Infant Feeders and Bottles
The need to supplement or substitute breast milk is not a modern problem. For a host of reasons, the functioning breasts of a mother (or wet nurse) were not always immediately available. What was one to do for the hungry baby? Infant feeders and bottles!
FEEDERS (examples above) and BOTTLES (examples below) designed specifically for babies date as far back as 2000 B.C. and have been found all over the world. The colorful glass feeder in the middle above dates to 1st century Rome. Early feeders were made from terra-cotta and other pottery until the 300 B.C. Egyptians began making glass. Pewter and silver were later common materials used in both feeders and bottle.
Feeders came in all shapes, designs, and sizes, the universal trait to distinguish from a bottle being a narrow outlet with a small hole allowing the fluid to drip into the infant’s mouth. Also called nursers and pap boats, among other names. The featured image at the top is an infant feeder/pap boat of porcelain ceramic stamped with the date 1733. Pap boats of this type with larger openings were also used to administer medications and liquid/soupy foods to ill adults.
Bottles shared a similar slim shape, usually with only one opening, and included some type of nipple meant to be inserted inside the infant’s mouth to suck on. In most examples, the nipple was the same material as the bottle and attached as a screw-on cap or stopper. Other bottle nipples were made from softer materials, such as cloth and gum.
Recipes and theories of what to feed a baby varied widely, although milk (cow, goat, donkey, sheep, etc.) was typically the main ingredient. Additives to the milk base included wine, honey, mead, and egg, as well as breadcrumbs and thinned gruel or porridge.
As can be imagined from the examples shared here, cleanliness was a major problem. Instinctively, people understood the importance of sanitation (yes, even before the discovery of bacteria) albeit not to the same degree we do. Nevertheless, how to adequately clean the inside when the openings are so small presented a challenge to be sure. How many infants suffered an infection due to deficient cleanliness creating contaminants? No data exists, obviously, but one can imagine it occurred. On the flip side, how many babies were saved from starvation due to the use of a feeder? Again there are no statistics but my guess is the number is far greater.
For more extant examples of feeders, as well as other historical objects designed for children, visit my PINTEREST board dedicated to the topic. While there, check out the other boards!