The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

If you ever wondered where baby feeding bottles were invented, and who first thought them up, and how they were designed, you are in good company. Well, you have company. Or, okay, there is at least one other person who wondered too. And that person, ladies and gentlemen, is Michael, the proprietor and creator of the Baby Bottle Museum.

There are various tales.

In medieval Russia, in the famed town of Veliky Novgorod (as opposed to the even more famous town of Nizhny Novgorod), people attached leather bags to the bases of cowhorns. A hole punctured into the tip of the horn acted as teat, through which an infant would draw milk. One advantage of this design: unlike the rubber nipples of today that wear out under the assault of the baby's gummy chewing, a cowhorn probably proved more durable.

Leather or wood feeding bottles were the rage in 17th century Europe. "...flask shape[d], with screw-on tops forming a hard, round nipple," says Michael of the Baby Bottle Museum.

A couple of hundred years later, pewter and Staffordshire ceramic feeders became common. Pap boats, popular as whatsit, were often received as christening presents. The pap, though, a mixture of boiled water and flour with the occasional addition of bread or egg, was unfortunately very unsuitable for a baby.

I fear that in all cases, the milk and the vessels were in a sad state of unhygiene. Disease caused by their contamination was rife and horrific. The bottles - even the later glass ones - and feeders were difficult to clean. In addition, not much was known about a proper diet for infants (whither the pap?). Wet nurses for the upper crust possibly staunched some of the widespread deaths, and the poverty of the underclass probably meant that they could only afford to breastfeed, saving some of them as well. The babies of those too snooty to breastfeed and too poor to afford wet nurses probably bore the biggest brunt, and likelier than not, did not survive to tell the tale.


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