Written by Samantha Sorden
Your breasts constantly change throughout your life; they fluctuate depending on your estrogen and progesterone levels during your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, breastfeeding and menopause. These hormone levels determine the amount of fluid in your breasts, causing changes in shape and size.
Your breasts are made up of fatty tissue, which becomes denser during lactation when your body builds up more fatty breast tissue in preparation for feeding your baby. Your fatty breast tissue and connective tissue stretches because of the hormones produced during pregnancy and breastfeeding. After childbirth, progesterone levels decrease, and your breast size may follow because research shows that higher progesterone levels are correlated with larger breast size. Once you stop breastfeeding, the extra breast fat you accumulated during pregnancy is gone because your baby gobbled it all up and your milk-ducts dry out.
So what you’re left with are your boobs, about their pre-pregnancy size depending on how much weight you gained, covered with stretched out skin and maybe even some stretch marks. Stretch marks are tiny tears in your skin that can appear when your skin stretches. But, as you are probably aware, breast size and shape after pregnancy is different for every woman.
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Many women claim that their breasts sag after breastfeeding, but breastfeeding may not be the only culprit in your changing boobs. Research suggests that genetics, weight gain during pregnancy, number of pregnancies, history of smoking, skin elasticity and age can affect your ever-changing breasts. Simply being pregnant can cause your breasts to sag a little due to your stretching ligaments. These concerns are purely cosmetic and there is no need for medical intervention.
One important thing to remember is that each breast exists independently and they may not be affected by pregnancy or breastfeeding the same way. For example if you experience issues like engorgement in one breast, that breast may look slightly different than the other once you discontinue breastfeeding. You may also loose symmetry in your breasts as your breast tissue produces milk and shrinks after breastfeeding. One breast may appear to hang lower than the other, or one may look larger. Again, this is a purely cosmetic concern.
There is some good news here. You can enhance your breasts with regular exercise. Although your breasts are mostly fat, it’s important to keep your pectoral muscles strong because they support, shape and lift your breasts. Your breasts will never look like they did pre-pregnancy, but working these muscles can help give you a natural “lift.”
Even more good news – breastfeeding decreases your risk for breast cancer!