Many mothers cannot imagine their life without a breast pump. While some do not enjoy expressing their breastmilk with a pump, it is often a necessity for those separated from their infants for an extended period of time. Have you ever wondered what antique breast pumps looked like?
Breast pumps were invented in the mid-19th century as a way to help mothers who had inverted nipples or whose infants were too small or weak to nurse. They were typically comprised of a glass tube with a hole in it. The mother would control the vacuum by placing her finger over the hole. A flexible rubber tube would go from the glass tube up to Mother’s mouth where she would suck to remove her milk.
The first patent for a breast pump was filed in 1854 by Orwell Needham in New York. It was made of a rubber cup that fit into a glass pipe. There was a hole in the glass pipe that a mom would use to control the vacuum effect with her finger. A flexible tube connected the glass pipe back to a bellows fitted in a box.
Drawing included with the first breast pump patent filed in 1854.
Source: Google Patents
This pewter breast pump from Phisick is a rare find. It includes two different sized cups. The brass pump screws into the pewter cups to provide suction. The pump is likely from 1830-1856.
Rare antique pewter breast pump
These two breast pumps reside at Mothers' Milk Bank of North Texas. They're made of glass and have a rubber bulb that was used to create suction. They resemble bicycle horns. They were used up until the late 1970s. As you can imagine, they were not particularly comfortable or efficient, and the rubber bulb would often become contaminated with bacteria from milk or moisture.
This ad from the New York Times claims to relieve the breast of engorgement faster and more comfortably than a child!
It says, "In offering to afflicted mothers this invaluable little instrument, the proprietor feels that he is doing a work of mercy, and that while it may be profitable to him, it is of infinite service to the many afflicted mothers who, with sore breasts and nipples, suffer more than the tortures of the Inquisition. All other breast pumps, pipes, &e., may succeed in extracting the milk from the breast, but during the operation the mother suffers as much, or more pain than the child itself would inflict, and feels no relief from their use until the torturing operation is over. While Dr. NEEDHAM’s PUMP relieves the breast more rapidly than the child, and without pain. On the contrary it affords instantaneous relief. It is operated by the mother and is governed by her feeling and intelligence. The sensation produced by the instrument imitates that of the child nursing to a remarkable degree, the only perceptible difference being that the instrument performs its office without inflicting pain. Every physician who has examined it speaks of it in the most rapturous terms of praise."
Breast pumps have come a long way from the photos above. Today's pumping moms are very thankful for sized flanges, the ability to pump both breasts at once, and spare parts being easily available! MMBNT is very thankful for the pumping moms that donate their extra breastmilk to us for critically ill and premature infants!