Pumping is no fun—whether it’s more boring or more lonesome I find hard to say—but it has recently become so common that even some women who are home with their babies all day long express their milk and feed it in a bottle. Behind closed doors, the nation begins to look like a giant human dairy farm.
This invention is for the purpose of so connecting the pump bellows with the nipple shield or cupping shield as that any motion of the bellows from the exertion of pumping will not be communicated to the shield by means of a flexible tube, by which also the pumping apparatus can be placed in any convenient position without regard to the position of the patient, and also in the flexible shields, fitting any inequalities of surface and applying themselves to the parts conveniently.
In 1864, L.O. Colvin filed a patent for a similar device. The machine, "a new and Improved Device for Milking-Cows," would, its inventor claimed,
reduce the milking device to the simplest possible form, render it capable of being operated or manipulated with greater facility than heretofore, and also capable of having, when necessary or desired, two of the teat-tubes cut off from the suction-chamber, so as to leave only two of the teat tubes operative.
But male inventors, kindly recognizing that human women are not cows, kept improving on the machines to make them (slightly) more user-friendly. In 1898, Joseph Hoover received a patent for a device that would, as much as possible, mimic a nursing human. The machine would, he claimed,
provide a breast-pump not so sudden in its action as to produce pain when the breast is distended and sore and at the same time produce a continuous flow of milk accompanied with the pulsating movement which occurs when an infant is at the breast.
A similar device, described in an 1853 ad from The New York Times, made a similar bid for motherly "mercy":
Later on, in 1925, Edward Lasker received a patent for a device that offered maternal relief in another way: by providing mothers with intermittent rests. His machine would, Lasker wrote,
provide a new and improved form and arrangement of parts for producing and controlling the vacuum by the force of' which the operation of the, device is effected. It is one of the objects of my invention to provide controlling means for the application of the force of the vacuum independently of the production of the vacuum so that a suction of constant power may be utilized for exerting its force intermittently so as to provide rest periods between successive periods of action.
Also kind. And yet comfort, at that point, was not yet a primary consideration. When the machine you're inventing is a medical device rather than a life hack, you care much less about user experience. And when you're marketing to doctors rather than customers, you generally care even less about it.
That's still true today, even with pumps that are, along with diapers and bottles, seen by many parents as essential extensions of the parents themselves. Pumps are not, generally, comfortable. They are not, generally, elegant. They are not, generally, fun. But that's in part because they are part of a phenomenon that is very, very recent: breastfeeding that makes the "feeding" ever-so-slightly less contingent on the "breast." Which has, of course, significant implications that we are still, and just now, navigating. As Lepore sums it up, "All this is so new that people are making up the rules as they go along."