Then, Then & Now: Taking Care of Baby

In just the few years that passed between when I had my baby shower for my first son and when I gave birth to my third son, baby technology changed quite a bit. My favorite change, by far, was the invention of the plug-able swing. No more changing batteries at 2 am (because they never wore out in the middle of the day) while the baby screamed impatiently nearby. What a gift! So lately I’ve been thinking:  “I wonder how much has changed since my mother was changing my diapers.  Or my grandmother was changing hers?”  So I asked them.  Here’s what they said:

The Late 1950s


My grandmother had trouble breastfeeding and had no access to resources such as the lactation consultants and support groups my hospital made me aware of before leaving the hospital. As a result, she gave up attempting to breastfeed and fed her daughter with formula. She used glass bottles which she says were not as nice as today’s bottles because they were not shaped as nicely and were breakable. She warmed the bottles on the stove in a pan of water, the same as many moms do today.  To clean her bottles, she used a bottle steamer which she describes as “sort of like the old fashioned steam-pot grandma used.” It was medium in size, but heavy, so she left it plugged in on the kitchen counter. She felt it was easy to use and did a good job.


When I asked if she swaddled her baby, she stated that she could not recall specifically swaddling her, but did wrap her in blankets. Having never heard of SIDS, my grandmother placed her baby to sleep on her stomach in a crib often shared with soft toys.


The diapers my grandmother used were made of cloth and fastened by pins. She washed them in a washing machine along with the rest of the baby’s laundry. She remembers that she used Dreft detergent, a detergent that is still marketed to new moms today as being “specially formulated to be gentle for your baby’s skin and tough on stains.”


Pacifiers became readily available soon after my grandmother became a mom. However, she didn’t care for the way they looked in her baby’s mouth and didn’t feel her baby needed them, so although she did purchase a few, she didn’t permit their use for long.


My grandmother does not recall seeing any mothers wearing a baby carrier nor seeing them in stores. Her baby played in her playpen while my grandmother cleaned house and was either held or pushed in her stroller when out and about. She said the car seat they used back then was similar to what we use for infants now, except that hers was simpler because, “You just strapped them in the car with one strap, then strapped in the child. It worked fine and was lighter, too.”


When asked to name five things new moms have today that she wishes were around when she was raising her baby, she answered:  “Baby DVDs. Better bottles. Disposable Diapers. Pre-made food. Educational Toys.”

When asked if there is anything she thinks was better when she was raising her baby than it is now, she replied, “Moms could stay home with baby.”


And her advice for today’s new moms? “Just give them all your love.”

The Early 1980s


My mother says I was easy to breastfeed, but my sister was difficult and she did not have any help with breastfeeding.  Although I was breastfed until I was ready for cow’s milk, my mother did use formula for my sister. She did not use a breast pump, nor was she aware of their existence at the time. My mother used mostly glass bottles but did have some plastic bottles as well. She cleaned them with boiling hot water and a bottle brush. My mother warmed her bottles the same way her mother did:  in a pan of hot water on the stove.


I was born at a VA hospital and my mother says the policy at the time was for babies to stay in the nursery after birth. I was brought to my mother for feedings. However, when she had my sister just 2 years later in a traditional hospital, my sister was allowed to remain in my mother’s room the whole time.


Both my sister and I were placed in a portable bassinet for sleeping at home. My mother did use a blanket to wrap me, but says they didn’t call it swaddling and there was no special technique involved. According to my mother, cribs haven’t changed much since i was a baby, but does recall placing me face down to sleep in the crib. My sister, on the other hand, was turned frequently to get fluorescent light to her skin for jaundice treatment. She says having things in the crib wasn’t a big deal, but they did take care that things weren’t loose around my head.


In the beginning, my mother used cloth diapers for me. She washed them by hand – scrubbing out the poop and then bleaching them. The diapers were attached by pins.  However, I developed some allergy problems and she began using disposable diapers for me instead. She’s quick to point out, however, that the disposable diapers available at that time were vastly different from the disposable diapers available today. Most notably the diapers at that time did not tape shut well (velcro was unheard of) and they frequently leaked.


One of my mother’s favorite stories to tell is how she stopped me from using a pacifier.   According to my mother, I absolutely cherished my pacifier, but for some unknown reason, had a habit of chucking them away at odd moments. For example, I liked to throw them out the car window.  Eventually, my mother grew tired of buying pacifiers. So one day, as we were riding in the car with the windows down and she noticed that I was down to my last pacifier, she warned me not to throw it out the window because she was NOT going to buy me anymore.  Disbelieving, ornery child that I was, I immediately tossed my pacifier out the window. When my mother firmly repeated that she was not going to buy any more pacifiers, nor was she going to turn the car around to go get and wash the one I had just chucked, I must have suddenly realized she was serious, because although my mother cannot clearly recall my age at the time (she believes it was 2 or 3) she says she will never forget the monumental fit I threw as a result.


My mother does not remember using a baby carrier and does not remember them being popular at the time. She says they did use an infant car seat for me but that the seats available at that time were not as user friendly.


When asked to name five things new moms have today that she wishes were around when she was raising her baby, my mother answered:  1) A quieter swing – hers made a lot of noise when you manually wound it, 2)disposable bottles/individual formula, 3) diaper wipes, 4) improved potty chairs for training, and 5) a portable DVD player.

When asked if there is anything she thinks was better when she was raising her baby than it is now, my mother replied, “It seemed as if I didn’t worry as much as moms seem to today. I just did what felt right.”


My mother’s advice for today’s new moms: “Relax, love your baby, everything will come out okay if you just do the best you can.  Invest your time in them and make them feel special, needed, wanted, and loved.”


About heartmama

Hello, my name is Kathleen. My husband Luke and I were married in 2001 and we have 3 wonderful bio-sons: Ethan, born Oct. 2005, Quintin, born Feb. 2008, and Liam born June, 2010. We are looking forward to the day when our daughter(s) will join our family.
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