The pap boat was used to hand-feed babies in Victorian times. It was necessary when the mother had died or was ill and unable to breast-feed. Sometimes, upper class mothers chose not to breast-feed for reasons of fashion or convenience. Wealthy mothers would hire a 'wet nurse' to breast-feed their child for the first 9-12 months. The wet nurse would often breast-feed more than one child at a time and would not have enough milk for every feed. So she would supplement this with pap.
In the 19th century, babies who were nursed had a much better chance of survival than those who were fed by hand. Breast milk contained nutrients for the babies' healthy growth and antibodies that provided the child with natural protection against disease. On the other hand, pap lacked sufficient nutrients for a child's good health or even to sustain life. It was basically bread or flour mixed with water and sometimes enhanced with a little beer, wine, sugar or milk, and cooked until it was fairly thick.
Children could also pick up infections from pap boats. The preparation of pap was often carried out in an unsanitary manner, using dirty utensils. Also, the practice of keeping it warm all night in a food-warmer, for night time feeds, produced bacteria in large numbers. Although the container was easy to clean, the food in the pap boat was completely open to germs.
As well as pap boats, baby bottles and feeding cups with spouts were used to feed infants by hand. Baby bottles and feeders with spouts were even more unhygienic as they were difficult to clean. Nipples made of leather, bits of cloth or the teat of a calf were fertile breeding ground for bacteria.
Pap boats used most often as feeding dishes for the older infant, as they made the move to solid food from liquids. Unfortunately, as they got older their diet rarely got more exciting. Children's food in Victorian times tended to be bland - porridge, plain boiled potatoes, milk puddings, and bread and butter were the order of the day, as people believed that children wouldn't be able to digest anything else.
Today, baby care has come a long way from pap boats. Mothers are healthier than they were over a century ago, and better able to breast-feed. Bottle-feeding too, is not the health risk it was in Victorian times. Baby bottles are commonly sterilised between each use, along with the rubber teats and covers. Today's milk formula is much more nutritious than pap, it's stored hygienically and is made using boiled water. The kinds of foods that older infants are fed tend to be tastier and healthier as well, as they usually incorporate fruit and vegetables.