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James Spence deserves great credit for his work with mothers and babies and his contributions to our understanding of “the purpose of the family”,1 but he was not the first to recognise the need for mothers to nurse their own infants. Perhaps the most remarkable of his predecessors never seems to have received credit for his vision and common sense. James H Nicoll, Surgeon of the Western Infirmary and the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, gave a paper to the Section of Surgery of the 77th Annual Meeting of the British Medical Association in July 1909.2 Drawing on his experience of some 9000 operations on children, he advocated that whenever possible children under 2 years of age should be treated as outpatients. After operation without a mother, he said a child was “all over the bed” and “if splinted his crying and struggling put fresh strain on his sutures”. He concluded that the small child would “do best in their mother’s arms, and nest there more quietly on the whole, than anywhere else”. Perhaps more surprising to the contemporary reader, however, is Nicoll’s statement:
“for seven years I have had a small house, near the Glasgow Children’s Hospital, for the accommodation of young infants and their mothers. The mothers are catered for, and themselves nurse their infants. My experience of the cases so treated has been such as to make me confident in the opinion that no children’s hospital can be considered complete which has not, in the hospital or hard by, accommodation for a certain number of nursing mothers whose infants require operation”.
During World War I at the instigation of Miss Geeta Rowell, recently returned to Newcastle from Italy, an anonymous donor purchased a house on West Parade in Newcastle and gave £500 to equip …