Susan F. Craft
Historical Fiction Author
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Baby Bottles/Pap Feeders & Feeding Cups

Changes in infant feeding practices necessitated creation of new devices for delivery to the baby. The term "pap," allegedly derived from the Scandinavian for the sound made when a baby opens his mouth for nourishment, was probably introduced before its first recordings in literature in the mid 18th century. Recipes for pap usually called for bread, flour and water. A more nourishing mixture, "panada," was a pap base with added butter and milk, or cooked in broth as a milk substitute. Variations on the ingredients included Lisbon sugar, beer, wine, raw meat juices and Castile soap. Drugs were sometimes added to "soothe the baby."

The "pap boat" was designed to feed the mixture to babies and invalids. Resembling a sauce boat (or sometimes a small bed-pan), they were made of wood, silver, pewter, bone, porcelain, or glass. They ranged from very plain, for poor families or foundling homes, to highly decorated pieces for wealthier clients. Although intended as a supplemental invalid or post-weaning food, this "dry" form of artificial feeding, often inadequate, became very popular, significantly contributing to the infant mortality of the period.

Implements for feeding proliferated in the 18th century as new materials and methods of production became accessible. Shapes were clever and varied. Some pap boats were closed, others looked like animals, most often a duck. Feeding cups of such design are still manufactured in some countries today.

Liquid feedings could be administered through sucking pots made of pewter. These were later replaced by ones made of porcelain. Some stood upright, others were submarine-shaped and would lie flat.

In 1770, Dr. Hugh Smith invented the "Bubby pot," (in some sources, referred to as a "bubbly pot"). It was made of pewter and resembled a gravy pot or tea pot. The bubby pot came at 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 labour for every drop he receives." It is amazing how much this device resembled the previously mentioned Cypriot feeding bottle of 1900 B.C., which Dr. Smith never saw.

Although his 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 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 and panada helped to lower the devastatingly high infant mortality rates in urban foundling homes which often approached 100%.

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