Sucking Glass (From the Collection #28)

The Story

For centuries, mothers have used a number of tools to relieve the pain of engorged breasts, correct inverted nipples, and increase milk production. Some of the first breast pumps were found at Greek archeological sites dating from the 6th to 5th centuries BCE. These dual purpose feeding bottles and breast pumps, called guttus, could be filled with water, placed against the breast, and then drained, creating a vacuum that would draw out the woman’s milk.

Sucking glasses or pipes are generally believed to have become popular in the 1500s, although some may have been found at Eastern European sites dating to as early as 200 CE. Their design was first published in 1577 and changed very little until the late 19th century (see image). Women used sucking glasses on themselves to draw out inverted nipples. The bulbous end was placed over the nipple and suction was created by sucking on the end of the long pipe stem. Alternatively, one could fill the bulb with hot water, empty it, and place the heated vessel over the nipple to create a vacuum as it cooled. In addition to correcting nipple inversion – a problem that increased with the fashion of restrictive corsets – sucking glasses were also employed when nursing was painful or otherwise impossible due to cracking or mastitis.

By the late 19th century materials and technology had advanced and new breast pumps were available, varying from the syringe pump to the “bicycle horn” hand-pump to the more recognizable electric pumps.

The Specs

ACCESSION # (Web Link):1979.21.37
Object Name:Breast Pump
Manufacturer (Country):Unknown (Unknown)
Date Made:Circa 1876-1899
MESH Code:Breast Feeding
Milk, Human
Infant Food

About “From the Collection”

“From the Collection” was a project originally published in 2010 to the Museum of Health Care’s website by former Curator Paul Robertson, with the goal being to highlight some the Museum’s most unique items that might be missed in our collection. Each artifact is presented as a bite-sized story, related information, and a link to it’s fully detailed entry on our free online digital catalogue!

Posts in the “From the Collection” series were originally created with support from Funded by the Ontario Museums and Technology Fund. The support of the Government of Ontario, through the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, is acknowledged.

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