May 13, 2009

Feeding an Orphaned Baby by Lena Nelson Dooley

While writing my Summerside Press book, I came up against a problem. The heroine and her two servants need to travel from Boston to Golden, New Mexico, by train. On their journey, they would also take an orphaned baby. My dilemma? How to feed the baby. The year is 1892.

I knew that when a mother died, a wet nurse (a mother who was nursing her own infant) would often step in and keep the baby alive. Or the people with the motherless baby would hire a wet nurse. On wagon trains, when a mother of an infant died, other nursing mothers on the wagon train helped feed the child. All this information wouldn't help me.

In my search for information, I found out that the first commercial infant formula was invented in Europe in 1869. The powdered formula was added to warmed cow's milk. A version of this formula was also sold in the US that same year. However, the cost of $1.00 per bottle was prohibitave for most families.

Henri Nestle created a formula, also in Europe, to treat malnourished babies. This formula didn;t require adding cow's milk to the powder. When mixed with water, it was the first complete formula. In 1870, Nestle brought his infant formula to the US. It sold for only $.50 per bottle, still a rather high price for most families. But through marketing, this product was available worldwide, including throughout the whole United States.
I'm sure the Nestle name is familiar to you. If you go to the Nestle website, you find that the company is still very active in helping underdeveloped countries feed their babies.

I decided to use Nestle Infant Food in my story.

I own a 1897 Sears & Roebuck catalog. In that book, there are a number of formulas available for order. And the nursing bottles are quite interesting. There is one shaped like a banana. Others are teardrop shaped clear glass with writing molded into the side. I've chosen to use the teardrop one to fit with the tears over the loss of the mother.

And they even had three different colors of rubber nipples in that catalog.

I love the way that research leads me to so much interesting information.


Mary said...


This is wonderful information. The photos are great, as they give us some idea of what the bottles looked like. Thank you so much for sharing. I certainly enjoyed your post.

Edna said...

There is so much interesting informaton on Bustles and Spurs, I love to read about all this stuff, I love history.


Vickie McDonough said...

Great article, Lena, and the pictures are wonderful. It's hard to imagine how one could hold a baby and feed it with one of those bottles with the long tube.

Tanya Hanson said...

Wonderful article, Lena. Family lore has it my gramma nursing twins after their mama died.

I don't know if anybody out there watches "Lost" but that orphan baby Aaron cracks me up: never cries, never needs to eat.

Thanks again. I love research too and all the tidbits of daily life in the 19th century.

~Tanya Hanson