You know how it is, right? On Twitter one night, I fell into a conversation about homemade baby formula.
I don't even know how it started - ask Beck - but I was able to get myself out of a warm bed and pad down to the cellar, where I unearthed the baby care instruction book that my mother had gotten from the hospital when she was there after having birthed me. Vintage child-rearing instructions! In my very cellar! Courtesy of New York State! Complete with the instruction that "sun baths are not necessary"!
I was able to answer Beck, sort of. It turns out that the proportions for making homemade formula are based on the size of the baby. But that's not really the point. In 1960, baby formula may well have been homemade, and consisted of nothing but canned evaporated OR fresh whole milk, plus sugar or corn syrup, plus water. I quickly fell down the rabbit hole of baby feeding, and learned any number of interesting things - including that in 1960, "it is estimated that 80% of bottle-fed infants in the US were being fed with an evaporated milk formula" - that is, not a commercial product.
Back in the day, like Colonial America, "if a mother's milk supply was inadequate or she chose not to nurse, the family often employed a wet nurse to nourish infants." When wet nursing fell out of favor, "the practice of feeding human babies milk from animals, called dry nursing, began to flourish". Isn't that fascinating? Wet for human milk, dry for goat/cow/mare/donkey milk, even though at the beginning, the animal milk would have been fresh and therefore a wet liquid. This bit about wet vs. dry came from a fascinating article in Contemporary Pediatrics, called "A Concise History of Infant Formula".
According to the Food Timeline, ready-to-serve formula was introduced in 1964, already sterilized in a glass bottle, able to be kept unopened without refrigeration. "All you have to do is replace the bottle's cap with a sterilized-sized collar." Commercial formula, a liquid or powder to be mixed with water, had made inroads by 1964: "only one mother in five now fixes the baby formula using the traditional evaporated milk mixed with carbohydrate modifiers...half of today's mothers now use a prepared infant formula, either a powder or liquid which is mixed with water...one baby in five gets whole cow's milk...only one in 10 is breast fed, still the safest, most convenient and least expensive method of nourishing an infant."
I do find it fascinating that in my lifetime, baby formula has gone from a simple concoction of evaporated milk, water and sugar, to a highly-processed exactingly-contrived product with many variants.
Mind you, none of this is meant as commentary on breastfeeding or formula feeding. I did both, I'm happy I did both, she needed formula both for convenience and because I did not have a robust milk supply. But I'm damned glad I didn't have to boil and sterilize and weigh and measure. That powdered stuff out of a can, mixed with tap water? That's a good modern convenience.