Infant Sucking

Science of Infant Sucking

Successful breastfeeding is an interplay between mother and baby. In order to understand and manage infant sucking issues, it is firstly important to establish an understanding of the anatomy and physiology of lactation and milk removal. Medela, along with leading experts from University of Western Australia, examined the anatomy of the lactating breast (link to anatomy research section). This ground breaking research challenged previous understandings and led to the rewriting of many text books.

Leading on from this, it was clear that if there were new discoveries in relation to how the breast worked, then there could also be questions in relation to how the baby removed the milk from the breast. Further investigation was needed and the results were very interesting.

Research into the physiology of milk removal was last conducted in the mid 80's by Woolridge and the classic images we have seen since can be seen here:

The Conventional view postulates, enlarged ducts, known as 'lactiferous sinuses', just behind the nipple were key for milk removal. However, the research in relation to the anatomy of the lactating breast could not identify these 'lactiferous sinuses'. The study continued to discover how the infant removes the milk from the breast and the results can be seen here:

Ultrasound of the suck cycle can be seen here:


It plays slower here so you can see the action of the tongue:


An overlay has been placed on this image to enhance your understanding: