Monday, January 7, 2013

Ciara Gold asks, "Is there a wet nurse around?"

Happy new year to all our readers. I thought today I’d delve into something a little different. Since we’re bringing in the new, what better topic than babies, eh?
I read a romance years ago that talked about the baby being fed with a baby bottle in the 1850s. At the time my first reaction had me going to the Internet to discover if this was at all possible. Perhaps it was the author’s lack of description for the item and the modern image my thoughts conjured that put me off from the book, but it did take me out of the context of the historical. With this in mind, I decided to find out about baby bottles in the 1800s.
Basically, the attempt to manufacture some sort of feeding apparatus has been around since the Middle Ages when they used a cow’s horn and a bit of leather ties to the end. With all attempts at various “bottles” hygiene became a serious issue and because of poor cleaning methods and a lack of understanding regarding an infant’s dietary needs, the mortality rate for babies under two was rather high.
But since this is about the old west, let’s talk about what the western woman did when a wet nurse couldn’t be found to feed her child, and she was unable for whatever reason to do so herself.  A lot of pottery companies like Wedgewood actually made feeding bottles. Vulcanized rubber was invented in the 1840s but because of its strong odor, it would be several years later before they mass produced rubber teats.
The ceramic bottles were quite lovely and came in a variety of patterns. The shape was elongated with a hole in the top and looked a little like a small creamer pitcher. The milk would be poured into the top hole and then a cork would hold the milk inside. The end of the bottle came to a point where another hole allowed for the milk to flow out. A cloth was tied to this end for the babe to suckle or if available, a rubber teat could be attached. For images, please take a look at this site.
However most of the bottles used were very difficult to clean and not necessarily recommended by doctors. In 1894, Allen and Hanbury invented the double ended feeder, a bottle that was much easier to clean.  Information reguarding these antique bottles also mentioned pap boats. Pap boats looked a lot like the ceramic bottles in shape but were completely open at the top. They look a little like a small pitcher. A simple pap recipe might consist of flour, bread, and water.
I can't even begin to imagine caring for a baby on a wagon train with limited supplies and a trail of dust and hard work. And let's say you had to make use of one of those ceramic bottles and you accidently broke it. You'd probably have to wait a while for the general store to get in a new shipment. We take so much for granted these days. With that in mind, I hope you'll join me in a moment of appreciation for all the modern conveniences.

As for including the baby bottle in a scene, here's a brief glimpse into Eliza's Copper Penny.  In this scene, Eliza is caring for a wounded man whose derriere met with a bit of unfortunate buckshot and he's not all that happy about it:

“Are you ready for a bit of nourishment?”

Copper lifted his head at the intrusion. Eliza approached the bed with what appeared to be a baby bottle. The boat like shape of the ceramic container had a cork shoved in the top center hole and tapered to a narrow spout. The delicate pink floral pattern chafed at his male sensitivities. He furrowed his brows until the space between his eyes hurt. “What the hell is that?”

She glanced at the bottle and shrugged. “I couldn’t figure out a way to feed you without dribbling it all over the sheets. I figured you could just suck the broth instead of spooning it.”

At least she hadn't attached one of those new rubber suckling teats to the end. His temper flared. “Woman, I’m not a baby.”

“Well, of course not. It’s just that you can’t roll on your back and sit up and trying to spoon feed you in the position you’re in now would only mess the sheets.”

He lifted himself higher on his elbows and grimaced. “Take the bottle away and bring me some real food. Steak would suit about now.”

“Tabor gave strict instructions on your diet for the next day or so. You’ll have to content yourself with broth.”

Tabor must be laughing royally at his expense. Damn the man and damn this situation. He sighed. “Pile towels under my chin and bring me a bowl and spoon or better yet, just bring it in a coffee mug and I’ll sip on it.”


“Miss Woodpen... Eliza, please. Do us both a favor. Compromise is a wonderful tool. Lose the bottle and bring me a cup. You can’t treat me like a child.”

“Are you sure?” She presented the bottle with a decidedly wicked grin.

His brow furrowed again, and he shook his head. “It’s not nice to tease the wounded.”

She laughed. “Serves you right for being so difficult last night. I’ll be right back with a cup this time.”

He chuckled. Fancy that. The sourpuss teacher had a sense of humor. He wondered where she’d found the bottle. Was it a family memento or something she’d borrowed from a neighbor? The thought of Eliza with a baby tickled his imagination. Dang, but he was starting to really like the woman. She’d caught his fancy the first time he saw her with her glasses askew and a stunned expression on her face, but now? Now, he took a shine to her zany humor and tender care of him. Yep. He was going to have to be on his guard where Eliza Woodpen was concerned.


Paty Jager said...

Wonderful information Ciara. I hadn't really thought about there not being a bottle of some sort for babies. I knew about wet nurses and just assumed it was that or the mother. The excerpt is fun too!

Ciara Gold said...

Thanks Paty. I never gave it much thought either until that one book took me out of the scene with mention of the bottle. I just couldn't envision them having the same type of bottle way back when. LOL.

Devon Matthews said...

Terrific post, Ciara. I hadn't really thought about this either, but it reminded me of an old John Wayne movie where he and two of this compadres come across a wagon in the middle of nowhere. Inside, there's a woman who's just given birth. The mother dies and the three compadres are left to take care of the baby out in the middle of the blazing desert. I remember, they had several cans of milk and what looked like a modern baby bottle. Thanks for the fabulous info!

Jacquie Rogers said...

We have one of those! But we thought it was a gravy boat. LOL. The excerpt is fun, too. Sourpuss schoolteacher, eh? :)

Ciara Gold said...

Too fun. Thanks all for the comments. I remember that movie, Devon. Gotta luv John Wayne movies. My father-in-law was hooked on 'em. And Jacquie, so fun to be able to identify an antique. I have a few items I still scratch my head over.