Top 10 Ideas That Everyone Used to Believe

5. The Best Way of Soothing a Baby is Morphine

Another shining example of old-fashioned parenting next, with the use of “Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup” for all those niggling childhood illnesses. Now, any parent will tell you that teething is a long and painful process for all involved, and no doubt many would be tempted to lace their child’s medicine with morphine. But no-one would actually do it, would they?

In the 19th century, however, things were different and the soothing syrup produced by Mrs Winslow did, in fact, contain 5mg of morphine. No doubt the adverts were true when they said that it would “relieve the poor sufferers immediately” but they weren’t quite so true when they said it was “perfectly harmless”. Mrs Winslow’s syrup was American, but there were many British equivalents that contained similar ingredients. No wonder Victorian London had a problem with opiate addicts – they were brought up on the stuff!


4. You Can Poison Your Baby With “Angry Breastmilk”

On the subject of babies, there have been some interesting theories put out about the ancient and mystifying art of breastfeeding. A common one around the start of the twentieth century was that if a mother was angry, it would turn her breastmilk sour. Luckily that isn’t the case, given how many breastfeeding mothers are also dealing with stubborn 3-year-olds that would make even Gandhi swear.

It is true that extreme stress can affect a mother’s supply, but nowadays, no-one pays attention to books like the 1916 parenting guide by the Sadlers that said that colic was caused by mothers thinking angry thoughts. As one government website puts it “Feelings cannot change the composition of human milk.” So there.


3. Leeches Can Cure Everything

Another theory that has some modern supporters, leeches were once seen as a cure for all ills. The practice is said to have started 2,500 years ago in India as a way of bloodletting but the Ancient Greeks were also keen pioneers of the technique, believing that the “four humors” of the body (blood, phlegm, black and yellow bile) needed to be in balance in order to ensure good health. If they were out of balance, you became ill. So letting blood was a way to balance that and leeches are very good at blood-sucking. It’s more than likely that this whole idea completely freaks you out but if it doesn’t, you can still see leech therapists today (pictured above.)


2. Thalidomide is Good for Pregnant Women

And yet more suspect medical advice here, which led to an international tragedy. In 1957, a new wonder drug called Thalidomide was launched onto the market. Initially intended to treat insomnia and headaches, it quickly became apparent that it was also good at curing morning sickness. So doctors started prescribing it widely to pregnant women, with no idea that it would cause hideous defects in their unborn children.

The effect was devastating – thousands of babies died and thousands more were born without limbs. Eventually, it was traced back to Thalidomide and the drug was withdrawn. It still remains on the market, for very specific medical uses, but there is a clear warning about using it while pregnant. What’s terrifying about this scandal is how happily everyone accepted their doctor’s advice without questioning. The only positive side to the whole affair is that regulation has subsequently become much tighter, especially when prescribing for pregnancy.


1. The Earth is Flat

Remember I mentioned earlier that some people persist in beliefs that others gave up a long time ago? Well, this is the definitive example. The Flat Earth Society still believes what everyone believed pre-Columbus – that the Earth is a flat disc, with the North Pole in the Middle and Antarctica spread around the edge. Apparently, this is taken form literal translations of the Bible (e.g. Psalm 75:3 “When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars”, which implies that the Earth is on pillars).

The only problem with taking the Bible literally is that it was written by people who only had access to the understanding of their time, and pictures from space have shown us quite conclusively that the Earth is round. Still, the Flat Earthers may consider that all part of the conspiracy…you make your own mind up!

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