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Hold his ears and call the nurse: how they looked after children in medieval Europe

For a very long time, mothers and grandmothers gave their daughters and granddaughters recommendations for caring for a child in Europe. Until one day men decided to do this. Who else to give advice!

Childhood in the Middle Ages had two main problems. Firstly, high mortality, which sometimes left completely noble families without heirs. Secondly, the «animal» behavior of children, distorting and humiliating the image of God, from which, as everyone knew through the Bible and sermons, man is blinded.

Recommendations for childcare and the practices of this care revolved around the fear of death constantly creeping toward infants and the desire to tame and ennoble the chaotic, atrocious that was seen in almost every movement of the child and in all his amusements.

Although the Middle Ages seemed to the average man divorced from the high achievements of antiquity, in fact, Greek and Roman heritage were then actively interested, so that among the earliest instructions to mothers from educated men, Plato could be quoted. This philosopher was very harsh about the games of kids.

From his point of view, they, firstly, should have been fully devoted to the future craft of the child, to serve as an exercise. Secondly, Plato strictly warned to ensure that children did not make the slightest innovation in the rules, observing the traditional religiously. Indeed, otherwise, becoming adults, they, what good, will want to change laws and customs, because they get used to the fact that this is possible!

How to grate a child?

However, Plato, at least, did not give recommendations on how to swaddle infants. Thinkers of the Middle Ages were much more confident in themselves and their knowledge and gave advice on leaving literally from the time of birth.

The author of the treatise “The Body Charter”, Aldobrandino di Siena, in the thirteenth century advised immediately after birth to rub the baby with salt and cover it with rose petals. In general, babies were wiped with olive oil in the course — at least in those places where it was not deficient. Francesco da Barberino in the fourteenth century recommended lubricating even nostrils with oil.

In order for the child to make smaller animal movements and resemble an adult in shape, he would be swaddled very tightly, after being straightened up. Instead of swaddling clothes we used to use swaddlers — long linen ribbons, making the baby look like a mummy.

Special corsets were also put on the kids from noble families, and bonnets covering the head were sometimes used to give the skull a “noble” elongated shape — for this, tablets could be inserted inside.

The gusts to curb everything natural in the child looked probably cruel even by the standards of the Middle Ages, so the authors of advice for mothers and nannies sought to show the medical benefits of such procedures: the baby, they say, has bones that are too tender and the organs are not really fixed, so arms and legs aren’t free movement can bend, and organs — begin to walk around the body

Bartolomeus Mettlinger in the fifteenth century reports that breast milk is very harmful to the baby in the first two weeks. Honey, which the mother eats before feeding, can slightly reduce the harmfulness, but in general, it is better to hire a nurse whose milk is already good and healthy.

The ideal age for the nurse, by the way, was considered the age of twenty-five years — then a woman is in the prime of her life. As for honey, the Italian female doctor Trotula recommended that they rub the skies of the newborn. She recommended that the baby’s ears always be pressed to the skull.

Hygiene is not for kids
Many children probably died from a cold, otherwise it is difficult to explain the recommendations for changing the dumps, including the advice to close the windows and doors tightly in the house, sit down to the hearth and hide with a cloak in such a way that a curtain forms around the child.

Although the chaotic movements of the arms and legs of the baby trying to stretch oneself were very frightening for adults, there were kind souls like Francesco da Barberino who advised to let the baby jerk his feet as much as he wanted — while he washes or changes his diapers.

A few considered the obligatory bathtub for the baby, the change of the dumpers seemed a sufficient procedure in itself. In extreme cases, it was always possible to wipe the baby’s ass with a cloth soaked in wine. Svivalniks were changed three times a day (one of the authors carefully advises changing them once at night, although this is not the case).

If the baby was screaming too much because of wet diapers or because teeth were being cut, the nannies poured a little wine into his mouth. This practice continued until the beginning of the twentieth century in many places in Europe. Nevertheless, Bartolomeus Mettlinger warned against early acquaintance of children with wine: it drains a person, and a child needs a lot of moisture for growth and health.

Another two sure means to relieve pain from cutting teeth were a well-refined olive oil (which, apparently, was used generally for everything in the world) or a paste of rabbit brains. At worst, you could try goose fat or dog milk.

Hot water was more often used to “steam out the bones” and give them a “beautiful” shape, for example, to smooth the face and slightly stretch the nose, than for hygienic procedures. This practice also lasted a very long time; Moreover, it was popular not only in Europe. Improvements of babies were engaged literally around the world.

From breastfeeding nurse to serving adults

Trotula left recommendations for the transfer of children to adult food. When the baby’s first teeth erupted, they should give him pieces of poultry meat the size of an acorn, so that the child, sucking meat, slowly swallowed it. These recommendations apply only to children from wealthy families.

On the contrary, peasants were often considered unable to eat meat; in any case, their daily diet consisted of barley and vegetables. The first complementary foods for the peasant child were boiled vegetables and pieces of barley bread that were chewed by their mother.

Unable to find tips on teaching a child to potty. At least noble parents did not even imagine that the baby can be taught such hygienic procedures. Until the age of five or seven, the mother and the nanny simply gently wiped the child if he managed it. That is why the boys did not wear panties — they walked in special dresses. Or, in science, they gave them enemas.

The child was considered a dirty creature, unable to keep track of itself.

That is why they were astonished at what sacrifices God made, appearing on the earth in the image of Jesus, starting from his infancy, and not immediately to adults — it is so humiliating to be a beast-like preparation of man!

In order for the child to remember his place, as soon as he got to his feet, he was instructed in one way or another to serve adults. Only royal children were exempted from this duty. At the first call, any other kid had to quit his games, serve at the table, or serve any objects. It was also considered normal to give frightening tasks to four to five year old kids so that they could prove their love and reverence for their parents.

Although in many historical novels noble children freely frolic with the children of their servants and peasants in the lap of nature, in practice they tried to make sure that the kids played only those games that befitted their class — which means that they could only be played from about their own position peers.

This was not so difficult, because, firstly, the families were large, and secondly, often the children of the nobles were sent to raise and educate families of overlords. Thus, the castle of a large feudal lord at the same time was something like a boarding school for a dozen or two (and sometimes even more) children of both sexes. The boys were the care of the overlord himself, the girls were his wife’s.