Murder Bottles

I heard of this story on the Nourishing Death blog here. There may be triggers–this post is about children and babies dying. It's not graphic, but please be warned.

Much like with my similar post on Memento Moris, I'm not going to be flippant like I usually am, because I don't want to go to hell.

As we've seen before, there were plenty of inventions/remedies/theories during the Victorian era which turned out to do far more harm than good. Victorian parents, just like parents of any other age, wanted to do the best by their children and see them grow strong. They, just like us, would try out the 'latest thing' designed especially to help your child thrive. Unfortunately, when one of these 'latest things' was faulty, parents discovered its flaws the hard way.

One such invention was a new style of bottle:


"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 baby to pretty much feed him/herself could seem like a Godsend."


As you can see, it allows the child to sit upright and feed him or herself through a nipple connected to a long straw-like apparatus. The child would not have to tip his or her head back, reducing the chances of choking or swallowing air bubbles and needing to be burped. Its shape allowed children to hang on to it easily.

Unfortunately, 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 ultimate Victorian homemaker's guide, Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, which was enormously successful and probably graced the shelves of every middle class house for the last four decades of the Victorian era, addressed these new bottles in particular. Mrs. Beeton, ever aware of new inventions to make household chores easier, always gave advice on how these new inventions could be put to their best use. She advised "new mothers that it was not necessary to wash the nipple for two or three weeks, [and such advice, unbeknowst to her] allow[ed] the bacteria to flourish and become deadly. This only added to the already problematic 'banjo' design."

I fail to see how anyone, even in that time, could have thought this was good advice. The Victorians were certainly aware of what happened to milk if it was not drunk right away, and the milky residue left in that long straw and nipple must have begun to smell long before the two weeks were up. Perhaps that's just my 20/20 hindsight.

"Although doctors condemned the bottles and infant mortality rates of the time were shocking – only two out of ten infants lived to their second birthday – parents continued to buy and use them. The bottles eventually earned the nickname, 'Murder Bottles'".

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