Another Breast Pumping Mystery Solved! Does Higher Pump Suction Mean More Milk?

It seems to be a common belief that when using a breast pump the higher you turn up the vacuum (suction) the more milk you will get out.

Many mothers have told us how they turn on their pump and instantly press the + button until they get to the max level. But many of those mums have also told us how this causes pain to their nipples...

So, we thought we would set the facts straight about just how much vacuum is the right amount.

High Vacuum May Cause Damage to Your Nipples and Breasts

Every woman’s nipples have a different level of sensitivity. While your friend may use the pump on the highest vacuum level with no problems, the same setting may not be right for you.

Too high vacuum may cause pain and eventually may also cause damage to the delicate skin around your breast, areola and nipples. It may also cause a reduction in your milk flow.

If too much of the breast tissue is pulled into the funnel part of the breast shield it can compress (squeeze) your breast, and therefore also the ducts which are lying very close to the surface of the skin.

If these ducts are compressed, milk is unable to flow through them correctly and can lead to poor milk drainage.

If you are finding pain in your breast or nipple with any level of vacuum you may be using the wrong sized PersonalFit(tm) breast shield. Read more on how to size your nipple correctly to ensure you are always comfortable during a pumping session.

What is the Maximum Comfort Vacuum Level for You?

It is important to always use the pump at the suction level which feels right to you, not just pressing the + button until you get to the highest setting!

The Maximum Comfort Vacuum is the highest vacuum a mother can use and still be comfortable. You can determine your own Maximum Comfort Vacuum by increasing the vacuum until pumping feels slightly uncomfortable (not painful), then decreasing the vacuum slightly.

Does Higher Suction Increase Milk Supply and Flow?

A study looked at milk flow, milk volumes and vacuum levels during pumping sessions. The study asked the mothers to set the pump vacuum to their Maximum Comfort Vacuum and pump for 15 minutes.

The researchers measured how quickly the milk flowed and the total volume of milk pumped. Then, repeated the pumping sessions, asking the mothers to now pump at one to three vacuum levels softer.

The results showed that when the mothers used the pump at the highest vacuum they could tolerate (Maximum Comfort Vacuum), their milk flow and volume of milk pumped was higher.

Can Our Tolerance for a Particular Suction Level Change?

Every day – and sometimes every feed – your breasts may feel different. Some days, they may feel more sensitive than others. Or, it’s even possible that one side will be more sensitive than the other. This is all very normal!

This means that the level you pump on one day may change the next day. Always start by turning your pump on and waiting until you have switched over into the expression (slower) pumping mode.

Ask yourself; how does it feel? If it is comfortable, then turn up the + button one level at a time and wait to see how it feels. All Ok? Then turn the vacuum up again.

Do this until it feels slightly uncomfortable and then turn press the – button to go down a level. This is the right suction level for you today. This is your Maximum Comfort Vacuum which allows you to pump out the most milk you can.

Conclusion – It’s All About Balance!

A high suction level is effective to help you drain the breast of as much milk as possible, but this must be done without causing pain to yourself. Always use you own personal Maximum Comfort Vacuum level.

How would you describe your own breastfeeding journey? What questions do you have about breastfeeding, breast pumps or being a new mum? Let’s have a chat here or on the Medela Australia Facebook page!