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Breast changes after breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can affect the size and shape of a woman's breasts.

Breast size is determined by how much fatty tissue you have in your breasts. Breastfeeding creates denser tissue in your breasts. And after breastfeeding, the fatty tissue and connective tissue of your breasts may shift. Your breasts may not return to their pre-breastfeeding size or shape. Some women's breasts stay larger, and others shrink

Does breastfeeding cause sagging or flattened breasts?

Postpartum breast involution is the term that describes the shrinking of milk-producing structures of the breast to their pre-pregnancy size when they are no longer needed. But when you are nursing, the flow of milk can stretch the breast skin and tissue to some degree. That leaves some women with an "empty" or "stretched out" look to their breasts. It's a common breast problem after breastfeeding, but it's a cosmetic concern, not a real medical problem.

Women often fear that breastfeeding will make their breasts sag. But a study in 2007 showed that breastfeeding itself is not the culprit. Other factors that can change your breast appearance more than breastfeeding include:

  • BMI -- body mass index
  • the number of pregnancies you've had
  • a large pre-pregnancy breast size
  • age
  • a history of smoking

Can breastfeeding lead to misshapen breasts?

Each breast after breastfeeding is independent. So what happens to one breast during breastfeeding won't necessarily happen to the other. Breast engorgement while breastfeeding, for instance, which is caused by congested blood vessels in the breast, is common while breastfeeding. Once it's resolved, it may leave one breast slightly misshapen. But again, this is usually a cosmetic, not a medical, concern. On the other hand, any dimpling or puckering of your breast may be a sign of a breast lump underneath. This should be evaluated by your doctor.

Do asymmetric breasts or uneven breasts come from breastfeeding?

Breast tissue extends up toward your armpit. So as breast tissue swells with milk and then shrinks again after breastfeeding, the contours of your bust may change. Many women have uneven breasts before pregnancy as well as after breastfeeding. It's possible for one breast to return to its pre-pregnancy size after breastfeeding while the other stays larger, or droops, or flattens more. Some women end up with one breast a full cup size smaller or larger than the other after breastfeeding and simply learn to love the body that nourished their babies -- no matter what its shape.

Should someone who is breastfeeding be screened for breast problems?

Most breast problems after breastfeeding are cosmetic changes, not real medical concerns. But it's wise to stay up-to-date on your regular breast screenings to ensure your breast health.

  • Breast self-examinations are a simple way to monitor your own breast health and breast changes. The Department of Health encourages women to check their breasts for what is normal for them, but it does not recommend routine self-examination to a set technique. It's especially important to examine your breast in the months after you stop breastfeeding as your breasts change shape and size. Report any lumps or unusual nipple discharge to your doctor. Most lumps are benign (non-cancerous). But they should be screened for breast cancer.
  • A breast examination by your doctor or clinic can evaluate whether a breast problem after breastfeeding needs medical attention. Ask your doctor to perform a breast examination any time you notice unusual breast changes after breastfeeding.
  • A mammogram (breast X-ray) can diagnose a lump too small for you to feel. If you have a breast problem after breastfeeding, your doctor may advise a mammogram right away. It's safe to have a mammogram while breastfeeding if you need one. It won't affect your milk or your baby's health.

Seek medical advice if you have any of these breast problems:

  • Fever or flu symptoms, which could indicate a breast infection (called mastitis)
  • Painful breasts (more than the simple discomfort of engorged or full breasts)
  • Dimpling or puckering of your breast
  • Unusual nipple discharge, or a bleeding nipple
  • Rash on your breast
  • A red, sore lump that may feel hot to the touch, which could be a plugged milk duct
  • Nipple retraction (turned inward)
  • A lump in your breast
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