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How Did They Keep Crying Babies Quiet in the Olden Times?

While parenting has definitely taken a whole new leap at the turn of the century. There are some quite unorthodox ways ancient people dealt with simple issues like baby tantrums.

Ancient Egyptians would calm crying babies by giving them opium. This method was even popular during the Victorian era. But since it put infants in a state of narcotism, they would often starve to death.

What is Opium?

Opium is classified as a depressant. This means it has the ability to slow down the messages traveling to and from your brain and body. Opium came from the Papaver somniferum and was initially utilized for medicinal purposes.

Historians were able to collect evidence showing that Sumerians were some of the first people to cultivate the plant and extract its essence. Although, there are hints that opium was used even before the Sumerian culture.

Opium poppy pods contain a milk-like substance called latex. Latex contains chemicals that include; codeine and morphine. When latex is dried, boiled, and dried again – opium is created. (Source: Alcohol and Drug Foundation)

Opium: The Poor Child’s Nurse

Based on Ebers papyrus found, Ancient Egyptians had a peculiar way to deal with noisy infants. They would give them a drop of opium to soothe their mood. It was very effective that people from the Victorian era practiced this.

But as it gained popularity, the dangers associated with this method surfaced. Let’s look back and find out why people thought opium was still safe to use.

Aside from soothing irritable babies, opium was used to cure bad coughs, aches, and pains. It came packaged as Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. The syrup contains morphine which is an opium derivative. At the time, there were at least ten brands of the solutions that were marketed for children and infants. Some of the brand names include Atkinson’s Royal Infants’ Perseravtive, Street Infant’s Quietness, and the most popular of all children opiates; Godfrey’s Cordial. These brands contained opium, water, and an array of spices. (Source: Science Museum)

Did They Stop Using Opium?

Medical professionals in the olden days were convinced that opium was the leading cause of infantile death. It was most common with working-class and impoverished families. The phrase Poor Child’s Nurse came from the fact that opium could stop hungry babies from crying.

During this era, opium was casually given to infants and older children as they were sold with labels and recommended doses. Some pharmacists in those days admitted to selling several gallons of the quiet syrup every week.

When doctors figured out that opium kept the babies in a state of narcotism, they could link the rise in infant mortality to the drug. This was also proven when coroners concluded that the most common cause of death was starvation. (Source: Science Museum)

It took a while before the medication was stopped. One of the issues was the fact that doctors were still prescribing it. It was not because they felt that it was okay to use. The problem was they were not aware of the adverse effects. (Source: Smithsonian Magazine)

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