Will Breastfeeding Ruin My Breasts?

Used with permission from a Mama Birth reader.

Will breastfeeding ruin your breasts?

We all have things we wonder about BEFORE we have kids but that we are too afraid or embarrassed to ask about.  The changes caused by both pregnancy and nursing are normal concerns for any expecting mother. 


Does breastfeeding ruin your breasts?

Before we answer this, let's change the question.  Breastfeeding most certainly doesn't RUIN breasts- in fact- studies show that breastfeeding actually PROTECTS the breasts. 

There was a huge 30 country study (Lancet, 2002) looking at breast cancer and if it is reduced by breastfeeding.  They found,
"The longer women breast feed the more they are protected against breast cancer. The lack of or short lifetime duration of breastfeeding typical of women in developed countries makes a major contribution to the high incidence of breast cancer in these countries."
Yes, breastfeeding reduces breast cancer risk.

So breastfeeding doesn't actually ruin breasts.  In fact it appears to be good for them and it just might save your life.  
The question should probably be, does breastfeeding CHANGE breasts?

Well, because we are talking about breasts and because we live in a notoriously breast obsessed world, guess what, somebody did a study on THAT! 

We can now safely say that even scientists love boobs and want to talk about them.

I could probably go on and on about the little abstract for this study- mostly because they manage to use the phrase, "breast stiffness" over and over again (and you have to admit, that is just hilarious) but I will just sum up.
"With regard to the breast stiffness, 66.4% reported a decrease and only 5% reported an increase."

What it comes down to is there are lots of factors that contribute to "breast stiffness" (which I have always referred to as "saggy boobs", but hey- to each his own) one of which is breastfeeding but also age, body weight, and pregnancy.

Science has found that breasts change as time goes on and there are many factors that influence this.  But- breastfeeding doesn't actually "ruin" breasts, though it can indeed be one thing among many that does change them.  

I feel like I should give this discussion a more "human" feel.  Studies say lots of things but you- as a soon to be mom- deserve to know what will really happen to your breasts as you progress through your pregnancy and breastfeeding relationship.

(Dad- stop reading.  Thanks.)

So- here is the real deal.

I have had four children and have nursed all of them (1st = 2 years, 2nd = 15 months, 3rd =13 months, 4th = 18 months and still going). 

During pregnancy I personally gain a lot of weight (from 40 to 55 pounds) and some of that is in my chest.  Some of that is just hormones I am sure and some is weight gain .  (Please don't try to limit healthy pregnancy weight gain- your breasts will still grow with pregnancy.)  Many women notice that one of the first signs of pregnancy is soreness and sensitivity in their breasts.  Obviously, pregnancy is going to change things there and your body is going to get ready to nurse. 

True story, when I was pregnant with my first baby, I got out of the shower one day and realized that my breasts were purple!  ACK!  I kind of freaked out.  When I looked closer I realized that they just had lots of very tiny stretch marks all over them.  Well....they have never been the same.  I had gained enough weight that I actually got stretch marks on my breasts.  Breast growth during pregnancy is NORMAL and a GOOD thing though!  It means your body is changing and preparing for the very normal act of breastfeeding.

When my first was born we began nursing.  It was not easy at all but we stuck with it.  About day three my mom told me I looked like a stripper.  Well- I did.  (Kind of.)  On day three your milk comes in (sometimes later depending on the birth)- this happens if you are planning on nursing OR NOT.  When your milk comes in the tissues swell and the breasts are large and hard and they just need to be emptied.  Again, this is normal and happens no matter what your feeding plans are.  (Can't blame breastfeeding here on this.  This change is simply due to giving birth.)

I will say that this -- third day engorgement is usually the worst with the first baby and wasn't near as noticeable with the second or third or fourth baby.

In the first few weeks of nursing your breasts will feel full, you will notice pain if you don't empty them, you will notice a strange "let down" sensation when your baby nurses and your milk comes.  For me this doesn't last forever, really just the first six months or so until the baby starts to nurse less and take more big person food.  

Once my baby started nursing less my breasts lost some of their fullness.  In the first six months or so of nursing I am probably a cup size bigger than normal, after about a year, I lose that cup size.  When my babies are done or rarely nursing my breasts are kind of deflated looking. 

That is just the truth according to me. 

Honestly this was kind of a hard thing for me.  It didn't make me feel super beautiful.  I think it is hard to see some of the changes that nursing and pregnancy have on our bodies for many women.  You can't really blame us- we are bombarded with a strong message that younger and firmer and thinner is better.  (This incredible blog post by Beauty Redefined really opened my eyes to the fact that my "ideal" was actually fake and thought up in a studio.)

I work really hard to get back into shape after I have a baby.  I usually get there (taking longer after number four, forgive me).  But I will be honest.  I don't look like I did when I was 19 anymore, especially not with my clothes off. 

No matter how much I exercise or how skinny I get, my body is just different.  There are stretch marks and there is sag.  I used to think that I would get that "fixed" someday with some wonderful surgery. 

You know what.  I totally don't feel like that any more.  I don't LOVE the fact that I am saggy, but I am trying not to hate it. 

It seems pretty clear to me that our bodies were DESIGNED beautifully and designed beautifully to CHANGE with pregnancy and birth.  Science has now proven that those changes protect female bodies from certain cancers. 

I guess I could hate that.  But instead I am starting to think that it is pretty freaking AMAZING. 

You know what else?  My life doesn't revolve around my mirror any more.  Nor does it revolve around television or famous people or magazines or clothes.  All of those things are fine in moderation.  But one of the powerful lessons that motherhood will try to teach you is that life is better lived when it is actually lived for and with people who love you. 

It sounds corny when women say that they love their body's more after pregnancy and baby have changed them.  But it is true.  There is wisdom in age and change and in sacrificing ourselves for another.  There is beauty in it too. 

That was the long answer.

The short answer is this-

No breastfeeding won't ruin your breasts.  It will change them.  And depending on how you look at it- it just might change them for the better.


Linda Peterson said…
i find it validating to look at some classic art with nude women. i find that their body shapes are radically more similar to my body now (5 months postpartum after baby number two) than ANY image of a woman in ANY modern magazine.
Amandacb27 said…
Thanks for writing such an honest and insightful piece on this. Your conclusion was especially beautifully summed up. I'm 18 months into my breastfeeding 'career' and sometimes wonder whether the stories are true about how post feeding breasts look. I'm so appreciative of what my body does that I'm more forgoing if it doesn't spring back as before anyway. There's more to life (pre baby I was a vain as they come!)
Amandacb27 said…
'Forgiving' that should say!
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