“Children should be seen, not heard.”
said Sir Frederick Truby King (1858 –1938). He is credited as a child welfare reformer as well as a surgeon specializing in baby care methods. From a young age, King did not appreciate undisciplined behavior. He was able to change the model parenting style by emphasizing the ideals of discipline and detachment. Although he retired in 1927, his baby care methods continued in popularity, finding favor in post-war Western countries at least until the 1950s. What were his theories and why did he have lasting influence, even today?
King carried out his ideals by emphasizing the importance of keeping a schedule for a child’s daily routine. Additionally, he was instrumental in implementing many advancements that were able to improve childhood nutrition. However, despite the advancements King made, many of his baby care methods were controversial. Unlike most parents of the day, King believed that the formative months of a child’s development were for eating, sleeping and growing rather than for bonding with the child.
A Routine of Discipline and Detachment Were the Pillars of His Baby Care Methods
Truby King’s method of raising children involved doing everything according to a routine, ignoring the wants of the child and sticking solely to the routine in place. In order to utilize baby care methods as a means to regulate behavior, King suggested implementing a uniform schedule in which each aspect of the baby’s life was controlled. This included specific times for feeding, sleeping, bathing and bowel movements. Jock Mc Culloch states in his book “Colonial Psychiatry and the African Mind“, that King believed that at the age of six weeks, toilet training should commence and be continued until the child was sufficiently trained.
Cuddling with an infant was not to exceed 10 minutes per day and there was a specific hour set aside for holding the child; this was the only time the parent was allowed to hold the child. If an infant started crying, the parents were supposed to let him or her cry without giving additional attention. The concept behind these baby care methods is that after a few days, the baby would fall into this routine and would sleep through the night, making the parent’s lives much easier. Other aspects of Truby King’s method include letting the child play by himself and bringing the child outside for some fresh air, regardless of the temperature outside.
According to McCulloch, King believed that children should be subjected to unrelenting discipline, as exhibited by his strict schedule for infant care. Without discipline children would become spoiled, leading them to develop into
“unproductive and self-indulgent adults,”
and without regulation of bowel movements, constipation would lead to
“sexual precocity and possibly to masturbation”
While it may seem that King’s methods of infant care were harsh and emphasized few interactions between the mother and child, King also stressed the importance of these interactions. He believed that without any parental interactions, babies would become flabby and inert and could develop rickets or marasmus (Bryder 2003, ), Linda Bryder states in her book “A Voice for Mothers“, that according to King’s method the amount of care given by a parent to their child should not be lacking but rather controlled and consistent.
The Importance of Childhood Nutrition in His Baby Care Methods
Within the framework of his baby care methods, nutrition was an extremely important aspect of helping a child develop into a successful adult. King’s developed a very strict method of infant feeding. It required feeding the child every three or four hours, without allowing any food in between or at night. This procedure was to begin a few hours after the mother gave birth to her child. Nurses in hospitals were taught to encourage recent mothers to breastfeed their infants, as King believed that breastfeeding
“foster[ed] the highest development of maternal love and devotion”.
One of King’s slogans was
“breast fed is best fed”
Norah Lewis states that in addition to breastfeeding, King emphasized a modified form of cow’s milk produced specifically in order to fit the growing needs of babies. He was able to persuade milk companies to produce this modified milk product. A composure of four formulas of artificial milks designed to be scientifically identical to the mother’s milk were recommended by King. These four included top milk, fresh milk, sweetened condensed milk and dried milk (Lewis 1979).
King also stressed the dangers of overfeeding an infant, which he believed was more common and more detrimental than underfeeding, although his views on this subject were considered controversial.
Influence of Truby King on generations to come
Sir Frederick Truby King’s baby care methods have proved to be efficient over the years. He was after all a famous health reformer in New Zealand and Director of Child Welfare. He and his work at the The Plunket Society have been credited with lowering infant mortality, though it has since been argued that this was due less to its specific baby care methods than to its general raising of awareness of childcare.
But many of his methods were highly controversial. Even back in his days. For instance, his beliefs on “humanized” milk where the protein is reduced to 1.4% to match breast milk. The general pediatric consensus was against him at the time. But he was controversial on other levels. In 1914 the physician Agnes Elizabeth Lloyd Bennett already publicly opposed his stance that higher education for women was detrimental to their maternal functions and hence to the human race.
It is now quite painful to observe that he has greatly influenced several generations of women, particularly with his ‘guidelines’ on the restriction of mother-child bonding…
You can find more on the history of baby care, also greatly influenced by Emile Durkheim, the Father of Sociology, here.