When Were Electric Breast Pumps Invented?

Breastfeeding offers numerous benefits for mothers and babies, which is why health experts universally recommend it as the ideal method of infant feeding. However, the realities of modern life like returning to work or dealing with certain medical conditions can make exclusive breastfeeding challenging for some mothers. This is where breast pumps have played a pivotal role – allowing women to extract and store their breast milk for later feedings.

The evolution from manual to electric breast pump technology has been particularly transformative, giving mothers greater convenience and flexibility to continue providing breast milk while juggling other responsibilities.

In this article, we’ll explore the fascinating history of when and how electric breast pumps were first invented and developed over time, along with some major concerns answered in FAQs.

Early History of Breast Pumps

The concept of breast pumps can be traced back to the mid-19th century when Orwell H. Needham patented the first breast pump design in 1854. This early device consisted of a cupped breast shield and a vacuum mechanism operated by hand. Over the subsequent decades, further innovations were introduced, including milk collection bottles, improved vacuum functions, and piston-based pumping mechanisms.

The Birth of Electric Breast Pumps

It wasn’t until the 20th century that electric breast pumps were developed. In 1942, Swedish inventor Einar Egnell created the first hospital-grade electric breast pump, commissioned by gynecologists in Sweden. Egnell’s design addressed the growing need for safe and hygienic milk expression in hospital settings. The electric pump featured a motorized vacuum system, significantly improving efficiency and reducing the physical effort required compared to manual pumps.

Key features and advancements of Egnell’s electric pump design included:

  • Powerful and consistent suction
  • Improved hygiene with separate milk collection containers
  • Hands-free operation, allowing mothers to multitask

Further Developments in Electric Pumps

In the following decades after Egnell’s 1942 invention, electric breast pumps continued to evolve and improve. One major development in the 1980s was the introduction of wheeled carts that electric pumps could be mounted on. These mobile carts allowed hospital-grade pumps to be easily transported between patient rooms and postpartum wards, increasing accessibility.

Electric breast pumps were not very popular until 1991 when Medela introduced its first top-quality and effective electric breast pump with a microprocessor-controlled system. This allowed for programmable and customizable pumping patterns, suction levels, and cycling times. Mothers could now fine-tune the pumping experience to best mimic their infant’s natural sucking patterns.

Other pump makers followed suit, integrating microprocessor technology into their hospital and personal-use electric pumps. This enabled features like automatic shut-off, memory functions to resume previous settings, and digital displays showing pumping output.

Bringing Electric Pumps to Homes

While early electric pumps were designed primarily for clinical use in hospitals, their convenience and efficiency soon made them desirable for personal home use by breastfeeding mothers. However, the high cost of hospital-grade pumps was initially a barrier.

This changed in 1999 when a Korean company released the first affordable, high-quality electric breast pump designed specifically for home use. It provided powerful hospital-level suction and pumping rhythms but at a price point accessible to ordinary consumers. This democratized electric pump technology, transforming breastfeeding practices for millions of mothers worldwide who previously could not afford a high-end pump.

Building on this, other major breast pump brands like Medela, Ameda, and Spectra released their own personal-use electric pump models in the early 2000s. It helped mothers to easily maintain breastfeeding routines while juggling work, travel, or other commitments outside the home.

Contribution of Electric Breast Pumps: Recent Research

Studies that started after the 2000s further highlighted the significance of electric breast pumps in facilitating breastfeeding practices. For instance, a study conducted and published in 2006 investigated the effectiveness of electric breast pumps in assessing milk ejection and breast milk flow rates. The study found a direct relationship between increases in milk duct diameter, as measured by ultrasound, and acute increases in milk flow rates. This suggests that electric breast pumps not only simplify the process of milk expression but also provide valuable insights into lactation dynamics, enhancing our understanding of breastfeeding physiology.

Recent Innovations

In recent years, advances in electronics, materials, and user-centered design have further revolutionized electric breast pumps:

Ultra-Quiet Wearable Pumps: Companies like Willow, Elvie, and Freemie have introduced ultra-quiet, hands-free wearable breast pumps that can be discreetly worn underneath clothing. This allows pumping anytime, anywhere.

Bluetooth/App Connectivity: Many new pump models connect via Bluetooth to dedicated mobile apps. Mothers can view real-time pumping data, track output, log pump sessions, and even control the pump remotely.

Improved Suction Patterns: Pump makers have innovated with customizable suction patterns that better mimic a baby’s natural sucking rhythms for more efficient milk flow.

Comfort Features: Modern pumps focus heavily on comfort with features like soft massage cushions, adjustable suction levels, and memory functions to resume previous preferred settings.

What Did The First Breast Pump Look Like?

