Sunday, May 5, 2013

FEEDING AN ORPHAN INFANT IN THE 1890S - Lena Nelson Dooley


I just love all aspects of research. Here's some valuable information I uncovered while writing a western novel.

While writing my Summerside Press book, I came up against a problem. The heroine and her two servants needed 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 prohibitive 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 and 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 symbolically fit with the tears over the loss of the mother.

And they even had three different colors of rubber nipples in that catalog. Here are some other shapes of baby bottles and nipples.

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




Actually, in my newest series, McKenna's Daughters, the three heroines lost their mother soon after birth on a wagon train, so I was able to use the nursing mothers filling for their loss. So often as an author, we are able to use the information we uncover more than once in our books.

Identical triplets born on one of the last wagon trains on the Oregon Trail were separated at birth because their mother died giving birth. They don't find out that they have sisters until near their 18th birthday. Each book is one sister's story. They're available in bookstores everywhere and here:
Maggie's Journey (McKenna's Daughters)
Mary's Blessing (McKenna's Daughters)
Catherine's Pursuit (McKenna's Daughters)

28 comments:

  1. Lena, I love your books, and I love this post. In fact, it brought me to tears thinking of those precious babies whose mothers died. Isn't it amazing the way clever people stepped in to feed those little ones.

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    1. I was surprised by what I found. And I'm glad you like the books.

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  2. What incredibly interesting information! We tend to forget that things like infant formula were not always readily available at a price the average person could afford. So glad for companies, like Nestle, that cared then and care enough still, to come up with something that would give enough nutrition for a baby to survive and thrive.
    I have not read McKenna's Daughters, but certainly would like to.
    Betti
    bettimace(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. Hi, Betz. I hope you can get ahold of copies.

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  3. Very cool info, Lena. I didn't realize baby formula was available so early. Those old baby bottles are fascinating.

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    1. Vickie, I found them fascinating as well.

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  4. Interesting post today, I knew about the wet nurse feeding babies not having a mama but didn't realize formula and bottles were that early in history. I have read some of the McKenna's Daughters and enjoyed their stories.
    thanks for sharing
    Paula O(kyflo130@yahoo.com)

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  5. Lena, Thanks for such an interesting blog. It is interesting to see how bottles used to look like and how they evolved to what we use today. I am so glad for baby formula and that fact that God gave a man the knowledge to create something that would help nourish infants. I think it is great that Nestle still cares about the undernourished and tries to help them. God smiles on those who are willing to help the less fortunate.

    I have yet to read the series on the triplets. I do have Catherine's Pursuit but would like to read them in order so now I need to get the other two books :)

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    1. yes, reading them in order would be best, Deanna.

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  6. I loved the book Love Finds You in Golden, NM. So great to see a tidbit of the research that went into that book. The photos are a great find, too. Thank you for sharing!

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  7. Wow, we certainly have come along way in feeding...now they have soy and other types as well...very interestin. truckredford(at)gmail(dot)com

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    1. Eliza, I often find things I hadn't realized that were available so early.

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  8. That first picture reminds me of an episode of Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, where a baby died because of bacteria in the rubber that connects the nipple to the bottle. I never knew this about the Nestle company. Thanks for sharing.
    Your books sound really good. God Bless.

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    1. Hi, Chaplain Debbie, thanks for dropping by. Another reason to use Nestle products. I've always loved their chocolates.

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  9. I have read the first two books, and would love to have a copy to read of Catherine's Pursuit! Very interesting, and that Nestle began that early with formula. Have heard of mother's adding Karo syrup to nursing bottles too. Wonder if Nestle was making milk chocolate during that time! Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House lanehillhouse[at]centurylink[dot]net

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    1. Hi Kathleen, I think their chocolate came much later.

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  10. Wow, that is a pretty cool finding. Those bottles and nipples look crazy! We have certainly come a long ways. Your books sound like a very interesting story - I must put them on my to-read list!
    Susan P

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    1. I would love to hear from you after you've read them to see what you think of them, Susan.

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  11. PET milk was invented in 1885. http://www.petmilk.com/history/

    If I remember correctly, I got my start on PET milk since I was born a wee bit early and Mama had nothing to give me. This was not in 1885, though! Just sayin'

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    1. Pam, when I was young, babies were often fed Pet milk.

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  12. I know that they used to use other concoctions before formula came along - I'm sure there were times people tried about anything and everything they could think of to take care of the poor infants.
    One thing I hadn't known of as a way to feed an infant -even a newborn - was through cup feeding. I found this out when my son was born and had severe jaundice. We were trying to find an alterative way to feed him formula rather than through a bottle because I was trying to establish nursing, but had to supplement with formula for a while. A nurse taught me that babies can lap milk from a small cup, something like a kitten. It worked, and that's how I fed my son! Apparently, people have fed babies this way for many years!

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    1. Bethany, thanks for sharing that with us. I've never heard of it. Actually, my mother-in-law adopted a baby before she had my husband. Her mother somehow taught her to let the baby nurse her and it stimulated her to produce milk. I'd never heard of that either.

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  13. I love this! I am very detailed and am always dissapointed with historical fiction when they don't get into the factual details. Great job on the research!

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    1. Mommamindy, I think you would like my novels. I've very meticulous with my research. You'll find lots of factual details in them.

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