If you’ve been pregnant or had a baby, you’ve wondered about permanent changes to your body. Because with any huge swings in body fat or hormone levels comes the potential for permanent changes.
We worry about stretch marks and worry fat will never spread out the same again. But does breastfeeding ruin your breasts?
Reality is a tough thing sometimes, mama. And biology is uncertain.
Saggy breasts are typically a consequence of age. It will happen whether you have a baby or not, although it is commonly believed that ptosis (the official term) can be influenced by having multiple pregnancies (among other things).
But does BREASTFEEDING actually CAUSE breast ptosis?
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Does Breastfeeding Really Ruin Your Breasts?
The short answer is no. Breastfeeding does not necessarily have an adverse impact on your breast posture or firmness.
Unfortunately, pregnancy DOES.
The reality is that your body is designed to create milk when you give birth. Whether or not you USE the milk as intended and according to the instructions on the box is up to you.
Regardless if you let baby nurse, your body is going through the process of generating and reintegrating the milk. This process will take its toll, no matter who sucks on what.
If I Don’t Breastfeed Will My Breasts Stay Big?
There is no doubt that breasts tend to get larger and firmer when we are getting close to and subsequently after giving birth.
This is primarily due to an increase in blood supply and fatty tissue that will help make room for engorging milk ducts and larger mammary glands.
As you can imagine, though, an increase in the size of your milk ducts and mammary glands will certainly count for part of your size.
That will mean that you’ll have a little variation as you feed your baby. How much is really dependent on your feeding routine and schedule, as well as the appetite of that little monster.
Long and short, if baby feeds for long periods of time and in large volume, your glands will increase to keep up with the demand. It may not mean much change in size, since you have all that blood and fatty tissue to displace as your glands engorge.
What happens to your breasts if you don’t breastfeed
Given these facts, you can expect that you might have some discomfort if you don’t give your glands a chance to relax. Leaving those glands full or more is called engorgement.
Engorgement is actually pretty typical for the first 3 months, which can be painful but mostly just makes for a breast that feels very full.
Related Reading: How to Troubleshoot Painful Boobs While Breastfeeding
How Long After Breastfeeding Do Breasts Return to Normal?
The interesting thing here, mama, is that your breasts actually keep producing the same but come back to around your pre-pregnancy cup size around a year to 15 months after birth.
There’s not a lot of scientific study as to what happens at this same time if you opt not to nurse. Naturally, your supply will not stay in if you aren’t using the milk. When and how your breasts will return to normal is largely uninvestigated, though.
So if you’ve wondered how long after weaning breasts return to normal, it’s really pretty variable. There is no one right answer.
Before and After Breastfeeding Breasts
How large your breasts get during pregnancy is also not well studied. Women tend to have an increase that ranges up to two cup sizes.
The truth is, that’s an average–some ladies don’t notice any change at all, while others pack on multiple cup sizes.
Who’s the lucky one? I’ll leave it to you to decide.
Related Reading: 4 Things You Really Need To Know About Breastfeeding Before You Start!
Lumpy Breasts After Weaning
A lot of ladies have trouble knowing what’s normal and what isn’t when it comes to lumps in the breasts. Among the concerns for sagging breasts are the very real and concerning blocked ducts, mastitis, or even breast cancer.
What I would say is that you never want to look for zebras just because you found hoofprints. If you’re breastfeeding and you find a lump, chances are, it’s a milk duct. And maybe not even a clogged one.
Breasts Before and After Nursing
According to one study about how much volume you gain when breastfeeding, before nursing the average breast is about 400 ml. That’s 1 2/3 cups in volume. So, sure, imaging walking around with 1 2/3 cups of boob on either side and that sounds about right.
Well, during pregnancy it was found that we grow in volume by an average of about 96 ml. That brings us up to about 2 1/5 cups. So tack on almost another whole half a cup and you’ve “reached” your pregnancy cup size. Literally.
Obviously, mama, these are averages. Depending on diet and other factors, breast growth can vary wildly across different women and social environments.
The great news? And I mentioned it before: your breasts will return to THE SAME size that they were before pregnancy by about 15 months. Not smaller, but equal to.
The challenge comes when the hardware intended to keep them perky starts wearing out, and that’s why multiple pregnancies become an issue for the drooping ladies.
Related Reading: A Nurse’s Complete Guide to Breastfeeding Nutrition
Breast Changes During Breastfeeding
As you might have guessed already, the actual volume of your breasts is not particularly inclined to change during breastfeeding. At least not in the actual moment.
Over time, you can expect to see your breasts ease back down to the size they were before pregnancy–more’s the pity for some of us.
Are Breastfeeding Breast Changes Ever Permanent?
The more often you are pregnant, the more likely your body will reflect permanent changes.
The boost in the size you get is not. The impact on the posture of your breasts, unfortunately, is.
