by european colonists who viewed everything the indians did with suspicion and considered them savages. The reason indian babies didn't cry was because they were carried everywhere and everyone coslept.

btw, I use the term "indians" as used by the colonists. No disrespect intended.

Keeping babies separate from their parents is a modern, western 20th century idea.
Yeah, I am wondering about this, too. Although I suppose some tribes might have had different methods. I recall reading that some tribes would actually meet their child's needs so quickly, the child learned never to cry. They used signing too. I do remember it was for the same reason (so their location wouldn't be given away).



Quote:
Originally Posted by GoestoShow View Post
I wouldn't be so quick to suggest that the American colonialists didn't let babies cry it out, though I suppose it may depend a little more on who you're talking about. If you're speaking particularly of the 17th century New England colonies and the puritains, then you're talking about people who believed that you either were saved or damned from birth, and if you were damned, you couldn't do anything about it and were just going to hell anyway, but if you were saved, you probably wouldn't know it so it's just better to think you're damned. You're also talking about the people for whom Michael Wigglesworth was a celebrity. And "The Day of Doom" includes such sentiments that babies who died before baptism were little better off than murderers. Just sayin'. These were a very harsh people for whom suffering was a chosen way of life. If they didn't let babes cry it out as a means of teaching, they sure likely inflicted other harms on them.

I was going to post along these lines. The early history of our country is IMO why we have certain violent parenting methods. The Puritanism was a rigid way of living. I think their views and way of living dug itself into the early medical industry, such as with Watson and his book on childcare, the complete denial of infants being able to feel pain, routine circumcision to banish "sexual sins" etc.

I would not consider American parenting history to be "natural" or anything to follow.

IIRC these views were also pushed onto their slaves. I remember reading a story about how slave women were forced to put their children in a hallowed out log while cotton picking. After a flash rain storm, the babies drowned.
post #15 of 74

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Edited by GoestoShow - 1/11/11 at 10:08am
post #16 of 74
if we are going for hunter-gatherer societies a loud baby would be a good thing as children and infants are 'worn'/carried up until about 5 most of the time, nursed on demand and cosleep so the being loud would be being heard within a large family bed, or helping to scare of animals from a group.. Since women as a group - multi-generational and multifamily - are raising the children and they collect food/etc. about 2-3 days a week on their own schedule they purposefully talk loud/make noise so that animals are scared away from the group and they can gather in peace. That being said the hunters are going away for 2-3 days from camp to hunt in male-only groups so the babies back home, while they may be involved when they are in camp, don't do much for hunting good or bad.
post #17 of 74
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by elus0814 View Post
I've thought about this before and my assumption is that babies likely spent a lot of time crying. Diaper rash would have been one big thing, it was commonplace for a baby to be changed once a day. I remember reading that in a history of diapers when researching cloth diapers. There was also a lot of infant and childhood mortality so I would think mothers wouldn't bond with their babies the way we do today. I remember being told by my 99 year old great aunt that she was sickly as a child and a relative told her mother when she was four years old to "not get too attached to this one". It was assumed at the turn of the last century that not all of your children would live into adulthood. I guess if I was faced with that knowledge I would be more callous to my children since it could potentially be heartbreaking to bond with them. I guess my point is that maybe women 100+ years ago didn't care about the crying, to them it was just something babies did.
Yeah, this makes a lot of sense. When reading about families back in George Washington's time, there could have been 4 0r 5 children and only 1 or 2 made it to adulthood. The attachment may have suffered, or there was just an exponential increase in heartbreak.
post #18 of 74
I don't know of any evidence that the attachment was less; it just was less of a shock when death occurred. When I've read writings about the deaths of children that were written when it was more common, the only major distinction I've noticed from modern western writings about losing a child, is the element of surprise. (I mean, think of your parents and grandparents-- you know you'll almost certainly outlive them, but that doesn't make you callous towards them.)

And I just don't see how people living in one room would make babies cry it out-- wouldn't it be, at the very least, tremendously annoying to lie there awake in the room while the baby cried in the cradle next to your bed all night? How would you sleep? In a big house, maybe, but not in a small one.

Now leaving them to cry in the cradle while adults worked during the day, sure, I definitely could see that happening. Especially if safety wasn't an issue. But they obviously did rock and sing to soothe children, and bounce them around-- that evidence is present in lullabies.

The harsh things they did, that I've read about anyway, included a lot of physical punishment, and abrupt weaning (although they didn't wean until about 2 years old if I remember correctly). But some of the modern harsh child-care methods would have been impractical in a lot of situations.
post #19 of 74
I think it is very difficult to compare the attachment/parenting principles of today with those of yesteryear. My guess is that our views on babyhood and childhood are much, much different than in the old days (whether it was 50, 100 or 1000 years ago). While most children were probably much loved by their parents, the issues of attachment and bonding and child development were probably not on many parents' radars. Life was incredibly harsh for many people, and the focus was more likely on the survival of the family/group rather than the intricacies of child attachment and development. There were other issues as well. For example, my now deceased grandmother remembers having to sit on hard-backed chairs for hours reading religious texts as soon as she had learned to read. The comfort and happiness of the child (at least in my grandmother's case) was not considered or questioned. Whether her comfort and happiness as a baby were considered is questionable...since she couldn't remember.
post #20 of 74
You know, in the Little House books, Ma is always rocking the little sisters to sleep. I remember two distinct passages where she rocks Grace to sleep.
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