The first breast pump, patented in 1854 by Orwell H. Needham, comprised various components that contributed to its functionality:

  • A rubber cup, designed to fit into a glass pipe, formed the main structure of the pump.
  • This glass pipe featured a hole that allowed users to control the vacuum effect by manipulating it with their fingers.
  • A flexible tube connected the glass pipe to a bellows housed within a box, generating the necessary suction for milk expression.
  • Additionally, a rubber shield surrounded the nipple, mimicking the sensation of a nursing baby and enhancing the pump’s effectiveness.

Before Needham’s patent,, breast pumps existed in primitive forms, utilizing materials like clay or animal bladders. Historical developments in breast pump design included:

  • In the 18th century, early pumps featured glass cups with long spouts, enabling suction.
  • By the 19th century, brass syringes were integrated into breast pump designs to aid in milk collection.
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Is an Electric Breast Pump Healthy?

Electric breast pumps are generally considered a healthy and effective way for nursing mothers to express breast milk when needed. However, like any breastfeeding tool or device, proper use and cleaning are essential to avoid potential issues.

A research article was published that compared different breast pumping techniques – simultaneous expression (pumping both breasts at the same time) versus sequential expression (pumping each breast one after the other). It found some significant advantages to the simultaneous method:

  • More milk ejections were induced, resulting in greater overall milk output
  • The milk expressed simultaneously had a higher calorie content
  • While the first breast pumped sequentially was more efficient initially, both breasts produced equal volumes after 15 minutes

When this simultaneous expression is done through an electric breast pump, it will further enhance the benefits. As long as mothers carefully follow best practices and aren’t over pumping, these should not pose any major health risks. Some of the prominent advantages include:

  • Nipple protection
  • Even milk removal, and
  • Comfort to both mother and baby

However, improper use of electric pumps can potentially lead to some issues as well, such as:

Mastitis/Infection Risk: Failure to properly clean and sanitize pump parts can allow bacterial growth and increase the risk of mastitis (breast infection).

Nipple Trauma: Excessively high suction levels or incorrect breast flange sizes can cause nipple wounds, cracking, bleeding, etc. Following manufacturer guidance on settings is important.

Oversupply Issues: Some women’s bodies can over-respond to the strong suction of an electric pump, causing them to produce an oversupply of milk. This can lead to engorgement, clogged ducts, and significant breast pain.

Additional FAQs

Did they have breast pumps in the 80s?

Yes, breast pumps have been around for quite some time. The basic concept of a breast pump, which helps extract milk from the breast, has been known for centuries. However, the modern electric breast pump, as we know it today, was developed in the mid-20th century and became more widely available in the 1970s and 1980s. These pumps provided more convenience and efficiency compared to manual pumps, making it easier for mothers to express milk when needed.

Is it OK to breast pump every day?

Yes, it is generally recommended to pump breast milk frequently, even every day, in order to maintain a good milk supply. In the first 2-3 weeks after birth, experts suggest pumping 8-10 times per day, about every 2-3 hours, to establish and build your milk production.

As your milk supply increases, most mothers can transition to pumping around 8 times per day. It’s important to pump for a couple of minutes after your milk flow stops to ensure you are draining your breasts fully with each session.

Pumping frequently signals your body to keep producing prolific amounts of milk. Skipping pumping sessions can lead to a decrease in your overall milk supply over time.

Is pumped milk as good as breastfeeding?

Yes, pumped breast milk is nutritionally equivalent to milk expressed directly from breastfeeding. It contains the same antibodies, nutrients, and health benefits for babies.

However, some research suggests that breast milk from exclusive breastfeeding (baby nursing directly at the breast) may have slightly higher levels of certain beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria compared to pumped milk.

That said, pumped breast milk is still considered superior to infant formula from a nutritional and immunological standpoint. Many health organizations recommend feeding a baby with pumped breast milk as the second best option if exclusive breastfeeding is not possible.

Does pumping burn calories?

Yes, the act of pumping breast milk does burn calories, similar to breastfeeding. The number of calories burned depends on several factors including:

  • Frequency and duration of pumping sessions
  • The volume of milk expressed
  • Your basal metabolic rate
  • Age of your baby (caloric density of milk changes over time)
  • Overall levels of physical activity
  • Your pre-pregnancy weight and pregnancy weight gain

Most estimates suggest pumping can burn a few hundred extra calories per day beyond your normal metabolic rate when done regularly. But the number can vary quite a bit from person to person based on the factors above.

Ending it Here!

The invention and evolution of electric breast pumps have revolutionized the breastfeeding experience for countless mothers worldwide. What began as a simple idea in the 19th century has transformed into highly advanced, user-friendly technologies that empower women to provide nutritious breast milk while living modern lifestyles.

From increasing pumping efficiency and comfort to offering greater flexibility, electric pumps have played an invaluable role in promoting and extending breastfeeding journeys. As innovation continues, one can only imagine the future developments that will further support and celebrate the incredible act of breastfeeding.

For mothers dedicated to nourishing their babies with breast milk, electric pumps will undoubtedly remain an essential tool in their breastfeeding journey.

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