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Glass breast reliever, c. 1850-1880

Breast pumps were used by mothers to remove their milk who had trouble breastfeeding directly or who wanted to put their milk in a bottle to feed their babies in a public area. This glass example was applied to the breast and then suction was applied by the mother to extract her milk. The milk was then fed to the baby via a bottle. The photograph shows this was not an easy vessel to keep clean. Doctors of this period advised breastfeeding was best for infants. They said babies should be breastfed by the mother if possible, or a wet nurse of ‘good moral character’. Babies during the 1800s might also be fed unboiled cow’s milk, a sugar and water mix from a bottle, or mixtures of milk and sugar with either bread or flour from vessels called pap boats. Dried milk and condensed milk were only introduced in the 1860s.

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Glossary: breast feeding

The process of synthesising milk from the breasts, usually a child from its mother.

Glossary: breast pump

Mechanical device to extract milk from the breasts of a lactating woman. They may be manual devices operated by hand or foot movement or electrically powered.