Evidence of the use of wet nurses dates back to the 18th century B.C. in Babylon. It was a practice that became the norm among the wealthy classes in Ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. This trend was initially restricted to urban areas but filtered into all levels of society between the 10th and 16th centuries (3).
There is also evidence that feeding bottles were used during ancient times, as recorded in a Egyptian papyrus from the 15th Century B.C. which calls for a drink of “cow’s milk and boiled wheat kernels”, in the event that maternal milk was lacking (4). Bottles made from cow horns, terracotta jugs and goblets were used to feed infants. By the 16th century these bottles actually took on the shape of contemporary bottles. They were made from a variety of materials but were tall with a low-flow pierced tip that looked like a nipple (3).
Wet nurses were highly sought after between the 18th and 19th centuries, and due to their great demand and limited numbers, artificial feeding became a popular alternative. From the mid-19th century breastfeeding substitutes based on animal milk became increasingly popular in order to combat infant mortality. These bottles could be made of ceramic, pewter and tin, and were often toxic to the infant feeding from them. By the 19th century, glass bottles had become the most popular. By 1860, the long-tube feeding bottle allowed infants to more or less feed themselves!
These bottles were often in the shape of a banjo, with a rubber straw and nipple, which allowed children to feed themselves. These bottles were marketed with names like “The Alexandria”, “Little Cherub”, and “Mummies Darling”. However they soon earned themselves nicknames like ‘The Killer’ and ‘The Murderer’. The rubber tube that ran from the bottle to the nipple was a breeding ground for bacteria and at the time Victorian “lifestyle guru” Mrs. Beeton (from the novel Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management) recommended only washing the bottles every 2-3 weeks. While many doctors warned against the bottles many parents continued their use, leading to only two out of every 10 infants surviving to their 2nd birthday (2).
Approximately three banjo style baby bottles were recovered from the privies on AgHb-676. These bottles were embossed with “S MAW SON & THOMPSON ALEXANDRIA FEEDING BOTTLE”. The company of S Maw, Son & Thompson began business in 1828 as J and S Maw, operating out of 11 Aldersgate, London, England. They produced a variety of medical supplies, which included maternity wares like baby bottles, and breast pumps. They were in business as S Maw, Son & Thompson from 1870 to 1901 (1).
(1)SMG (Science Museum Group)
2019 S Maw Son & Sons Limited 1901 – 1940. Science Museum Group. Accessed at: https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/people/cp110869/s-maw-son-sons-limited
(2)BBM (Baby Bottle Museum)
2016 Murder Bottles. Baby Bottle Museum. Accessed at: http://www.babybottle-museum.co.uk/murder-bottles/
2015 The history of baby bottles: feeding babies from ancient times until today. Alimentarium Museum. Accessed at: https://www.alimentarium.org/en/magazine/history/history-baby-bottles
1966 L’alimentation du nourrisson à travers les âges (pg 11).