Many Victorian mothers, while intending to provide the best food and feeding methods for their infants, tragically caused the deaths of their own little ones.
There were numerous hidden killers during this time: wallpaper, toys, clothing, health remedies, and the newly developed feeding bottles for infants.
There were many benefits to the new bottles that made them extremely appealing to mothers. In an age when corsets were all the rage and nursing a baby, even with a maternity or nursing corset, was considered a “challenge” to some, and maintaining your picture perfect home and personal appearance was incredibly time consuming, a device that allowed babies to pretty much feed themselves could seem like a Godsend.
The bottles were made of glass or earthenware. Attached to the bottle was a length of rubber tubing and a nipple. The bottles, with appealing names such as “Mummies Darling” or “The Empire” also proved to be perfect incubators for deadly bacteria. It didn’t help that they were also very difficult to clean.
The Victorian woman was being presented with a constant barrage of new inventions. In an effort to make household chores easier and aid in creating the all important haven for their husbands, many a Victorian woman turned to the advice of Mrs. Beeton. Isabella Beeton, in her popular book, Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management (1861), a go-to reference guide on how to run a Victorian household, doled out advice on cooking, hiring and firing household staff, and child rearing.
Mrs. Beeton advised new mothers that it was not necessary to wash the nipple for two or three weeks, allowing the bacteria to flourish and become deadly. This only added to the already problematic “banjo” design.
Although doctors condemned the bottles and infant mortality rates of the time were high, parents continued to buy and use them. The bottles eventually earned the nickname, “Murder Bottles.”
The Baby Bottle Museum: The History Of Baby Feeding (Also, source for All Images Used)
BBC’s Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home (2013)
Beeton, Isabella, The Book of Household Management (1861)