What happens to the baby who is not properly fed? We know what happens to his body, but what about his mind? Naturally, we can only surmise and base our conclusions on scientific studies of the mind.
It is obvious that an unsatisfied craving sets up acute feelings of frustration, of anger and of hate. These must be directed towards the mother, or person who fails to supply his need. To his mind, she must appear “bad”.
We have here the basis of the fairly tale theme of poisoning the witch in Snow White who poisons with an apple is surely symbolic of the hateful and hating mother. We may go further and assume that the infant feels full of vengeful bad feelings directed towards his mother when he is frustrated.
Outwardly they may be shown in tempers even in biting and screaming a form of “oral” attack on the mother. The desire to destroy must be strong also, and such feelings are followed by acute anxiety feelings.
In later life, we have a counterpart in the child who cannot eat meat is afraid to bite, and the adult who is a vegetarian-afraid of infantile “cannibalism.” This may seem an extreme view, but it is sufficient to make clear the viewpoint that frustration in regard to feeding during infancy should be avoided at all costs.
To my mind it is psychologically correct to give the baby a little food if he wakes in the night. It is interesting to note that, in the shelters during air raids, mothers instinctively suckled their babies when they cried, and this no doubt gave comfort to both mother and child.
On the other hand, to feed the baby every time he cries is most unwise. He should only be fed irregularly in an emergency. He must learn quite early to tolerate a little frustration, to wait for a little time, even though his needs seem urgent.
The older he gets the more certain he is of his mother’s ultimate willingness to satisfy him and so his ability to tolerate frustration is greater.
Weaning is liable to be a psychological disturbance to the infant. Naturally, if it is started early and done very gradually, the disturbance is decreased, but the loss of close contact with the mother, which bottle-feeding, and solid feeling implies, is a serious one.
This constitutes the first Beep to independence, and usually the baby is most unwilling to take it. His fear of rejection and desertion may be intense. A mishandling of the situation by a sudden or abrupt weaning and subsequent supply of unsuitable foods is liable to cause future feeding troubles.
Refusal to eat, food fads, indigestion and constipation, and kindred troubles may all be psychological in origin. Food becomes an emotional issue. It may represent “bad” objects to the child, and he may be afraid to eat.
He knows too that such behaviour causes annoyance or anxiety to his mother, and he is thus assured of some emotional response. Nowadays, most mothers introduce new food and different tastes in the early months, and the baby accepts glucose, orange juice and cod-liver-oil quite happily.
Working-class mothers vary greatly in their knowledge of dietetics. I know of one mother who suckles a child of eighteen months and another who gives her seven-month- old baby a potato chip with a half-empty bottle of “pop” to suck!
Toilet training is an allied subject to feeding. Here against the layman is liable to regard the psychologist’s views as extravagant and far-fetched.
Clinical work with adults and children suffering from neurotic troubles will convince the most severe critic, however, that emotional factors play their part in causing digestive troubles.
The child may regard the contents of his body as “bad” and harmful. He may thus seek to withhold them for a long period-psychological constipation, or may refuse to void them in the accustomed place. He may also regard them as powerful and dangerous. He may then soil himself or his bed as an aggressive act-usually towards a hated stepmother or foster-mother.
The baby, of course, does not have sufficient muscular control or understanding to avoid wetting or soiling, but he will quickly appreciate that the whole matter is one of emotional concern to his mother. His accidents will be regarded with some disapproval and his successes will be smiled upon. Anxiety, annoyance or disgust-in fact, any marked feeling-expressed in relation to this matter will be quickly detected by the young infant and will serve to increase his disturbing phantasies about bad bodily contents.
The moral of this discussion, of course, is to treat the matter calmly and dispassionately. Toilet training should not be attempted too early, and relapses should not be unduly noticed. The child has done well if he has gained full bowel and bladder control by two years of age. Much incontinence after that age is indicative of emotional disturbance, and may or may not be related to early mistakes in training.