When you breast-feed your baby, you can feel confident that you're giving your baby the best possible food. You might not be as confident about the changes in your body during the months or years while you are breast-feeding. The changes that determine whether your breasts will sag actually take place before your child is born, but it can be difficult to determine what their final shape will be until after weaning.
Breast Changes Before Birth
Unfortunately, breast-feeding gets blamed for many breast changes that are actually the result of pregnancy. The hormone relaxin, which helps loosen up the ligaments and tendons in your pelvis to prepare for birth, can permanently affect your breast tissue. As the breasts get fuller and heavier during pregnancy, this also can stretch the breast tissue and create the potential for sagging breasts after they return to normal size. A study presented at the 2007 American Society of Plastic Surgeons conference in Baltimore showed no difference in breast sagging between women who breast-fed and those who formula-fed their babies, indicating that future breast firmness is a result of pregnancy, not breast-feeding.
Breast Changes During Breast-feeding
The breasts usually spend the first four to six weeks after birth adjusting their milk supply to how much the baby needs. A mother who chooses not to breast-feed may experience stretched or sagging breasts as soon as her milk dries up. Breast-feeding mothers will experience four to six weeks of extreme fullness before the breasts adapt. After this initial adaptation period, the breasts become noticeably softer and less full, although milk production continues whenever the baby nurses. The shape of your breasts during breast-feeding may differ from the shape after you wean, since breast-feeding keeps you from experiencing the normal sagging that occurs as a result of pregnancy changes.
While it isn't possible to completely prevent breast sagging after pregnancy and breast-feeding, some things can affect the inevitable breast changes. Overweight women are more likely to experience breast sagging after having a baby, so you should try to lose weight before conceiving. Smoking also can reduce the elasticity of the skin and increase the likelihood that breast changes from pregnancy will remain long after your baby has weaned.
Some of the changes that occur in breasts during pregnancy and breast-feeding are genetic, so some women notice that their breasts return to a size and firmness similar to their pre-pregnancy breasts after the baby has weaned. The more pregnancies you have and the larger your breasts are before pregnancy, the more likely you are to experience reduced breast firmness. Breasts also become less firm with age.
- MayoClinic.com; Sagging Breasts: Inevitable After Breast-feeding?; Elizabeth LaFleur; July 2009
- Kellymom.com; My Breasts Feel Empty; Kelly Bonyata; October 2005
- Eurekalert; Breastfeeding Study Dispels Sagging Myth; November 2007
- Aesthetic Surgery Journal; The Effect of Breastfeeding on Breast Aesthetics; B. Rinker, et al.; September 2008