It all started innocently enough. I went on Etsy in search of artwork for my kids’ bedrooms, and two hours later found myself purchasing six parenting magazines from the 1950s.
I anxiously awaited their arrival. I couldn’t wait to peruse the ads and laugh at the parenting advice. Surely it would be a hoot!
Indeed, there was a lot of stuff you wouldn’t read about today.
Back then, apparently, it was an absolute must to bathe babies every day, and up to three times a day in the summer. I realize a lot of people today also give baths everyday, but more as a way to establish a routine, not as a requirement on the same level as feeding or changing diapers. Based on ads and articles, “bathinettes” were a must-have piece of baby furniture. They were changing tables (often on wheels) that could be taken into the kitchen or bathroom. The changing table folded out of the way to reveal a tub that was filled with water for bathing baby then drained with a hose.
(It turns out there are companies that still make these today. Given the current generation’s obsession with baby products, I’m actually surprised these aren’t more common.)
Babies were to be given sunbaths starting at one month. You were to set the baby in the sun for one minute, working up to 30 minutes per day. (You were supposed to avoid direct sunlight on very hot days.)
Babies should start having orange or tomato juice around 1-2 months old, and solids might be started around that time, too.
One of the magazines had a whole article about hospitals. Back then, hospitals had formula rooms where trained nurses did nothing but make various baby formulas according to doctors’ orders. Fathers had their own waiting rooms, of course. Mothers stayed in the hospital for six or seven days, and their babies typically stayed in the nursery the whole time. (Babies were supposed to be brought to mothers to breastfeed, although it sounds like the nurses didn’t always comply.) This was by far the strangest passage in the hospital article:
First of all, what is all this talk you have heard about hospitals looking so dreary? Modern hospital rooms actually look very cheerful! The walls are usually painted in a soft pastel shade. So is the ceiling, for that matter. No wonder a patient doesn’t mind looking at it for long hours at a stretch, when it’s easy on the eyes.
What surprised me most, though, was that most of the advice was along the same lines as what you’d read in mainstream parenting magazines today. If you’re breastfeeding, feed baby on demand. When introducing solid foods, don’t force something that baby doesn’t like.
There were reminders that it’s not possible to spoil a baby, and admonitions against “advice from the 1930s” that crying is good for exercising a baby’s lungs.
There were recipes, just like you’d see in today’s magazines, including ideas for using a whole chicken. Today’s photos would probably be a little more appealing, though.
One of the most interesting things I read about was the suggestion to “send” a baby-shower to a friend who lives far away. The suggestion from a 1952 Baby Talk was to have all of the attendees arrive at the hostess’s house with unwrapped gifts. The ladies would then chat, snack, write notes to the expectant mom, and wrap up their gifts after ooh-ing and ahh-ing over them. Then all the gifts would be boxed together and mailed to the pregnant mommy, who could open the gifts with her husband, who wouldn’t have been at a traditional shower, of course. These days, people sometimes have “cyber-showers,” which seem to be met with varying levels of approval.
An article on safety revealed many of the same tips we’d read today: No pillows in baby’s crib. Make sure small objects are out of reach. Watch out for lead paint on toys! Never leave baby unattended in the bathtub, even for a minute. There was even a caution against the looped cords on Venetian blinds. Car seats were recommended, too, but not to protect in a crash: The main purpose was to keep baby from falling over and to prevent the driver from being distracted.
Stay tuned for the next installment to see some car seat ads and other cool ’50s baby products!