For most of human history the survival of babies depended on breastfeeding, either by their mothers or by a wet-nurse (a woman who breastfed another’s child). Alternative feeding vessels did exist, some from ancient times, but all had problems and the death rate of ‘hand fed’ infants was high.

From the mid-nineteenth century glass feeding bottles became more common. But while the bottle itself was easy to clean, the various tubes and teats attached to them continued to be hazardous. It was not until the early-twentieth century that heat-resistant rubber teats were marketed, along with early infant formula. However most bottle-fed babies were fed either animal milk or watered tinned milk. Better regulation of the milk industry helped to improve the quality of milk available.

While breast-feeding was strongly advocated by health professionals throughout the period of this exhibition, more mothers adopted bottle-feeding from the mid-twentieth century, especially after the first few months. Better understanding of the need to clean and sterilize bottles helped make bottle-feeding safe. The arrival of polypropylene bottles from the 1960s was especially welcomed, as they were virtually unbreakable.

Infant feeding bottle, c. late-nineteenth century
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists

Originally this bottle had a stopper, through which a tube attached to a teat or nipple, was inserted into the bottle. Bottles like this were popular because the babies could almost feed themselves. However, they were also dangerous, because it was almost impossible to clean the tubes properly and eventually the style became known as the ‘murder bottle’.

‘Ever Sweet Sanitary Feeder’, late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists

This boat or banana-shaped bottle was much safer to use because it was easier to clean. A teat or nipple was attached to one end, with a valve at the other. The bottle also includes measurements in ounces and tablespoons, reflecting a new emphasis on accurate measurement of infant feeding.

This feeder was used by the parents of Gerard Anderson to feed him Lactogen in 1922.