When my mother-in-law was pregnant with my husband in 1965, she’d finish each day perched on the davenport tossing back a couple of stiff drinks. Meanwhile, in another part of the country, my mother’s pregnancy regime included popping diet pills.
It’s not that our moms were out-of-control boozers or speed freaks, respectively. They were young, first-time mothers dutifully following doctors’ orders. The booze was for relaxing. The prescription diet pills – basically amphetamines – were to prevent any weight gain over 15 pounds, the maximum recommended before 1970.
“The pregnant woman ought to control weight within normal bounds for vanity’s sake alone,” tsked “Pregnancy and Birth: A Book for Expectant Parents” by Alan F. Guttmacher (1962). (Today the range is much wider and depends on BMI, prepregnancy weight and such. Thus, when I was pregnant with my first in 1999, despite a shameful tendency to hit the McDonald’s and doughnut drive-throughs – on the same outing, no less – not one doctor recommended a prenatal course of uppers.)
Pregnant women are always subject to advice, whether wanted or unwanted, but the early 20th century was a particularly fertile time for questionable advice aimed at women in a family way.
Don’t think of ugly people. “Pregnant mothers should avoid thinking of ugly people, or those marked by any deformity or disease,” according to “Searchlights on Health: The Science of Eugenics” by B.G. Jefferis and J.L. Nichols (1920). The danger was that a mother’s thoughts could change her baby in the womb, perhaps permanently uglifying him or her. Instead, mothers were told to “cultivate an interest for admiring beautiful pictures or engravings which represent cheerful and beautiful figures.”
Educate the child in the womb; maybe give it some gin after it’s born. The mother’s learning would mold the embryo’s “plastic brain,” according to “Searchlights”. That is, thinking about music equals…