Child-calming Patent Medicines

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Child-calming Patent Medicines

Opium isn't, as it turns out, the baby's friend.

Julia Smith/Riser/Getty Images

It wasn't until 1962 that a drug had to be both safe and effective to be sold on the U.S. market [source: FDA]. In the 19th century, such standards were nonexistent, so the market was flooded with ointments, balms and tinctures that might be either safely ineffective or functionally dangerous. Falling into the latter category is an assortment of medicines that were purported to calm upset babies, allowing the infant -- and its parents -- to sleep soundly through the night. Such medicines abounded, with reassuring names such as Soothing Baby Syrup, Hooper's Adodyne: The Infant's Friend, Dr. Fahrney's Teething Syrup, Dr. Winslow's Soothing Syrup and Kopp's Baby Friend.

Desperate (or maybe just curious) parents eager for a full night's sleep turned to these patent medicines. They worked as advertised. A glance at the contents of Kopp's Baby Friend (fairly representative of all such nostrums) will tell you why: Its label boasted 8.5 percent alcohol and one-eighth grain sulfate of opium per ounce. The suggested dosing on the Kopp's label was on a graduated scale to account for your infant's growing size and tolerance to opiates -- "Dose for child 1 week old, 6 drops; … 1 month, 15 to 18 drops; … 12 months and over, 1 1/2 teaspoonful…"

There were reportedly many child deaths due to these narcotic formulas and likely many more miniature ­addicts. The American Medical Association publicized the dangers of using such products, and the popularity of narcotic infant soothers began to wane in the early 1900s.

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