Objective: The mechanism by which the breastfeeding infant removes milk from the breast is still controversial. It is unclear whether the infant uses predominantly intra-oral vacuum or a peristaltic action of the tongue to remove milk from the breast. The aim of this study was to use ultrasound to observe movements of the tongue during breastfeeding and relate these movements to both milk flow and simultaneous measurements of intra-oral vacuum.
Methods: Submental ultrasound scans of the oral cavity of 20 breastfed infants (3-24 weeks old) were performed during a breastfeed. Intra-oral vacuums were measured simultaneously via a milk-filled supply line (SNS) connected to a pressure transducer.
Results: Vacuum increased during the downward motion of the posterior tongue and at the same time milk flow and milk ducts in the nipple was observed. Peak vacuum (-145+/-58 mmHg) occurred when the tongue was in the lowest position.
Conclusions: Ultrasound imaging demonstrated that milk flow from the nipple into the infant's oral cavity coincided with both the lowering of the infants tongue and peak vacuum. Therefore vacuum is likely to play a major role in milk removal from the breast.