Scientists have used ultrasound to study how a baby breastfeeds. The ultrasound images have shown that babies get milk from their mother’s breast by creating a vacuum around the nipple area – what we know as sucking.
Up to now, there have been two schools of thought about how a baby actually breastfeeds. The first is the vacuum sucking method, the second is that the baby actually ‘pulls’ the nipple and breast to push the milk out – similar to the way diary milking machines work.
Previous studies had relied on x-ray images or focused on bottle-feeding babies. Now, scientists at the University of Western Australia, have combined ultrasound images of breastfeeding infants, with measurements of the vacuum created during feeding.
Most excitingly, the findings, which were announced at a Medela Breastfeeding and Lactating conference in Italy, could mean a breakthrough for helping mums who are having problems breastfeeding.
The scientists discovered that babies who had difficulties breastfeeding created weaker vacuums than those who fed well. This could explain why premmie babies often have difficulty breastfeeding, as initially they don’t have a powerful enough suck.
This means that those mums having problems but who really want to breastfeed could maintain their milk flow by expressing, and then return to breastfeeding once their baby develops a stronger suck.
Furthermore, if a simple test can be developed to measure a baby’s sucking power, it could help those mums experiencing feeding problems and take away any blame they may be feeling.
The study also looked at women who found breastfeeding painful and discovered that their babies had an extremely vigorous suck. Armed with this research, it may be possible to develop a more effective nipple shield that could reduce the pain.