by Jarrah Hodge
Thrift shopping with my mom and boyfriend in North Vancouver the other day I came across a real gem: a 1947 printing of the Canadian government’s handbook The Canadian Mother and Child, by Ernest Couture, M.D., Director of the Division of Child and Maternal Health.
A little context: this is the 7th printing of the 1st edition of the handbook, and it was a really popular guide that ended up being published and distributed every year for over 30 years. An article from Canadian Encyclopedia describes how important this book and other similar guides were to women in the 1940s:
In the 1940s, child-rearing was done, literally, by the book. Janet Berton vividly remembers the one she used -Canadian Mother and Child, a brochure from the federal health department that her doctor gave her when her first child, Penny, was born in 1948. “It had wonderful pictures of old, old, old-fashioned babies and nurses in black and white,” says Berton, who with her husband, author Pierre Berton, raised a family of eight children. “But it was pretty authoritarian. You had to do exactly what it said.” Berton says she tried to follow the rules for feeding an infant on a strict timetable, every four hours, and soon wound up “in a panic” because the baby did not seem to be getting enough milk.
I had an interesting time reading the guide and learning what women like my grandmother would have been advised to do when they were pregnant in that era, and thought I’d share some of the more interesting and maybe surprising lessons with you.
“While Awaiting a Baby”, photo from Library & Archives Canada
On the Joy of Motherhood
“The birth of a baby is the most glorious achievement in the life of a woman, for, in becoming a mother, she completely fulfils the special purpose of her life as a woman.” (p. 3)
“There is nothing more fascinating for a mother than to read about the care of a baby.” (p. 84)
“The very presence of your baby, and your feeling of love for it, should prove more eloquent than any words to persuade you to breast-feed your infant, if you are able to do so.” (p. 108)
“When you bend affectionately over your growing infant, does not the contented joy of your heart tell you powerfully that you are gazing on the most precious of all your possessions? As the infant lies, charming but helpless, and dependent on you for everything, you feel that it was fully worth those special pains on your part to give it proper nourishment, to provide the benefit of fresh air and sunshine, the comfort of cleanliness and appropriate clothes, to guard it against digestive troubles, infections and contagious diseases and accidents, and also to direct with love the first manifestations of a budding character.” (p. 203)
“Special local examination. On no account should you let false modesty influence you in the matter of this local examination. Unfortunately this is often the case, particularly with mothers expecting their first baby. You would not forgive yourself if, through neglect of this very important examination, some mishap occurred.” (p. 7)
“For local hygiene use a mild soap, or a mild antiseptic solution recommended by your doctor or a solution of baking soda or boracic acid (1 dessert spoonful to a quart of warm water). Make sure to dry the parts thoroughly.” (p. 40)
“In a married woman, the missing of a period is usually due to pregnancy.” (p. 11)
On Leisure Time
“There is, of course, no harm in playing bridge. Indeed it is a wholesome way of relaxing, if not abused, but it is fatiguing if indulged in too frequently or for lengthy sessions.” (p. 21) Read more