Are High-Suction Breast Pumps Always Better?

The suction strength of your breast pump is an important factor when deciding which pump is for you! You might be thinking, “The more suction, the better!” However, there are many factors to consider when determining which pump will be the most safe, comfortable and efficient.

Fact or Fiction

It’s a common misconception that the higher the suction, the more efficient the pump. Ideally, a breast pump will express the most breast milk possible while remaining safe and comfortable while pumping.

Companies who market “hospital-grade” suction or “extremely high pump vacuum strength” do not highlight that excessive suction can actually cause more harm than good. Studies have shown that too much suction can actually cause breast tissue damage.

A better criterion for choosing your breast pump is efficiency. An efficient breast pump will have the proper combination of comfort, suction strength and cycling speed to closely mimic the way your infant nurses.

Suction v. Speed

The vacuum pressure, or suction, is typically measured in units of milligrams of mercury, abbreviated mmHg. It can also be measured in units of kilopascals, or kPa for short. Most breast pumps have a range of suction, measuring from the gentlest suction to the strongest suction setting.

The speed that the vacuum is applied to a breastfeeding mother’s nipple, is often referred to in units of cycles per minute, abbreviated cpm. Or in other words, the cpm is a unit which measures how quickly the pump sucks over a given time period (one minute).

Flange Fit

If the breast flange is too small, the nipple cannot move freely in the nipple tunnel the way the breast pump was designed, lessening the efficiency of milk expression. A too-small flange can also cause pain as the nipple rubs against the side of the breast flange. If the flange is too large, the nipple and areola get sucked into the flange causing pain and lessening the likelihood of pumping until your breast is emptied.

Efficiency is Key

The most efficient breast pumps are pumps which mimic the natural way that your infant nurses. An infant’s typical nursing pattern is an initial quick and shallow sucking pattern to stimulate the letdown of breast milk, followed by a slower, deeper sucking pattern to express milk once letdown occurs. The breast pump which can successfully mimic your infant’s sucking patterns in both speed and suction, will be the most efficient breast pump for expressing your breast milk.

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