A study released this week at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons conference concluded that breastfeeding doesn't increase breast sagging, though pregnancy and other factors do.
"Many women who come in for breast surgery tell us their breasts are sagging, drooping or are less full because they breastfed," said Brian Rinker, MD, ASPS Member Surgeon and study author. "Although the amount of sagging in the breasts appears to increase with each pregnancy, we've found that breastfeeding does not worsen the effect."
The study examined 93 women who were pregnant one or more times prior to having cosmetic breast surgery. Fifty-eight percent of patients reported breastfeeding one or more of their children. The duration of breastfeeding ranged from 2 to 25 months, with an average of nine months. Fifty-five percent of respondents reported an adverse change in the shape of their breasts following pregnancy.
As the first study to examine what impacts breast shape in connection to pregnancy, plastic surgeons found that a history of breastfeeding, the number of children breastfed, the duration of each child's breastfeeding, or the amount of weight gained during pregnancy were not significant predictors for losing breast shape. However, body mass index (BMI), the number of pregnancies, a larger pre-pregnancy bra size, smoking history, and age were significant risk factors for an increased degree of breast sagging.
I can't say that I completely understand this study (and the sample size is pretty darn small), but the conclusion is consistent with what I've seen in prior research: pregnancy and gravity over time are the main culprits, breastfeeding isn't. I didn't know that smoking was implicated, but is anyone surprised?
While we're on the topic of sagging: I heard a funny (or maybe not so funny) story about this at the lactation consultants' conference this year. A group of medical residents was listening to a lecture by a physician on breast changes as women age, including 'involution,' or the shutting down of the milk making structures which is associated with changes in appearance. One of the male residents piped up in a concerned tone, "But what can be done about this involution problem?" The attending physician explained patiently that this was a natural process that occurred over time, and that 90 year old women are not supposed to have 20 year old breasts.
So, while we may not like it, it's not typically pathologic, either. In fact, it's probably good for us. Not knocking breast surgeries, by the way. Okay, let's hear it in the comments section.