Bulb-Style Breast Pumps

Bulb style, ball style, bicycle horn type breast pump
Bulb-Style, or Bicycle Horn Breast Pump. © animalluv10

The bulb-style, or bulb-type breast pump, looks like a bicycle horn. It is made up of two parts: a breast flange and a collection bulb. The breast flange, which is also called a breast shield, is the part that you place over the nipple and areola. The bulb or ball is attached to the end of the breast flange. It creates the suction and acts as a collection chamber.

How Does a Bulb-Style Breast Pump Work?

A breast pump is a device that's used to remove breast milk from the breasts. The bulb-style breast pump is a manual style pump. You operate a manual breast pump by hand, and they don't need batteries or electricity to work.

To work a bulb-style breast pump, you place the shield over your breast and squeeze the bulb. When the bulb is squeezed and let go, it creates suction. This suction removes the breast milk from the breast. As the pump removes the breast milk from the breast, it flows directly into the bulb. The suction bulb is also the collection area where the breast milk ends up. You cannot attach and use a breast milk collection bag or bottle with this type of breast pump.

Reasons You Shouldn't Use a Bulb-Style Breast Pump

Bulb-style breast pumps are small and inexpensive. They are also portable, and since you don't have to worry about running out of batteries or finding an outlet to plug them in, they can be convenient. However, the negatives of these pumps really do outweigh any of the benefits. 

  • You cannot clean bulb-style breast pumps thoroughly and effectively, so they are easily contaminated. They can quickly become a breeding ground for bacteria even if you wash them in boiling water. Therefore, this type of breast pump should never be used to collect breast milk for your child
  • The collection bulb is small, and it can only hold a little bit of breast milk at a time. It gets full quickly, and you have to empty it very often. Plus, once breast milk begins to fill the bulb, it affects the suction and how the pump works. 
  • Controlling the bulb suction is difficult. The suction is not consistent, and it can damage the tissue around your breast. It can even cause breast issues such as sore nipples and mastitis.

Relieving Occasional Breast Engorgement

Bulb-style breast pumps have been used as breast relievers. They can help to ease the fullness and pain of hard, swollen breasts for women who do not know the hand expression technique or those who find it difficult to remove breast milk by hand.

However, if you do choose to use a bulb-style breast pump for the occasional relief of breast engorgement, keep in mind that it can potentially cause damage your breast.

Due to the dangers of contamination, you should never feed your baby any of the breast milk that you collect in the bulb.

What to Choose Instead 

If you are looking for a small, portable, hand-operated breast pump, there are other, safer types of breast pumps to choose from. A trigger-style or cylinder-style manual pump might be a good option. And, learning how to use the hand expression technique is also very helpful if you only need to remove a small amount of breast milk occasionally.

Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.
  • Khatoon, S., Begum, T., Begum, N. Expression of Breast Milk – An Update. Journal of Shaheed Sahrawardy Medical College. 2012; 4(2): 62-64.
  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.