What Came Before The Bottle, Baby?

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Ancient Baby Feeding Vessel | Photo by alimentarium.org

If you have read this column frequently you know that I like to discover how and when things were invented or discovered and what improvements have been made over time. Sometimes it’s an article that triggered the investigation and other times it’s just something that I see that gives me the idea. This time it was seeing a mother bottle-feeding her baby that got me to thinking about how long baby bottles have been in existence, so as usual I started digging.

Collection Of Baby Bottles Over Time | Photo by ©Anne-Laure Lechat

From alimentarium.org comes the “History of baby bottles.” The article was written by Annabelle Peringer back in 2015. A collection of baby bottles of Professor Ettore Rossi (1915-1998) was displayed at the Espace Lait section at the Alimentarium through August of 2015. The collection spans a vast number of years from ancient times up until the 1960s. Rossi was the Director of the University Hospital for Children in Berne, Switzerland. from 1957-1985. His research showed that the substitute for a mother’s milk for her baby called “wet nurses” developed as long ago as the 18th century B.C. in Babylon. The practice was manly used by the rich who could afford to pay wet nurses, who recently had their own babies, to suckle the wealthy woman’s child. Quoting the article “An Egyptian papyrus dating from the 15th century B.C. includes a recommendation to use a drink made with ‘cows milk and boiled wheat kernels,’ undoubtedly in the event that maternal  milk was lacking.”

Ancient Baby Feeding Vessel | Photo by alimentarium.org

Another article, this time in phys.org (Physics.org), is from the University of Bristol in England. The article is titled “First evidence for early baby bottles used to feed animal milk to prehistoric babies.” The research team discovered the first evidence that animal milk in some sort of bottle was fed to prehistoric babies. Quoting the article “Possible infant feeding vessels, made from clay, first appear in Europe in the Neolithic (at around 5,000 B.C.), becoming more commonplace throughout the Bronze and Iron Ages. They describe the vessels as having a small spout sized so they could be held by a baby. Some were had little feet and were in the shape of animals. It seems they could also have been used to feed the sick or infirm.

4 Ancient Baby Feeding Vessels | Photo by latimes.com

In order to get more proof that the bottles were used to feed babies they examined the ancient graves of three children in Bavaria. Quoting the phys.org article again “The team used a combines chemical and isotopic approach to identify and qualify the food residues found within the vessels. Their findings, published today in the journal Nature, showed that the bottles contained ruminant milk from domesticated cattle, sheep, or goat.” The quote went on to say “The presence of these three obviously specialized vessels in child graves, combined with the chemical evidence confirms that these vessels were used to feed animal milk to babies either in the place of human milk and/or during weaning onto supplementary foods. Previously, the only evidence they found came through analyzing the skeletons of infants to determine when they were weaned, but they could not determine exactly what they were eating or drinking.

Early Glass Baby Bottle | Photo by Alimentariun.org

Once glass was being made baby bottles began being formed out of glass. Some of the earliest were very simply shaped. Some people still use modern glass bottles, but the newer bottles with a disposable bag inside to hold the milk are more convenient and because the bag collapses as the child drinks land less air is swallowed thereby causing fewer issues with a gassy stomach.

Modern Baby Bottle | Photo by medium.com

The surprise is that these “bottles” which were devised so long ago and even with improvements and modern technology still perform the same function well.

Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

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