- Anatomy of breasts
- What do your breasts look like after giving birth?
- What happens to your breasts when you’re breastfeeding?
- Breast changes after breastfeeding
- Can breastfeeding affect breast size?
- Can breastfeeding affect breast shape?
- Does breastfeeding cause breast sagging?
- Breast asymmetry (lopsided breasts)
- Spontaneous milk leaks
- Breast stretch marks
- Will your breasts ever go back to normal after breastfeeding?
- Caring for your breasts during and after breastfeeding
- Is something wrong if there are no changes in my breasts after breastfeeding?
- When do you see your doctor about breast changes after breastfeeding?
- What about surgical procedures?
- To wrap up
Breast changes after breastfeeding are common.
Your breasts usually return to their pre-pregnancy size and shape within 3 months of weaning. Some moms say their breasts stay larger after breastfeeding, while others say they become smaller than before getting pregnant. Some end up with lopsided breasts.
Unfortunately, there is no way to predict which camp you’ll be in but there are a few things you can do to prevent unwanted effects in the long term.
Anatomy of breasts
To understand how breastfeeding affects your breasts, you’ll need to learn a few basics about the anatomy of your breasts:
Your breast tissue is composed of fatty tissue and supportive tissue (ligaments). The more fatty tissue you have, the larger your breast size.
Your breasts are supported by Cooper’s ligaments. These ligaments are found throughout your breasts and connects them to the chest muscles.
These ligaments maintain the shape and structure of your breasts.
Mammary glands (milk-making glands)
Breastmilk is produced inside your milk-making glands. The mammary glands consists of small, round lobes that branch out like a tree and attach to milk ducts. They mostly sit within 3 cm from your nipples.
The milk ducts carry breastmilk from your milk-making glands to your nipple when your baby latches on. These ducts sit really close to the skin, making them easily compressible. This is why an ill-fitting bra can cause clogged ducts so easily.
What do your breasts look like after giving birth?
Even if you don’t breastfeed, pregnancy itself changes your breasts. They usually get bigger and fuller as they produce colostrum in preparation for breastfeeding. Even your nipples change in size and color.
After delivery, the hormone prolactin, which is in charge of telling your breasts to produce breastmilk, surges. You’ll find your breasts grow even bigger and will sometimes get engorged. The best way to deal with this is to breastfeed or pump frequently.
If you decide not to breastfeed or pump, your milk production will gradually stop and the engorgement will self-resolve.
What happens to your breasts when you’re breastfeeding?
If you are breastfeeding, your prolactin levels stay elevated and your breasts will continue producing milk.
They will be full and firm when you’re full of milk and will feel smaller after each feed or pump session.
Your breast size can increase by up to 3 times during breastfeeding!!
You will also notice large veins on your breasts while breastfeeding. They can be especially pronounced in the first few days of nursing and when your breasts are engorged. These changes are temporary.
What are the effects of engorgement on your breasts?
Breast engorgement happens when your breast get hard, swollen and tender from being overfull with milk.
The best way to relieve engorgement is by breastfeeding or pumping to remove the excess milk. If you leave engorgement, it will cause clogged ducts which can lead to mastitis. Untended engorgement also results in low milk supply.
Every time your breasts get engorged, the skin over your breasts and the ligaments are stretched. This can increase your risk for breast sagging later.
Breast changes after breastfeeding
Breast changes after breastfeeding can be normal and they are not dangerous to your health. Breast changes are quite common in the months following weaning.
Your breasts might go back to their normal shape and size after breastfeeding ends. But breastfeeding may cause some moms to notice changes in their breasts after they are done with nursing.
Unfortunately, breast tissue changes during pregnancy and breastfeeding. These changes are inevitable and are part of the body’s way of preparing for your baby.
Other factors like age, weight gain or loss, number of pregnancies and genetics also play a part in causing breast changes after weaning.
Further reading: When can I wear a normal bra after breastfeeding?
Let’s take a look at some of the common long-term effects of breastfeeding on your breasts:
Can breastfeeding affect breast size?
Yes, your breasts might go back to their pre-pregnancy size, but breastfeeding can cause them to either get larger or shrink after weaning.
Why do your breasts shrink after breastfeeding?
Unfortunately for many moms, breasts tend to look smaller after nursing.
