10 Weird Parenting Rules From The Past

10 Weird Parenting Rules From The Past

The rules of parenting are always changing, from generation to generation, as experts and fads come and go. Old-fashioned parenting diktats seem crazy to modern parents – but every generation follows a different creed and our grandchildren are bound to think our parenting strategies were silly, too.

A spoonful of sugar

Ever had your mother suggest dipping your baby's bottle teat in honey? Or your great aunt itching to rub brandy on your baby's gums? The idea of introducing sugar – let alone alcohol – to babies has today's mothers aghast (plus honey, specifically, is on the 'No' list for modern babies because of a small risk of botulism). But only a generation or two back, these were common ways to soothe a teething infant or induce them to drink from a bottle.

Make mine a pint

Our mothers were advised to drink Guinness during pregnancy – half a pint a day, or even a pint – because it was believed to be full of iron. It turns out that stout isn't actually very iron-rich, and that daily pints in pregnancy are far from ideal – so these days pregnant women have to turn to bran flakes or beef instead.

No daddies in the delivery room

19 out of 20 modern fathers in Britain find themselves in the delivery room, according to 2014 research. But until the 1960s, it was almost unheard of for a father to help at the birth. As we all know from Call The Midwife, the manly role was to pace the corridor outside, waiting for news – or just go to the pub. Today's fathers get no such allowances – we expect them to be an active participant in labour. Even if that only means bellowing at them and bending their fingers so hard they nearly break during contractions.

Seen and not heard

In a 1928 manual, one expert of the time advised parents: 'Never hug and kiss [children]. Never let them sit on your lap. If you must, kiss them once on the forehead when they say goodnight. Shake hands with them in the morning.' Today we have happily evolved from this cold parenting ethos, and bygone ideas of discipline like 'spare the rod and spoil the child'. Thankfully, corporal punishment for children is history now - smacking a child under three is expected to be illegal by the end of 2015.

Tranquillisers for children

These days, some parents agonise over whether to give a child an anti-histamine to get them to sleep on a long flight (most would probably frown upon the idea). But in Victorian England, infant cordials often contained opiates to calm them down. Even in the mid-20th century, according to Christina Hardyment, in her book Perfect Parents: Baby-Care Advice Past and Present, 'sedatives in a healthy baby's life were recommended rather than deplored'.

Swaddling to the next level

Swaddling has fallen in and out of fashion. It's currently in, whereas in the 18th century, it was associated with neglecting a baby's needs to be washed and comforted, and it was also feared that it would weaken a baby's growing limbs. But further back in time, swaddling was taken to extremes we wouldn't dream of today. It is believed that in the Middle Ages, babies were kept almost constantly swaddled in linen bands around the body and legs until the age of eight or nine months, as it was believed that this would help them grow straight. Sometimes they were then strapped to 'carrying boards' or hung up on hooks so that parents could go about their work. Yes, really.

The outdoor nursery

Fresh air was the parenting mantra of the 1920s, when babies were supposed to be outside in the fresh air from dawn till dusk. Feeding, sleeping and nappy-changing all ideally happened outdoors (Marie Stopes's baby didn't have a meal indoors until he was two). Even sunbathing was encouraged for little ones. It's a far cry from the modern era with factor 50+ sunblock applied from babyhood.

Smoke away, it's fine

The 1966 edition of a leading obstetrics textbook stated that pregnant women could safely smoke half a pack of cigarettes a day, according to Smoking and Pregnancy: The Politics of Fetal Protection, by Laury Oaks. It's the last thing any obstetrician would advise today.

Grow up

Today parents expect to do most things for their children, but as recently as the mid-20th century, two and three-year-olds were expected to be able to wash, feed and dress themselves, according to Christina Hardyment. The whole idea of childhood as a time of life deserving of adult protection and help is relatively modern, in fact. Only in 1880 was education made a right for children in England (up to the age of 10), and, until the end of the Victorian era, child labour was commonplace in this country. In medieval times, an English child of seven could be engaged to marry, charged with a crime, or marked out to become a priest one day.

Liver – the more the better

'Ooh, I really fancy eating a big piece of liver today' is not something most people would ever find themselves thinking. So there can't be many who feel especially sad at the NHS banning liver for pregnant women (because it contains a hefty amount of vitamin A, excessive amounts of which aren't good for a fetus). Spare a thought, then, for mothers in the 1970s, who were told liver was positively beneficial in pregnancy and to eat as much as they could.