You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Baby Bottles in Colonial America

Powder horn with membrane attached converting it to
a baby bottle
In a novel I'm writing called Cassia, my heroine, Lilyan, who is shipwrecked on one of the islands in the Outer Banks, rescues a newborn after the mother dies in childbirth. While researching about how Lilyan could manage to feed a newborn, I discovered some really interesting information about baby bottles and thought I’d share.
The word “pap” is supposed to have been derived from the Scandinavian for the sound a baby makes when he opens his mouth to feed.  It was first recorded in literature in the mid eighteenth century.

porcelain pap boat

Pap usually included bread, flour, and water.  Sometimes mothers would add butter and milk to the pap or cook pap in broth as a milk substitute. Other mixtures included Lisbon sugar, beer, wine, raw meat juices and Castile soap.  Sometimes drugs or chamomile tea were added to “soothe the baby.”

Pewter bottle

To feed these mixtures to babies the “pap boat” was designed. These looked like a sauce boat or a small bed pan and were made of wood, silver, pewter, bone, porcelain, or glass. They ranged from plain for poor families or foundling homes, to highly decorated pieces for wealthier clients.
In the eighteenth century, as new materials and methods of production became accessible, many types of feeding implements were created in different shapes and sizes. Some pap boats were closed, others looked like animals, most often a duck.
Sucking pots made of pewter were used and later  replaced by  porcelain; some stood upright and others were submarine-shaped.
bubbly pot
In 1770, Dr. Hugh Smith invented the "bubby  or bubbly pot," made of pewter and resembling a gravy pot or tea pot. This was a time when there was a strong move to make artificial feeding safer, and reduce dependency on the wet nurse. The perforated spout was covered with cloth, which served as a nipple. Dr. Smith, in recommending his idea, stated, "Through it, the milk is constantly strained and the infant is obliged to labor for every drop he receives."
silver sucking bottle
Although Smith’s pot underwent many variations and existed in porcelain, it never replaced the sucking bottle. An American equivalent, the nursing can, used by the Pennsylvania Germans, may have been copied from the bubby pot. This gained little popularity and, by the 19th century, the sucking bottle was almost the rule.
glass bottle
Glass rapidly replaced the porcelain successors of pewter. They were now easier to clean and their acceptance coincided with understanding of bacteria, contagion, and improved sanitary conditions. Increasing cleanliness, reliance on milk as the chief "artificial dietary source," and diminished use of pap helped to lower the devastatingly high infant mortality rates in urban foundling homes which often approached 100%.
One humorous thing I found while researching baby bottles was a newspaper ad that said “Good breast wanted.” I was taken aback until I realized that the person was advertising for a wet nurse to breastfeed their baby and that it was a common term used during that time. My how things have changed. Could you imagine the reaction to that advertisement today?

I’m currently writing an inspirational historical fiction set in South and North Carolina immediately after the Revolutionary War. It is the third book of a series that features Lilyan and Nicholas Xanthakos.
The first book in the series is The Chamomile, set during the Revolutionary War. It was released by Ingalls Publishing Group in November 2011 and won the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance  Fall 2011 “Okra Pick” as one of the best novels of the season.
 The second book in the series, entitled Laurel, is represented by Hartline Literary Agency. The third in the series has the working title of Cassia.


  1. Extra little thought. I always wondered where wet nurses came from when there just weren't any post pregnancy moms available and discovered that a huge segment of our female population has what is called a pituitary tumor which produces prolactin, the hormone needed to produce milk. I was told by an ob-gyn, approximately 1/3 of females have them, but few have symptoms. However, once finished nursing, the woman can continue to easily produce milk because of the add'l hormones for nursing. That was probably way more info that anyone wanted, but it sure answer the question of where wet nurses often came from. Ta-da!!!

    1. Wow, the information we learn when our minds wonder about day-to-day living in the past. Thank you, Linda.