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What did people do before formula was invented?

(59 Posts)
JollySergeantJackrum Fri 27-Jan-12 10:19:44

If they couldn't breastfeed? I've been wondering about this a lot. And were babies weaned much earlier?

One of my grans talks about feeding my dad eggs at 6weeks and the other says her milk disappeared at 6weeks, but neither is very clear about what happened next.

OP’s posts: |
solidgoldbrass Fri 27-Jan-12 10:23:06

Wet nursing, diluted cows' milk, neat cows' (or goats', or sheeps', or horses' milk).
Or the babies died.

RingEir Fri 27-Jan-12 10:34:42

My husband's mother told me that her mother breastfed her neighbour's child as well as her own when the mother couldn't. This was in Spain in the 1930s/40s. I imagine that during the war, cow's milk wouldn't have been in abundance.

As solidgoldbrass says, some babies just died. Especially the poor onessad

tiktok Fri 27-Jan-12 10:44:07

In the UK, National Dried Milk was a dried, powdered skimmed milk which began production in the 1940s and continued (IIRC) for about 25 years.

It was widely used until commercial branded formulas took over in the 1970s.

Before then, people (like my grandmother) boiled cow's milk, diluted it and added sugar to it.

Your gran's milk may well have dried up, sergeant - she was probably feeding to a schedule, with the use of frequent bottles of milk.

Weaning practices differ a lot. In the 40s and 50s, babies would be given small amounts of solids early on - eggs at 6 weeks not unusual. I have an older cousin (born 1948) and my mother tells me that his mother gave him soup in a bottle from when he was just tiny (and that he kept up his soup in a bottle thing until he was about five).

belgo Fri 27-Jan-12 10:45:27

My grandmother wet nursed in an english hospital in the 1940s.

lucysnowe Fri 27-Jan-12 10:48:41

I have an old recipe for baby milk which consists of cow's milk, hot water, and a teaspoon of sugar. I think in the olden days it was very common to give it to newborns before the mother's milk came in, as well as a substitute. And yes, they weaned early. I assume (but have no evidence to back this up) that many mothers bf during their laying-in, for a month, and then weaned straight after when they had to go back to work? Maybe some can corroborate or otherwise!

There's also pop, a mixture of flour and water, which really poor babies were given, poor souls. We are v. lucky to have formula now. smile

Oh hey I just found this link, it's really interesting!

lucysnowe Fri 27-Jan-12 10:49:41

Not pop, pap. Pop would be nice!

PostBellumBugsy Fri 27-Jan-12 10:49:50

My granny had 5 children and for some reason she didn't have any milk for her 5th baby. As this was 1940 in Ireland, there was no formula, so the doctor had samples of milk from the local dairy herd tested (no idea in what way) and the cow with the "thinest" milk was found and her milk used for my uncle, with of course a good teaspoon of sugar thrown in. He was moved on to milky porridge, as soon as he could take it.
He is still going strong!

HugeFurryWishingStool Fri 27-Jan-12 10:50:06

In the '50s, my mother grew up next door to a set of twins who were raised on diluted Carnation milk.

lucysnowe Fri 27-Jan-12 10:53:06

Oh, here's a good page on formula:

Eyjafjallajokull Fri 27-Jan-12 10:53:33

My dad was raised on diluted Carnation milk.
I remember reading that babies used to be weaned a lot later (9 months or later) but when I was a baby it wasn't unusual to have milky porridge at 6 weeks and if you took 'real' food mashed up a bit later, it was a real source of pride for the family.

tiktok Fri 27-Jan-12 11:10:22

Yes, Carnation and other evaporated milk was widely used - it came in a tin which was useful in the days when people did not have fridges. It would still be (usually) boiled and diluted before being given to babies.

Eyjafjallajokull Fri 27-Jan-12 11:12:18

That makes sense: they didn't have electricity for a fridge. shock

Quenelle Fri 27-Jan-12 11:13:40

My mum was given butter and sugar to suck through a muslin when she was born and my nan was ill. This was just for the first day or two of her life until my nan was better.

