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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 30, 2006

Old-fashioned baby advice still comes in handy

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

These days, new moms have 3-inch thick instruction manuals and highly detailed Web sites to help navigate the journey of pregnancy and the care of a new baby.

Sixty years ago, all there was in terms of expert advice was a slim, terse booklet, written by Hawai'i's first pediatrician, which covered topics from gestation to graduation.

"A Guide to Mothers in Hawaii" was written by Dr. Joseph Palma of the Honolulu clinic, which would later be called Straub Hospital. His first guide, published in 1929, was an attempt to provide practical advice for child-rearing in Hawai'i including instructions for sponge-bathing babies on Kona weather days and adding poi in the diet.

Copies of the guides show up from time to time in local antique shops and collector shows and no doubt are tucked away in countless cedar chests along with vintage baby clothes and old photos. If you are lucky, you can find a copy with some earnest mom's penciled-in notes in the margins.

Dr. Palma revised his guide over the years, boiling down his already hard-boiled directives. In addition to being Hawai'i's first pediatrician, Palma was a Navy officer. His advice sometimes comes across like commands to subordinates. In 1947, he published his sixth edition. It strongly warned against spoiling children and advocated letting even newborn babies cry it out.

"Use your ingenuity, and do everything you can to remove the cause of your baby's protest. But don't reward his crying by cuddling. If you want a well-behaved child, cuddle him when he is good."

There are recipes for feeding baby things like scraped beef, liver soup, scalloped salmon with peas, and brain; and directions for treating a baby's chest cold with a mustard plaster (to be left on the skin for about 10 minutes, until baby turns red).

Letting friends and relatives smooch the baby is discouraged: "Baby should never be kissed except on the back of the neck."

And, in fact, there are firm instructions to keep the 'ohana at bay, at least at first:

"You will also need help in handling that old Hawaiian custom of mass visiting which occurs so spontaneously after the birth of the child. Your friends and relatives really mean well and they do want to show their affection and interest, but it would be better if they were more considerate. After all the baby would much rather be left alone. ... No one should handle the baby except the qualified nurse in the nursery and he should be placed on view only behind glass."

Cold rinses after warm baths are recommended "to increase resistance to respiratory disease and also raise the number of white blood corpuscles."

And there are numbered steps on how to properly launder cloth diapers by boiling them in soapy water.

A large section of the small book is devoted to instructions for daily sunbaths:

"Before baby is a month old, start putting him directly in the sunlight without clothing for a while every day. Start with three minutes on the back and three minutes on the front (shading the eyes). Increase by a minute on each side every day, until you reach 20 minutes on each side ..."

The rationale behind this was that sunlight is a source of vitamin D.

"The children of Oriental, Hawaiian and Latin ancestry, the dark-eyed children, tan very easily. The haole children become tanned much more slowly but derive the same benefits from the sun's rays as do the other children," the book says.

And to that hot-button question about Mom returning to work, the book quotes the U.S. Secretary of Labor:

"It is important to remember that mothers of young children can make no finer contribution to the strength of the Nation and its vitality and effectiveness in the future than to assure their children the security of home, individual care, and affection."

Yes, it was a different time.

But the heart of the book, written by a man who was described as a tough, selfless public servant, is timeless and sweet:

"You notice how charmingly your baby waves his hand, what a lovely color he has, how satiny his skin feels beneath your fingers ... and when he for the first time turns toward the sound of your voice, you will be enthusiastically sure that never before has there been such a baby as yours."

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.