1920 Hygeia Open-Mouthed Nursing Bottle Advertisement

Hygeia Nursing Bottle Advertisement
Source: Ladies Home Journal (January, 1920)

Sometimes we look at the past through rose-colored glasses, and everything seems very idyllic. But, actually a hundred-years ago, factories were in full swing, and people were rapidly shifting from traditional ways of doing things to more modern ways that often utilized commercially-produced products. Sometimes this was good; other times it may not have been. For example, in the early twentieth century, a rapid shift was occurring in how infants were fed.

Breastfeeding was in decline, and was viewed as something done by women in the lower socio-economic classes.

The real decline of wet nursing came, of course, with the rise of formula bottle-feeding, which began in the 1910s.  Bottle feeding was convenient (especially for women busy outside the home); it was “scientific”; and it was “modern” – it was what mothers who were “with it” did. From that point of view, only primitive or unenlightened women breastfed.

Source: Breastfeeding History (Made in America: A History of American Culture and Character)

A hundred years ago, magazines contained advertisements for baby bottles that made mothers feel good about bottle feeding. An advertisement for the Hygeia Open-Mouthed Nursing Bottle emphasized how much babies liked the nipple design and how easy it was to clean.

In comparison, today new mothers are encouraged to feed their babies breast milk. It is generally considered superior to formula (and high-quality breast pumps are now available that can make it more convenient to pump and store milk). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 82.3% of the babies born in the U.S. in 2015 started out breastfeeding. At six months, 57.6% of babies were still breastfeeding, though only about 25% were breastfeeding exclusively.

34 thoughts on “1920 Hygeia Open-Mouthed Nursing Bottle Advertisement

    1. The focus on creating a need for this product may have sold the baby bottles, but it also had the consequence of shifting people away from the best practices for feeding infants.

  1. Bottles and formula were one of the worst things we introduced to other countries. In Liberia, poor women often would add water to the formula in their bottles until it provided nearly no nutrition. The inability to keep bottles clean was another problem, and in those circumstances, even the open-mouthed bottle couldn’t help.

  2. I just love the stats of today, Sheryl! Yes breastfeeding is best for the baby and it brings great relief to me that women are realizing that fact. I grew up in the 50’s as a baby and believe me, women were brainwashed into thinking formula was superior to breast milk. Women who did breastfeed, were looked down upon. It’s wonderful that things are really changing for the better.

    1. It’s nice to hear that you liked this post. I agree that it’s wonderful that things are changing for the better. Mothers have always tried to do what is best for their babies – and it’s really hard when they get poor information from experts.

  3. Not to mention all of the antibodies that are transferred to the baby by breast milk. And, little know fact, nursing helps the mother shed some of the baby weight. I also found their diapers are not malodorous and the spit up comes out of their clothing without leaving a yellow stain. Aren’t I just a plethora of random knowledge? I love motherhood, and nursing was my special time with the boys.

    1. I love it. It fascinating to learn more about the advantages of breastfeeding. I particularly enjoyed reading the one about how nursing helps the mother shed some of the baby weight.

  4. This takes me back to the birth of my son — my first child — in 1958. The nurses were clearly opposed to breast feeding. They fed my baby sugar water before bringing him to me for a feeding, and shoved him to my breast as if they (well, only one) were angry. Breast feeding never was fully successful with him. Two years later, the attitude was much different and my daughter and I had a lovely time together — easily nursing

    1. Whew – that had to have been tough. When I think about how difficult it is for a first-time mother to learn all the things they need to know to care for a newborn, it’s hard to image how rough it had to have been for you when the nurses were not supportive.

  5. Oh gosh it was considered pretty “disgusting” when I breastfed my daughter, too! And my daughter now is a vocal breastfeeder, ready to call out anyone on social media, including Target, who from the efforts of many like her now as an “Inclusive Breast Feeding Policy!” Great post!

    How times have changed!!

    1. Thank goodness times have changed. I wasn’t familiar with Target’s policy until I read your comment. I then “googled it.” It’s wonderful how the policy allows mothers to nurse wherever and whenever when shopping at Target.

  6. I was able to breastfeed both my children and it was the right and encouraged thing to do – even if I was a minority in my circle of friends. I imagine I saved thousands of dollars by avoiding formula and bottles. Both of my children transitioned from breast to sippy cups. Sad to think of the problems my mother and grandmother had trying to use bottles and be modern!

    1. You were fortunate that you were supported and encouraged – even if you were in the minority. I hadn’t thought about the cost aspect of breastfeeding before, but it makes a lot of sense that nursing is the less costly option.

  7. I had to bottle feed my youngest because she didn’t have the strength to suck right,that was the hardest thing for me to except after breast feeding the other children. I hated getting up at night to warm up a bottle when it would have been so much easier to just pull her into bed to nurse away. It good to hear that breastfeeding is so encouraged!

    1. Your comment is so descriptive of how it feels to have to get up with a baby in the middle of the night. I can almost feel the cold on my feet. As you point out, there are good reasons why bottle-feeding is best for some babies – though I can see how it would be difficult after breastfeeding your older children.

    1. Until I read your comment, I hadn’t realized that the Hygeia brand was still around. It’s fascinating how they’ve shifted into breast pumps (and the milk storage bottles that are used with them).

  8. Sheryl, Good point. I often look at the past through rose-coloured glasses. I was in the dental field a long time and lots of issues with babies and feeding habits. Great post!

    1. I bet you saw lots of things. Your comment brings back memories of hearing that baby teeth can become rotted due to extensive feeding of liquids with sugars in baby bottles. It’s wonderful to hear that you enjoyed this post.

    1. I find it fascinating how advertisements like one successfully create an image. Both then and now, advertisers seek to engage people with a brand.

  9. Amazing how powerful marketing is, even all those years ago. Happily the correct information as to what is best for baby is now the messaging being given to the public.

  10. So 1910 was the marker for putting a little distance between Mom and Babe, in a big societal way. Thats not a statement against one who wants to breasfeed, but must do otherwise, for that mother will compensate the fact. It just was not healthy “progress”.

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