Thursday, January 16, 2014

Deadly Victorian Baby Bottles


While the rich of the latter half of the 19th century could afford wet nurses, the doctors strongly encouraged ladies to breast feed their own children. However, the growing middle class & poor needed other ways to feed babies. They had to work.
Fortunately, the invention of vulcanized rubber provided a soft and flexible artificial teat that could withstand the heat of sterilization. 

Elijah Pratt of New York patented the first rubber teat in 1845.


Various shaped glass bottles were created, all with a narrow glass mouth filled with a stopper. A length of Indian rubber tubing was inserted into the stopper, it's other end fitted with a bone mouth shield and a rubber teat. 

You could buy them at your local chemist, who put them together as he thought best, resulting in a great variety of shapes and designs. However, there was one consistency among the bottles. All were impossible to keep clean and a serious health risk to babies.

The medical profession openly condemned the use of them, but this general design continued to sell well into the 1920's. For the first time, the baby could be left unattended to feed, freeing up the hardworking mother to do other tasks.

Infant mortality remained very high, with nearly 20% dying in their first year. Don't marry that percentage, because the stats of mortality in the 19th century are highly contested by today's statisticians. But everyone agrees they were high.

However, I can say sanitary conditions were dismal, bacterial infections a major cause of death and antibiotics had yet to be discovered. Mothers were strongly advised to breastfeed their own children, preferable to hiring a wet nurse, and strongly preferable to feeding with a baby bottle.

A change in baby bottle design occurred in 1894, claiming to be easier to clean.
Note the right end of the bottle is an open mouth. That's so you can pour in the milk. A metal cap fitted over it once it was filled. I expect it leaked but this model claimed to be far more sanitary than the prior bottles and it quickly became a best seller.

Now all you had to worry about was the milk you put inside it. Yes, that was a problem as well. The milk sold back then was often tainted.
End result: The doctors were absolutely correct. Bottle feeding added serious risks to your baby's health.

In book 5 of the X & V books, Vic rescues a baby who is drinking from a bottle of sour milk. She convinces the uncaring mother to give up the child and let her find it a good home. Vic gives it to her sister along with a healthy wet nurse. 

14 comments:

  1. Fascinating. I love history. It's usually ugly and disgusting - but fascinating.
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    1. So true. Very few of my historical facts are happy ones. I thought this one would just be about weird shaped bottles, but sadly no. I could have spent a great deal of time making fun of the banana bottle, but I was too depressed by the time it was invented.

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  2. Wonderful post. Sad - but interesting. Love the photo of the baby bottle - first thing I noiced was the open end - I wonder - how does that work. Glad you explained.
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    1. I still don't understand it, because they should be cleaning the nipple after every meal, which means they don't need the other side open.

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    2. in those days there could be a new baby every year with approx 5 children under five when the new baby arrived. You should feel grateful you live in this age of high standards, and Antibiotics- when the new baby bottles were designed in to make life easier for the overworked Mother babies died , because of the new baby bottles being a death sentence for the vulnerable baby as there was ignorance of bacterial contact and the importance of sterilization. All the best with your career and new baby and be pleased you live in 2014. Cheers Gill

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    3. I don't think any of use have new babies....well my character Vic rescued a new baby, but I don't have to raise it. If I did, there would be no babies in my novels. As I dig into the specifics of the late Victorian era, I am most grateful I live in modern society. If we survive as a species another hundred years, I'm sure my new reincarnated self with look back and be glad I don't live in this time. We adapt to the life we get.

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  3. So sad that we too so many backward steps during the Victorian era. During the Regency, it was becoming popular to breastfeed ones own child. I breastfed my son for two years, and when we were nursing, it provided a much needed break. And no, I did not stay home with him. Three weeks after a C-section, I was back driving over an hour to university, took a full load, maintained a B average, and was getting divorced. Tweeted and shared on FB.

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    1. wow, you were busy. Well, at least now baby bottles are easier to sanitize.

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  4. I breastfeed all three of my kids - one when I was working full-time. My lactation consultant said some Dr's would tell pregnant women to rub their breasts with sandpaper so they'd be tough enough for breastfeeding. Wrong! If it hurts, there is something wrong like positioning or in the case of my daughter a lip and posterior tongue tie that had to be clipped. Nursing is so much better than formula. Scientists since the 19th century have been trying to replicate breast milk, and still have not succeeded ;) Tweeted.

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    1. While late Victorians were an inventive group, and a bit riotous, they still were fully grasping the sanitary issues.

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  5. Way too scary! I breastfed my children. My daughter was easy but my son developed a problem with his stomach. It didn't matter what I ate (even just bland food) he would become colicy and scream for hours. We eventually went to a formula and that helped him immensely. But I had to sanitize my bottles in the dishwasher because the high heat killed everything! (including a few spatula's and pans).

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    1. The only babies I have are funny, overly smart ones, in my books that get into all sorts of trouble, but they aren't my problem. I just get to laugh at their antics. However, I did have to investigate a great deal concerning babies for my Xavier & Vic series, including feeding a baby. I first went for the baby bottle, but discovering them unsafe, I found a healthy nurse maid. Nursing by mother was not an option in my cases.One being the rescued baby. The other has to remain a surprise.

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  6. I love these historical tidbits! Gruesome, of course, but a lot of what has gone before us is gruesome to our modern eyes. I breastfed my two but not long enough. The first one just got tired of it at 6 months and the second one had gluttony issues, so she stopped at about 6 months also. But I lucked out with the bottles once they quit the breast. Playtex had come out with the disposable bottle liners, so they were easily thrown away. All I needed to sterilize were the nipples. Great post, Liza!

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    1. Yes, I don't think great diligence was taken to sterilizing the nipple back then. Even on the banana shaped bottle. If the nipple where removed and sterilized each time after use, why would the other end need to be open. They could just poor the milk in like modern bottles...without the liner of course. No, I think they left that nipple on and just boiled them together.

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