Happy Birthday to the Breast Pump

Happy Birthday to the Breast Pump: A history of lactation

Did you know on this day in 1854, the first patent was awarded for a breast pump? Only a few years before that the first baby bottle was patented in 1841 by C.M. Windship. But this doesn’t mean that designs and earlier versions of these devices did not exist. Almost exclusively made of glass, it seems like humans have been using expressed milk and baby bottles for centuries. To celebrate the birthday of the Breast Pump, we’re taking a look back at infant feeding throughout history. 

The first breast pump patent: a history of lactation from BeauGen

The History of Breastfeeding and Breast Milk

Breastfeeding is a hot topic today with many varying opinions. But after doing a bit of research, we found that it’s almost always been this way. From population booms and shifts in the Iron, to wet nurses, there has been quite a lot of discussion on how one should properly feed their babies. And the debate continues today.

Prehistoric Times

The Baby Bottle Museum in Leads has examples of earthenware baby feeding bottles believed to be from the Stone Age. CNN has published an article after three bottles in children’s graves from the Iron Age were found in Bavaria (between 450 and 800 BCE) with remains of animal milk in them.

Medieval Times

In the 1300’s a perforated cow’s horn was used to feed infants. Other devices have been found that were made of wood, ceramics or other types of earthenware. Often these were a cup with a spout off of the side that allowed an infant to drink animal’s milk. Think of our modern day paced feeding technique. 

Wet Nurses

Historians have found contracts for wet nurses dating as far back as the babylonians. Not all women are or have been biologically able to breastfeed. Childbirth was also fraught with complications. Infants who would have otherwise died with mothers, survived because of wet nurses.

"Visite Chez la Nourrice" ("Visit to the Wet nurse") by Victor Adam 

"Visite Chez la Nourrice" ("Visit to the Wet nurse") by Victor Adam

In the mid seventeen hundreds, during the same time Carl Linneaus was classifying our species, many European mothers were using the services of wet nurses. In a New Yorker article it claims that up to 90% of parisian women were not directly feeding their own babies. Enlightenment doctors, philosophers, and theologians began pushing for mothers to feed their own babies.  In the 16th and 17th centuries wet nurses were so popular that it became the primary source of employment for poor, unwed women who had children out of wedlock. The French government had to step in and begin regulating this profession. Wet Nurses must have been deemed healthy after an examination and must have breastfed her own child until they were nine months old. 

Murder Bottles

In Victorian Times, corsets were a staple in a woman’s wardrobe. There were even maternity corsets. However, while they helped a woman’s body hold its shape, they did make it difficult to breastfeed. They might have given rise to the popularity of baby bottles. While used for centuries, baby bottles were first patented around this time. 

Victorian Murder Bottles: Source Wikipedia

Victorian Murder Bottles from History Daily

They consisted of a glass bottle, a rubber tube, and a nipple (which was then referred to as a teet). Mothers loved the convenience of children being able to feed themselves. However the rubber tubing and hard to clean bottles created a haven for deadly bacteria. Even Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, a housewife’s bible of sorts, claimed that bottles were extremely convenient and that they only ever needed to be cleaned every two to three weeks! Eventually these became known as Murders or Murder Bottles. This coupled with diseases, and the prevalence of things like Lead, Mercury, and Arsenic,  no wonder that a large portion of children died before their second birthday.

Pap Boats

In the 18th century pap boats became popular. These were open vessels with a spout on one side that resembled a boat. A mother would soak bread in milk and use this boat to feed it to her child. There are also accounts of other semi-liquified foods being fed to children using these sometimes ornate feeding tools.

Spoon Feeding

Bottle designs were changing and making it safer to feed infants by the mid 19th century, but understandably parents were still wary. Many preferred to use a spoon to feed their babies. Today many mothers still use a small spoon to feed their babies expressed breast milk. 

India Rubber Nipple

First developed in 1845, the India Rubber Nipple was an innovation in bottle feeding. Refinements were made to improve the overall taste and odor and by the 20th century they were mass produced. It was also around this time that alternative sources of infant food were gaining in popularity. 

Breast Pumps

As we mentioned at the top of this post, the breast pump was first patented in 1854 by Orwell Needham in New York. In following years, many additional breast pumps would be patented. Almost all were a combination of glass, rubber, and sometimes metal. 

Antique Manual Breast Pump Image

You can actually purchase this pump from TallinnVintage

H3: Formula

By 1883 there were 27 patented brands of infant food. These almost all came in a powdered form and were meant to be mixed with milk. Some of these names are even recognizable to our modern eyes like Nestle. According to the National Library of Medicine these foods were high in fat but low in nutrition.

H3: The Banana Bottle

Improvements to the bottle continued and eventually the Banana Bottle was developed. This bottle was open at both ends. On one end a nipple was fixed. This design made it easier to clean the bottle and therefore safer to use. According to the Leeds Bottle Museum, this design was so popular that it was in use for around 50 years. 

H3: The Modern Baby Bottle

The bottle shape that we are familiar with today didn’t appear until 1910. The Stork Nurser was a more cylindrical bottle shape. The myth or joke that storks deliver babies came from the name of this bottle manufacturer. “Milk comes from the milkman, babies come from the Stork”. At this time sterilizations were also manufactured and sold to families making these cylindrical bottles safer and easier to use. Over time the glass and materials used to make baby bottles improved to make them safer and easier to use. Companies like Pyrex helped to pioneer these improvements. 

H3: The Breast Pump We Know Today

Did you know that the non-hospital grade double electric, vacuum style breast pump that we know and recognize today was first offered in the US in, 1991! Before this, pumps were manual and not widely used. Swiss company Medela, yes that medela introduced its first pump in 1991. 

If you are preparing to breastfeed, you might want to have a manual pump on hand. We also can help you decide between a manual or electric pump

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