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Why Do Breasts Sag After Breastfeeding
Unfortunately, what we’re talking about here is stretching. Specifically, stretching the ligaments (the strong and flexible tissue that connects muscles to bones).
The more your ligaments stretch, the more loosely your body will carry the muscles and, by proxy, the skin attached to those muscles.
As you can imagine, the more often those ligaments stretch, the saggier your breasts will be in the end.
So, multiple babies, multiple stretches. Eventually, that tissue just can’t retract as well as it used to.
Breast Size After Pregnancy When NOT Breastfeeding
So, when it comes to your breasts after breastfeeding, does it ruin your breasts? Not necessarily. It’s the increase in SIZE to your breasts.
If you look from that perspective, does avoiding breastfeeding minimize the amount of stretching?
Generally speaking, avoiding breastfeeding will NOT prevent the potential for sagging after your pregnancy and the window of time available for nursing.
Do Nipples Go Back to Normal After Pregnancy?
A lot of people wonder, “what do nipples look like when breastfeeding?” Until you’ve been through it, it’s hard to imagine what your body will look like.
Changes to your nipples after breastfeeding (or even during) aren’t really something you should be afraid of. Yes, there can be changes, but there are only a few things to watch out for that may be of concern.
Some things you want to watch out for are:
- Retracted (innie) nipples when you have always had protracted (outie) nipples
- Thickening or flaking skin
- Warm/red/painful spots
Contact your care provider if you see any of these symptoms while breastfeeding. These may be signs of a more serious condition.
Ultimately, there should be no lasting change to your breastfeeding nipples before or after in either shape or composition when your breasts return to their natural size.
As always, this is just a general view. Are there potentially some conditions that may have a lasting effect? Anything is possible. Although the likelihood is that it’s less about being pregnant or breastfeeding and more about a separate and distinct condition that coincides.
Related Reading: Thinking about Exclusive Pumping? The Ultimate Exclusive Pumping Class by Milkology is what you need!
You and Your Post-Breastfeeding Breasts
As with anything, your situation will always be unique. There is no “normal” experience. What we consider normal is actually just an average.
As a result, you’ll have to go it alone when it boils right down. The most important thing you can do is to make the decision that is right for you as to whether or not you want to breastfeed.
What I can say for sure is that you can expect your breasts to shrink after breastfeeding.
You typically cannot expect your breasts to get smaller than before pregnancy, as you will still have all the same biology and architecture beneath the increases due to pregnancy and breastfeeding.
One thing to always consider is breastfeeding stretch marks. As with other parts of your body inclined to stretch during pregnancy, there is always a risk that you can get stretch marks from breastfeeding.
That’s why I always recommend that my pregnant (and breastfeeding) mamas apply stretch marks creams to their boobs along with their bellies (and butts, thighs, etc.) because you’re probably gonna stretch in more places than just the midsection.
This one is nursing friendly in that it’s fine for it to come in contact with baby’s mouth because it’s 100% natural.
Does Breastfeeding Make You Lose Weight?
Incidentally, you may have heard that little ditty about breastfeeding being a good weight control or weight loss method.
Turns out, this appears to be TOTALLY TRUE.
According to Choosemyplate.gov, a resource provided by the federal government to help ensure a healthy lifestyle, breastfeeding makes it easier to lose weight because you are pouring all those extra calories into your baby, who can and should take all that he or she can get right now.
Women who nurse that little baby for more than 3 months will typically lose more weight than women who avoid nursing or wean early.
If you keep going for up to six months, you’ll get a maximum weight loss from the whole experience. This will be even better if you eat well and avoid arbitrary calories.
Cause let’s face it, mama. No one wants to keep that pregnancy weight.
How to Get Breasts Back After Breastfeeding
Unfortunately, if your breasts have sagged after having a baby (or multiple babies), your options are a little limited.
You’ve heard it. I’ve heard it. There’s no avoiding the cold hard truth.
The only way to fix saggy breasts is cosmetic surgery. The degree of surgery necessary depends on the individual case.
If you have only a minor sag, they can now go through a very small incision and suture internally, leaving you with no scar and substantially less recovery time.
If your case is really significant, it may be necessary to move for implants. As always, talk to your doc about your unique situation.
So Does Breastfeeding Ruin Your Breasts? REALLY?
As you can see from the evidence at hand, breastfeeding isn’t the problem, mama. The natural wear and tear of having a baby takes its toll, and breasts are no exception.
But here’s the facts, ma’am. We aren’t built to last forever. Our bodies will change and age and–unfortunately–sag, regardless of how we live our lives and what we do with our genitals.
Learn to settle into your body and be comfortable with everything you have, regardless of how it changes! You are imperfect and that’s AMAZING. If we could all be perfect, there would be no perfect anymore, just average.
If you do that, the question “does breastfeeding ruin your breasts” becomes a moot point, because breastfeeding is best for your baby (when possible) and hugely beneficial to you!
Happy baby-feeding, mama!