When you’re breastfeeding, your milk glands and milk ducts are active and plump with milk. After you wean, these structures shrink, leaving you with empty-looking smaller boobs.
Can breastfeeding affect breast shape?
Making breast milk will automatically cause the development of more mammary glands, giving you more dense tissue. When you wean, these structures shrink. With all the other physical and hormonal changes happening, the fatty tissue, dense and connective tissue in your breasts can sometimes shift, causing your breasts to change in shape.
Never thought about your breast shape? Read this article about the 12 types of breast shapes.
Does breastfeeding cause breast sagging?
The good news is that breastfeeding itself doesn’t directly cause saggy breasts.
The bad news is that pregnancy can. Pregnancy, combined with repeated breast engorgement and other factors like smoking, weight gain and not wearing a supportive bra can cause premature breast sagging.
Time is also against us. Breast sagging is a natural process that happens as we age.
Is there anything we can do to prevent this? Read How to avoid sagging breasts after breastfeeding?
Breast asymmetry (lopsided breasts)
Most women have breasts that are not exactly the same shape and size anyway. But for an unlucky few, their breasts can look obviously lopsided after weaning.
Why does this happen?
One breast might be better at producing milk than the other, resulting in baby feeding more from the ‘good side’. This leads to a cycle where that breast will produce even more milk and over time grow bigger than the other breast.
Breast unevenness after nursing is common but you should still see your doctor to make sure that it isn’t something more sinister like a breast tumor.
Spontaneous milk leaks
When you first start weaning, spontaneous milk leaks, breast engorgement and pain are pretty common. All these symptoms generally stop within 2-3 weeks of full weaning.
However, small amounts of milk leaks can happen months or even years later.
If you are concerned about your breasts leaking after years of dormancy, especially if the milk looks blood-tinged, please see your doctor as soon as possible.
Breast stretch marks
Breast growth during pregnancy and breastfeeding can cause stretch marks on your skin.
Smoking can also reduce the elasticity of your skin, causing deeper stretch marks.
The bad news is that these marks are probably here to stay.
The good news is they will lighten over time and might be hardly noticeable after a year.
Will your breasts ever go back to normal after breastfeeding?
It might sound dire but all is not lost. Breast changes after breastfeeding are common. The first few months after weaning, there are lots of changes happening in your body and in your breasts.
Give it some time (we are talking about at least 3 months here) and you might find your breasts looking and feeling familiar again.
Caring for your breasts during and after breastfeeding
These are some things that you can do to help prevent the unwanted side effects of breastfeeding on your breasts:
Wear a supportive nursing bra
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of good support while breastfeeding. Gravity is unkind towards unsupported breasts and will stretch out your Cooper’s ligaments even more than they have been already, increasing your risk of breast sagging later.
Keep your skin moist
Water is the not-so-secret ingredient to healthy skin. It’s easy to get dehydrated while breastfeeding. Make sure you drink enough fluids use a moisturizer to keep your skin moist.
Aside from time, smoking is the biggest contributor to aging and prematurely saggy breasts. In my books, smoking is never worth it.
See your doctor if you are concerned
While there is a lot going on during breastfeeding, it’s important that you see your doctor if you are experiencing lumps or pain which you feel are out of the ordinary.
Is something wrong if there are no changes in my breasts after breastfeeding?
No, there is nothing wrong at all if there are no changes to your breasts after you’ve fully weaned.
Count yourself lucky if you get your familiar pre-pregnancy breasts back.
When do you see your doctor about breast changes after breastfeeding?
If you have a lump that doesn’t go away or if you’re worried about anything out of the ordinary, you should see your doctor to get it checked out.
Change can be hard. If you find yourself struggling to adapt to your ‘new’ breasts, talk to your doctor for advice on how to handle these changes.
What about surgical procedures?
Some moms opt for surgical procedures to deal with breast changes after nursing. Experts recommend waiting at least 6 months for the changes to evolve and settle before making any surgical decisions.
Waiting a little longer will also give your hormones and emotions time to stabilize. Who knows? You might find you like your new breasts after all.
If you still feel strongly about surgery after 6 months, talk to your doctor about your options.
To wrap up
Remember that your body has achieved amazing things by giving your baby the best nourishment nature intended.
Don’t be too harsh on your breasts and give it the love it deserves. Beautiful breasts come in all shapes and sizes.
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