When considering whether to breast or bottle feed, Moms are often backed into a corner where they feel they have to choose between what is best for their child and what is best for their body.
The benefits of breastfeeding for the health of your baby are immense!
But the thought of sagging, deflated breasts makes women uneasy and can affect their self-esteem. It is a choice that could result in unnecessary guilt at a time when it is the last thing you need.
We wanted to take a closer look at what the physical impact of breastfeeding really is, and what you can do to give your body the best chance of coping with the physical demands.
Debunking the Myth
Contrary to popular belief, breastfeeding itself does not cause sagging (ptosis) of the breasts. Ptosis, in fact, is more likely a factor of the pregnancy rather than the act of breastfeeding.
The ligaments that support breast tissue are stretched as the breasts enlarge, becoming heavier and fuller, preparing to receive milk for your baby (1).
Over an 8-year period, women receiving breast augmentations were interviewed to determine what the cause of their ptosis was. On average, the women were around 39 years old, and 93% had had at least one pregnancy, but of this group, only 58% had breastfed.
Upon reviewing their medical history, it seemed that the primary causes of breast sagging were contributed to age, body mass index (BMI), and smoking status, rather than breastfeeding (2).
How to Prevent and Reverse the Droop
So, if pregnancy is the culprit, are women doomed to live with drooping, shapeless breasts?
While the only real ways to avoid breast ptosis are to never get pregnant and stop aging (which are, obviously, impossible), there are things you can do, both pre- and post-pregnancy to minimize the effects on your breasts.
1. Wear a Good Bra
There are many who claim that wearing a good, supportive bra can help prevent your breasts from sagging. Unfortunately, there is little evidence to support this claim. There has not been a specific bra (such as a push-up) shown to be most effective at preventing breast ptosis.
You may choose to wear a bra to bed for comfort (and to prevent leakage on your sheets), but it will not hold your breasts in the perfect position throughout the night.
Now, that’s not to say that going without a bra will be the same effect as wearing one. You should definitely have proper support, especially as your breasts become heavy with milk.
Not wearing a bra may do more harm as gravity plays a major role in the stretching of breast tissue.
If you want to invest in a bra that may have the greatest potential of reducing sagging, find a supportive sports bra.
Exercise, especially for women with larger breasts, can wreak havoc on the tissues and ligaments surrounding the breasts, as they move three-dimensionally (vertical, horizontal, and lateral).
2. Diet and Exercise
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including exercise, can help to reduce the sagging of your breasts. While breasts are made primarily of fat, and there are no exercises that target them directly, there are muscles that surround the area.
By working these muscles, you can firm up your chest and potentially add a little bit of lift to your breasts (4).
Antioxidants can also help to reduce damage caused by free radicals, which are released as your tissues are broken down. Pomegranates and aloe vera are rich in antioxidants and a great choice for firming up your tissues (5).
3. Hydrate and Moisturize
It is a well-known fact that dry skin is unhealthy skin, prone to wrinkles, and the same goes for the skin of your breasts. Skin that is not properly cared for, whether it is dry or dehydrated, loses its elasticity and suppleness and is at a higher risk for those ugly stretch marks we women hate.
In order to keep your skin looking young and healthy, it is imperative that you moisturize and hydrate.
Moisturizing helps to create a barrier on our skin to keep water in, but moisturizing won’t help if your skin is dehydrated.
You can lotion up all day long, and your skin will just soak it up and want more. When you hydrate your skin, you increase its water content, which can then be locked in with a moisturizer (6).
While the best way to ensure your skin remains hydrated is to drink plenty of water (which you should be doing for your milk production and overall health anyway), this alone is not enough.
Our skin is the last organ to receive the nutrients we ingest, and that includes water (7).
It is best to supplement your water intake with a topical hydrating agent before applying moisturizer. When selecting a moisturizer, choose something with shea or cocoa butter, or something vitamin E based (8).
4. Focus on Posture
Not only does bad breastfeeding posture wreck your back, but it can also wreak havoc on your breasts.
Constantly leaning over your child, multiple times a day which add up to several hours, causes gravity to pull on your full, milk-laden breasts which can lead to stretching of the skin and tissues, and eventually lead to sagging.
It is recommended that rather than bringing yourself to your child to feed, bring the baby to you. Choose a comfortable position in which you are supported, whether it be sitting or lying down, as well as a good hold for your baby.
A nursing pillow is also a great investment for these early stages. It gives you a place to lay your child comfortably and rest your arm as you support their head. You can remain sitting upright while having your baby at a good level.
As your child gets older and bigger, you will find it easier to nurse without the extra support as you will not need to lean over as far anymore. Finally, always keep your posture in mind after you nurse, sitting and walking upright.
5. Lose (and Gain) Weight Efficiently
As mentioned above, BMI plays a major factor in how much your breasts will sag over time. The more fat you have, the more your breast tissue will stretch and have a harder time going back to normal.
During and after pregnancy, it is inevitable that your weight will fluctuate, but the rate at which that happens can have a positive or negative effect on your post-pregnancy breasts.
While you should gain weight during pregnancy (to reduce the risk of premature labor or low birth weight), the amount you should gain depends on your pre-pregnancy BMI (11). Gaining this weight at a steady pace, over the entirety of your pregnancy, causes less strain on your body and allows it make the necessary changes at a slower rate.
After you give birth, it is understandable that you want to get rid of the baby weight as soon as possible. It has been shown, however, that just as gaining weight gradually can reduce stress on the body, so can losing it.
With an appropriate diet and exercise, you will likely lose about 2-4 pounds a month (after the initial baby and fluid expulsion) (12).
So, you may not be able to fit into those pre-pregnancy jeans for at least 6 months, but you are doing right by yourself, and your baby (who needs you to eat appropriately to produce milk), by taking it slow.
There is no absolute guarantee that you can avoid breast sagging after pregnancy. It is likely that you will experience it to some degree as you continue to age, but there are some things you can do to try and prevent it (or at least delay it).
As a mother who did not take these precautions into account, I have come to the realization that I will never look the way I did prior to becoming pregnant, but I’m okay with that.
If this is you as well, I can tell you it helps to have a healthy outlook on the situation. Your body tells a story. Every scar, every wrinkle, and every gray hair. What better story to tell than that of your little love, the one you carried for nine months, and the time you shared together.
You will come to realize that a few stretch marks and a bit of sagging are but a minor sacrifice when you’ve welcomed a little more joy into your life.