Breast Anatomy

In 2006, Medela announced the results of research that overturned 160 years of conventional wisdom concerning the female breast. This has important implications for women. 

What has changed?

1.       Ducts branch closer to the nipple
2.       The conventionally described lactiferous sinuses do not exist 
3.       Glandular tissue is found closer to the nipple
4.       Subcutaneous fat is minimal at the base of the nipple
Professor Peter Hartmann, Dr. Donna Geddes (née Ramsay) and their team, working in collaboration with Medela at the University of Western Australia’s Human Lactation Research Group, investigated the lactating breast using sophisticated ultrasound technology.

Their findings overturned a number of commonly accepted conclusions. The new picture of the anatomy of the breast revealed changes in the way the breast should be cared for, especially during surgery. It will help breastfeeding mothers gain a better understanding of the way their breasts work, to the benefit of their health and that of their babies.

Among many new insights, Dr. Geddes found that the number of milk ducts in the breast is lower than previously believed. Breast augmentation surgeons will have to take this into account, since the loss of only a few ducts can seriously compromise a woman’s ability to breastfeed.

Our understanding of the way in which the breast produces and delivers milk has also changed. The currently accepted model includes lactiferous sinuses, which were believed to store milk. It turns out that these do not exist.

Because of the uneven distribution of milk glands, the absence of lactiferous sinuses, and the high variability in the number of milk ducts, mothers need to consider their own particular anatomy when deciding how to use their hands to support their breasts during breastfeeding or manual expression. The studies also show that a rapid first milk ejection is important for efficient milk removal and that it is crucial to choose breastshields of the correct size.

Read the Journal of Anatomy article about anatomy of the lactating human breast redefined with ultrasound imaging

“The benefits of breastfeeding are ever more evident and more women are wanting to breastfeed their babies. But breastfeeding can be a difficult process. That is why this research is so important. It will help women and their carers understand their breasts better and thus facilitate their breastfeeding attempts. And it will help those who need breast surgery ensure that their surgeons do not inadvertently put their ability to breastfeed at higher risk than necessary”.

Dr Leon Mitoulas, the lead Breastfeeding Research scientist at Medela

To copy these images, right-click and save.  
Click on each image for a high-resolution image.

Terms of Use of Images

Free Use of Breast Anatomy Images
You may use the images in this presentation free of charge for private, non-commercial use, under the condition that the below copyright acknowledgement requirements are met. The images must be used as they are. You may annotate the images, but you may not alter their content, or any part of their content, in any way.

A byline must be placed next to each use of the image at a readable size (not less than 5.5 point font size) with the following content: ©Medela AG, Switzerland, 2006.

This consent does not extend to other kinds of use such as use for general distribution, for advertising or promotional purposes, for creating new collected works, or for resale.