Quantitative relationships between physical parameters of sucking, milk transfer and the duration of amenorrhoea were examined in normal mother–baby pairs under exclusive breastfeeding. Sucking pressures were recorded twice on the second and once on the fifth month after birth, during complete breastfeeding episodes, by means of a catheter attached to the nipple and connected to a pressure transducer, the signals of which were analysed by computer. Babies were weighed before and after each sucking episode to estimate milk transfer. In the first nursing episode after noon, 2-month-old babies sucked from 140 to > 800 times during 4–15 min from the first breast, obtaining from 20 to > 100 g milk. The physical parameters of sucking and milk transfer exhibited high inter-individual but low intra-individual variabilities. There were significant differences in the physical parameters of sucking and milk transfer efficiency between first and second breast and between the second and fifth months after birth. Milk transfer efficiency was inversely correlated with time occupied by non-sucking pauses ≥ 1.5 s, and was directly correlated with mean intersuck intervals in the first breast and with duration of the sucking episode, number of sucks, mean pressure and area under the pressure curve in the second breast. There was no correlation between the physical parameters of sucking and duration of lactational amenorrhoea (n = 62). However, significantly more mothers had amenorrhoea lasting > 180 days among those whose babies spent a longer proportion of the nursing episode in non-sucking pauses ≥ 1.5 s. This finding indicates that sensory stimulation of the nipple produced during a nursing episode by stimuli other than sucking itself may have an important role in sustaining lactational amenorrhoea. It is concluded that nursing episodes have a complex structure that allows the development of a breastfeeding phenotype in each mother–baby pair, exhibiting important inter-individual variability. The present analysis does not support the contention that this source of variability accounts for the variability in the duration of lactational amenorrhoea.
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