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A Breast Pump Suction Pressure Comparison and Why Stronger Suction Isn’t Always Better

Posted by Tim on 6/20/2016 to DME Products
Most moms believe that they can pump the most amount of milk if the suction strength of their breast pump is at the highest setting. It’s something we often must clarify with our customers: You can’t look at suction strength alone when evaluating which breast pump to purchase. Instead, each mother should purchase the pump that best allows her to mimic the suction strength and rhythm of her baby. While we realize this may be impossible to determine when purchasing a pump before the baby is born, many brands have a combination of suction and cycle settings that allow you to customize your pump to what works best for you.

Suction Settings

When determining which pump will help produce the greatest yield of milk, you should look at the suction or vacuum strength of a pump, as well as that pump’s cycle settings. Suction speed refers to the efficiency of an electric breast pump. It measures the pump’s suction strength. Most major breast pump models will range from 0-350 mmHg. A suction setting that is too high will lead to pain for a pumping mom, and when you’re in pain, your body won’t release milk. Therefore, the highest setting may not be appropriate. While a range of 0-250 mmHg is usually the most comfortable, each mother must determine the suction strength that is right for her.

Cycle Settings

A breast pump’s cycle refers to how often the breast pump “sucks” each minute. A nursing baby sucks approximately 45 to 55 times each minute. Each breast pump attempts to mimic the baby’s natural sucking cycle, with most major brands offering settings that range from 20-80 cycles per minute.

The table below compares the cycle speed and suction strength of three popular models.



Cycle Speed





Purely Yours Ultra


50-250 mmHg


Pump in Style Advanced


Phase 1: 50-200 mmHg

Phase 2: 50-235 mmHg




0-300 mmHg

Letdown Response: The Intersection of Suction and Cycle

While a nursing baby sucks approximately 45 to 55 times each minute, this sucking rhythm is not consistent throughout a feeding. A baby will suck faster, but without a lot of force, when he or she starts to nurse. This faster cycle will stimulate the breast to release oxytocin, a hormone which causes muscles in the breast to squeeze, forcing a milk ejection reflex. This reflex is commonly referred to as the mother’s “ letdown” response.

Once the milk is flowing freely, a baby will normally slow down their sucking pace, and will nurse more slowly but with more suction until the milk slows to a trickle. When the milk starts to slow, and the baby has not completed the feeding, he or she will repeat the faster-sucking cycle to stimulate a second letdown response. A baby will continue this cycle of fast and slow sucking until they are full. Without being aware, most moms may experience three to four letdown cycles during each feeding.

The highest suction setting isn’t always best for a pumping mom. Choosing a pump with a range of suction and cycle settings allows you to customize your pump to what works best for you. Image: Flickr CC user Catherine D’Ignazio

Unlike drinking through a straw, where the more you suck the more you will get, pumping depends on a mother’s milk being able to be released and then being able to flow freely. This required letdown response is why more suction does not necessarily mean more milk. Without a mother’s milk ejection reflex being triggered, milk will simply remain in the breast. We, therefore, recommend to our customers that you choose a breast pump that has enough setting options that the mom can find an appropriate suction and cycle speed combination for her. A cycle speed that is too low will not be as efficient in producing a letdown response, while a suction that is too high will produce pain.

You should look for a breast pump that will allow you to start off at a fast cycle speed setting with a lower suction level. Once milk starts flowing, you can switch to a lower cycle speed with a stronger suction. Again, the strength of the suction should be sufficient to match your baby’s suction strength but without causing pain.

The staff at BarberDME will walk you through all of the breast pumps options available. We have a model and style to meet each expectant mom’s demands. Contact us today with any questions you have.



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