Saturday, 27 October 2012

1950's Pregnancy Advice for Mothers

When I was pregnant with Pip, my grandmother gave me this pamphlet.   A 1950’s manual, given to Health Visitors, of which she was one, to aid them in educating pregnant women.  I was amazed she had kept it all those years. In fact, 69 years since it had been printed.  It smelt old and musty.   It’s cover was stained and dogeared, from years of use.  The title was simple, one word; MOTHER.   A little legacy, given from her to me.  An act of sharing, between two women, one who understood motherhood, and one who had yet to learn anything.

I devoured the preface with interest, a section called ‘Mothers as Pioneers.’  I loved that fabulous title. This section addressed the fact that mothers are very important people (naturally).  It encouraged mothers to educate themselves and do their own thinking, particularly in regard to public health.  Mothers were encouraged to make use of ‘aids to pioneering’ in the post war period; newspapers, the wireless, the free library, the public health department, and importantly, to have a ‘hobby’.

“Keeping up our hobby, practising our best bit of work, not only gives us job, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it makes happier the people around us.”

As I read the pamphlet and turned its yellow, well thumbed pages, it struck me how some of the advice given to 1950’s mothers was still applicable today.  Even in something as simple as the suggestion that mothers should have a hobby.

By the time Pip was two years old, I was floundering as a SAHM, I’d lost sight of many of the hobbies I’d had before I had him. On a whim,  I took up blogging as a hobby, a way to evolve my love of writing, and almost instantly, I felt more enthused, more creative. It gave me something to think about outside my role as a mother and wife.   It made me happier.   It seems that some wise words are immortal, they have no best before date.

I recently dug out my grandmother's book again and stumbled upon yet more pearls of wisdom, albeit, some more relevant for today than others.

On ‘Good Cooks and Bad Cooks.’

“We have been called a nation of bad cooks. Englishwomen naturally resent this, but if we are honest with ourselves we must admit that taking us on the whole there is a lot of truth in the reproach."
Cooking has come a long way in this country since the 1950's, but the bitter truth is, I’d be a far better cook without the modern day conveniences of a ready meal or take away at my fingertips.  If I had to cook every meal from scratch, I’m sure my Michelin star would be shining far more brightly in the culinary universe.  I do however, want any home cooked offerings I serve up to be delectable, and as I embark on my pre-baby batch baking for the freezer (ha ha), or think about quick evening meals I’ll be able to prepare after a day with a baby glued to my breast,  these tips may come in handy:

"A stew boiled is a stew spoiled."  (There’s a good reason to buy a slow cooker if ever I needed one.)

"Jacket potatoes baked under the sitting-room grate are a most acceptable supper on a winters’ night with butter and a scrape of Marmite."  Oh yes -  I’m a Marmite girl through and through but I’d never thought of having it on a jacket potato. Until now.

Advice for the Mother-to-be

On Recreation: "Late hours, stuffy rooms and excitement are not good. In these days of radio nobody need be bored at their own fireside. Praise the homelier pleasures – books, handicrafts, even the forgotten art of conversation."  

Ah, the forgotten art of conversation.  Would that require both my husband and I to turn off our separate laptops each evening and talk to each other?  Some evenings we sit mute after dinner, staring at our separate screens. Maybe we should be talking a little more; after all, we are about to bring another life into the world. As for forging conversations with others, my making an outgoing call has become a rarity. These days I communicate mostly by email,  text messages and in 140 character bursts.  Perhaps I should engage more. It might help me keep my post-partum pecker up. And we all know; ‘It’s good to talk’.

On Hygiene: “A sitz bath in a basin placed on a chair followed by a gentle rub with olive oil is very useful in last months."  Well, you learn something new every day; I've discovered a ‘sitz bath’ is a localised bath for the pelvic region. It seems even in the 1950’s they were recommending perineal massage.  How very forward thinking of my grandmother’s generation, and how eloquently put.  Alas, these days we’re not nearly so subtle, you can now find a video on YouTube telling you exactly what to do.  Sometimes I rather favour the less direct approach.

On clothes for the Mother–to-be: “It is always worth a woman’s while to take some pains with her appearance and never more so than during pregnancy. Feeling and looking nice in one’s clothes is a great help towards feeling comfortable. The modern loose swagger coat cannot be bettered.”

There is much for a pregnant lady to swagger about - I like the fact they had a coat for it too.  Fashions clearly haven't changed that much since the 1950's, my maternity coat has exactly the same loose A line cut and swing.

The Mother-to-be gets ready for Baby:
“Good sensible baby clothes cannot be bought at the ordinary drapers – only at special shops for high price. Don't say you can't sew, you never know what you can do until you try."

I can’t sew.  There. I said it.  Homespun baby clothes are lovely.  But frankly, the only hand crafted things EB will be getting will be made by my mother.  (I’ve challenged her to make one of these).  Everything else will be coming from Mothercare or Mamas and Papas.  Sometimes you have to be thankful for progress, and as far as I'm concerned, Mothercare babygros are the business.

Father helps to get ready for Baby
: “Fathers vary, some are so handy and others, with the best intentions, feel quite helpless if left to think out ways of helping.”  A suggested list of jobs for the 1950's father included: cleaning windows, hanging clean curtains, fetching coal, chopping firewood, keeping the radio set in working order and being able to make a really good gruel.

In today’s world, my list for my husband looks something like this:  Work out how to reinstall maxicosi isofix base into car,  rebuild cot, hang new curtains (somethings never change). Ensure adequate stocks of champagne, parma ham, unpasteurised cheese for home arrival, ensure adequate pampering time for mother, and that she is given full control of TV remote.  And given the time of able to make a really good Christmas dinner.
The nursing mother takes care of herself: "Because on her own health depends not only baby’s well being but the harmony of the home".

Of all the sage advice given here, I like these three golden nuggets:

1. "Make up your mind before hand which less important things you will let slide - and resolve not to worry about them.Ok. No housework then.
2. "Ensure mother has her proper times for self-attention too."  Brilliant. A spot of blogging? A hairwash? A cheeky nip down to the High Road sans baby, for a latte and a slice of carrot cake?
3. "Ensure Father shoulders cheerfully his share of the extra work a baby makes."  Absolutely. Paternity leave running into Christmas...perfect.

It all sounds so simple, who needs Gina Ford or the Baby Whisperer? With a little help from the 1950's,  this modern day mother is sorted. 


  1. I love this, especially about the jacket potatoes and marmite.

    1. Thank you. Haven't tried it yet, but I think it's going to taste yummy.

  2. love this post! i am so liking your style!!

  3. I really enjoyed this - nothing new there then. This is the kind of thing my grandmother would have had locked in a very old suitcase. I can highly recommend a slow cooker - they make life very easy, ours doubles up as a rice and stew cooker. Marmite on a potato sounds really, really yuk - I'm not a fan of the stuff! It's very good to know there is someone else out there who can't sew! And you and your husband on laptops during the evening? That painted an accurate picture of life in our home on most evenings! :o). We are so lucky we have convenience food and take away options, even in my mothers day (early seventies) women had to make, unless it was out of a tin (spaghetti hoops), meals from scratch - we ate a lot of baked beans and spaghetti hoops! X.

    1. Snap to baked beans and spaghetti hoops. They were a staple in our house as kids. Yes, must try and limit laptop time in the evenings sometimes. In all seriousness, it is good to talk!

  4. How funny, I have a post lined up just like this, I have a 1956 book called Bringing Up Baby. Yours looks so much better, I love the way you write. The bit I liked was how to look at Father, yours gives Father jobs, mine said we should tidy ourselves up & apply lipstick before he comes home :)) I also like your shopping list of champagne and cheese, my favourites xx

    1. that should read "how to look after Father"

    2. Thank you for your lovely comment. Great minds - MLM! I'd love to read about your book too. Must now dig out my lipstick before husband arrives home....*hurries off*

  5. Love your post. And the advice. I think the number one will be the most difficult - "make u your mind which things are less important"...I know I will not survive if I will leave the housework....

    1. Yes, agree, no 1 is a tough one to decide on :0)

  6. What a fantastic gift - loved hearing about it. Like the idea of champagne and other assorted goodies waiting for you on your triumphant return. While I was in labour, I requested (between deep intakes of gas and air) that when I got through it, I wanted two runny eggs with soldiers. Our little treat every Saturday morning has always been a proper breakfast with a jug for the milk and orange juice, toast and eggs, coffee in cups on a saucer and the paper delivered to our door. I love to dip my soldiers but it just didn't work with the hard boiled eggs I was having while pregnant. I was really looking forward to dunking my toast when I got home but the little man's daddy was so used to cooking mine extra long, he forgot and I ended up with hard boiled - again. And after all that huffing and puffing!

    1. I love the fact that you have a proper breakfast each Saturday what a lovely tradition. I'm a big fan of dippy eggs and soldiers too. They were my wedding morning breakfast. If I'd ended up with hard boiled after all that huffing and puffing think I would have insisted on a fresh set of eggs!

  7. Fabulous discovery - can so identify with the eating meals staring at screens! Must must must stop it!