Shryock's and Infant Mortality

George E. Shyrock and his wife, Rebecca J., are buried here, along with 5 children that passed as children.  3 children surivive the couple: Samuel E., Richard F., and Christopher A. Shryock.  The 3 brothers share a tombstone in Union Cemetery, much like the 5 children share a tombstone in the Lyon Cemetery.

The five children that are honored by this mounument all died within 7 years, from 1858-1865.  Oddly enough, within those short 7 years are the entirety of the American Civil War, a war the Shryock's were definitely caught up in, living in Northern Virginia and knowing relatives who were involved in the war directly, such as Dick Moran.  So how did these children die?  What was the cause?  And was this common? 

Causes of Infant Mortality

There are many causes for infant mortality, and in the 1800s the rate of infant mortality was extremely high compared to today.  Before the implentation of vaccines, which would occur in the early twentieth century, disease outbreaks were rampant, especially diseases such as yellow fever, cholera, smallpox, diphtheria, measles, meningitis, scarlet fever and whooping cough.  Yellow fever, however, by the 1860s had been mostly wiped out, with the U.S. Census only recording 1 child under the age of 5 having died from it.  According to the U.S. Census for 1860, when the cause was actually known, since the number one cause of death was shown to be "Unknown", children in District V (Delaware, Maryland, District of Columbia, Virginia, and North Carolina) mostly died of Croup, Whooping Cough, or Dystentery.  The death total from these 3 diseases neared 4,000.  However, according to the same census, there were a whopping 31,000 "whites under one year [of age]" in 1860, with a 3.00% birth percentage, meaning about 1 child would be born annually for every 30 white population.  Therefore, these disease outbreaks must not have been huge child killers in rural areas, as these diseases only prospered in areas where people lived in close proximity to others, which the Shryocks, as farmers, and simply just as Virginians, did not.  

Other issues that could cause the death of infants, and that are actually still common today, are issues related to pregnancy and birthing.  The top causes today, according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), are birth defects, preterm birth and low birth weight, complications involving the pregnancy, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and pre-natal injuries such as suffocation.  Since this issues still plague expecting mothers today, there is a high likelihood that these issues were just as prevalent in the 1800s.  Especially with the lack of information or tools in order to prevent some of these things, midwives and mothers of the time would have had an even harder time dealing with these special situations.

Feeding Infants

Lastly, breastfeeding was actually a huge predictor of infant mortality.  Breastfeeding is actually a huge boon to infants, according to the WHO (World Health Organization) as it reduces infant mortality and even has health benefits that extend to adulthood.  Breastfeeding actually helps protects infants against diseases and improves the child's immune system so that the child can better recover from those common illnesses such as pneumonia or diarrhoea.  In the 1800s, breastfeeding would still have improved infant mortality.  However, it is unknown is Mrs. Shryock had breastfed her children or not.  She could have been influenced by her husband, or her doctor or her pastor.  The value of breastfeeding was not known then, and the sometimes the morality of breastfeeding would actually come into question.  Also, as a woman who also worked on the farm with her husband, George, she would have had to find time in her routine to even tend to her children in that nature.  As likely as it is that she breastfed her children, it is just as likely that she fed them cow's milk.  The popular alternative to breastmilk, cow's milk would be diluted and then served to infants who would drink it through cloth or quill, or in some cases baby bottles.  However that would have its own problems, with initial baby bottles being made of pewter, in which the milk would break down some of that metal, poisoning the milk and in turn, the baby.  Glass bottles would be introduced in 1840, but those bottles had their own problems, especially ones with what were later known as "death tubes", rubber hoses that would prove to be the breeding grounds for all kinds of bacteria.  When cleanliness was not as major of a factor as it is now, many of these bottles hurt children more than it helped.  Cow's milk was also known to carry Bovine TB, which was only aided by Boric acid, which would be added to milk in order to "purify" the milk, removing the sour taste and smell from milk that had gone bad.  However, this had the opposite effect.  Not only did Boric acid itself cause diarrhoea and vomiting, but it also allowed Bovine TB to flourish, damaging organs and spines of those afflicted, many times to the point of death. 

Shryock's and Infant Mortality