TeacupTempest Fri 27-Jan-12 13:35:54

I thought my dad was joking when he said he had been raised on evaporated milk!

kelly2000 Fri 27-Jan-12 13:44:08

it depends when, but wet nursing, (or friends relatives if they were poor), sugar water, cows milk, or the babies died.

My MIl was unable to produce for five days when she had sil in the '70's and the hospital refused to give her anythign (not sure how she did not die to be honest, I assume she must have got some water), when DH was born the same happened but she was allowed to give him sugar water. this is despite the availability of ff. (not in the UK btw)

MigGril Fri 27-Jan-12 13:44:22

I'll just point out though that a lot of baby's fed evaporated milk or cow's milk died anyway as they didn't get enough nutritian. It's the lucky one's who survived. Formula was a bit of a social expreirment untill the got the mix right and less baby's died.

Apparently if you go back further to around the 1900's most baby's wearnt weaned onto solids untill around 8months. Baby's where either fed by there mothers or wetnursed. Thin growels where often used but again a lot of these baby's would have died due to the poor nutritian.

thereinmadnesslies Fri 27-Jan-12 13:45:05

My MIL claims that she had a special dairy-free formula as a baby in approx 1926, possibly called Browns? She was dairy intollerant. I am amazed that such a formula existed, and I've not found a reference to formula being available for allergies until the 1940's. Has anyone come across this?

HarrietJones Fri 27-Jan-12 13:45:33

Friend was on carnation milk!

Treadmillmom Fri 27-Jan-12 13:56:10

My mother told me in Jamaica and the immigrants in the UK back in the 1950s would feed their babies thin cornmeal porridge or boiled evaporated milk in a bottle.

tiktok Fri 27-Jan-12 14:02:47

madness, there were many proprietary baby foods from the mid 19th century onwards. Many were marketed as 'milk foods' but some were based on rice flour or pea flour, with other cereals added, and maybe some sweetener like malt - possibly this is what your MIL had, but I would be surprised if in the 1920s she had no milk at all, either breast or cows, as a tiny infant.

JollySergeantJackrum Fri 27-Jan-12 14:15:06

Wow. Thank you so much for all your responses. Those links are great, lucy.

TikTok I don't know if my gran was supplementing or feeding to a schedule, but I do know that her husband was an alcoholic wasn't very helpful so she was pretty much single handedly raising the children and running a large farm which probably contributed to the issue.

I didn't realise that wet nursing was so common. In my head it was only very rich people who could afford to do that - I didn't take into account 'community spirit' or how close families were in the past.

OP’s posts: |
JollySergeantJackrum Fri 27-Jan-12 14:20:09

Also, you hear about high infant mortality rates because of poor hygeine and poor nutrition, but I never linked that with milk feeding if you see what I mean.

OP’s posts: |
LittlePickleHead Fri 27-Jan-12 14:31:11

My grandmother fed my mother and all of her siblings on cows milk boiled with sugar and water, in the 60s.

When she had her youngest, my auntie (now 50) she contracted an illness (I can't remember what it was but it was caused by wiping her eye with something infected) that made her go temporarily blind and she very nearly died. My auntie was only about 6 weeks old and she had her in hospital with her - but was failing to establish breastfeeding so she has told me how she fed my auntie on the gravy and custard that came with her meals as she was afraid the baby would be taken away if they didn't think she was breastfeeding, and my grandfather wouldn't be able to cope as was already at home working full time with 3 other young children and an elderly parent. My auntie seems healthy enough, though is quite small.

Does make me think how lucky we are these days

CuppaTeaJanice Fri 27-Jan-12 16:26:34

Many of the wet nurses from Victorian times were women from the workhouses whose babies had either died, or were left behind at the workhouse with no further contact from their mothers, often dying shortly afterwards.

Difficult to imagine now, but it must have been sheer hell nursing a virtual stranger's baby, when you had just lost yours, or had little choice but to abandon it. sad

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