It's no secret that breastfeeding changes your breasts temporarily, and sometimes irreversibly. You'll hear moms talk about deflated or saggy boobs, larger nipples, unevenness, and a plethora of other perceived breast changes after pregnancy and breastfeeding. With the introduction of breast pumps to modern motherhood, many women are now questioning how pumping affects boobs later in life. Are breasts altered by breast pumps more than if they exclusively breastfed their babies? Are breasts changed in different ways by pumps that isn't seen in women who exclusively breastfeed?
According to Baby Center some breastpump models are designed to mimic a baby's natural sucking pattern. This means they start with short quick sucks to start the letdown, and then they transition into a slower, deeper sucking pattern. Le Leche League International (LLLI) noted that generally speaking, babies have a total vacuum pressure of about 220 to 230 mmHG (millimeter of mercury) when they're breastfeeding and it's is usually held for less than one second. Most good quality pumps, however, don't exceed 250 mmHg.
LLI further explained that nipple damage can occur in the initial phase of the cycle if the pump's suction is lasting longer than one to two seconds. Nipples and arerolar tissue are at risk for trauma when a pump creates long, unrelieved suction. It's important to note that some mothers can tolerate higher levels of pressure, and not all breasts react the same. Nipples, like any other body part can heal, but they don't always and it depends on various factors like genetics, how severe the trauma is, and how fast it was initially treated. Worst case scenario is that the nipples become permanently damaged following pumping and stay that way for the rest of the mother's life.
Baby Center noted, however, that a hospital grade pump has a rapid suck and release cycle, which is generally stronger than the pumps you buy at the store. The same risk exists for nipple damage, especially if you're not using nipple shields that properly fit your nipples.
Logic would seem to suggest that a manual, hand held pump could carry the same risks of permanent nipple damage because the apparatus to which the breast is pumped is similar to the electric pumps sans a motor, but given the resources available it's not confirmed.
Overall it's hard to find definitive evidence that pumping causes permanent breast changes, both cosmetically and clinically as there are no intensive studies done on the subject. However, no matter what, your breasts will probably permanently change after pregnancy, whether you breastfeed, pump, or formula feed. Age contributes to breast and body changes as well. The only undeniable fact in all of this, is that with pregnancy and age our bodies will change, our brains will change, our breasts will change. If they don't, that would be more of the concern.