It is widely known and accepted that breastfeeding of infants has many health benefits for both the infants and their mothers. In fact, medical experts confirm that babies who are breast fed are healthier, happier and better adjusted than those who are fed from bottles. Breast milk contains the right balance of nutrients to help infants grow into strong and healthy toddlers. Some of the nutrients in breast milk also help protect the infant against some common childhood illnesses and infections. It may also help the mother’s health. Certain types of cancer may occur less often in mothers who have breastfed their babies.
Yet, despite all these benefits, many women are hesitant to breastfeed their babies because of the long-held belief that breastfeeding leads to drooping, sagging and unattractive breasts. Understandably, women do not want to end up with unattractive bust lines.
However, there is little or no objective data to support this belief that breastfeeding leads to sagging breasts. A study conducted and reported by the Aesthetic Surgery Journal concludes that there are other factors, which include age-related issues, habitual smoking and higher BMI (body mass index), that are responsible for post-pregnancy breast sagging – medically known as breast ptosis – rather than breastfeeding.
The study used data from 93 women who had a history of a minimum of one pregnancy. The amount of breast ptosis was determined from photographs in the women’s medical charts. The degree of ptosis was graded on a scale from zero to three. Interviews and reviews of medical charts were conducted with each patient to ascertain the possible risk factors that could lead to breast ptosis. The risk factors included the ages of the women, history of smoking, bra cup size prior to pregnancy, number and frequency of pregnancies, BMI, amount of weight gained during pregnancy, breastfeeding history and breastfeeding duration. Out of the 93 women, fifty-four patients or 58% reported having breast fed their babies. The average age at the time of the study in the breastfeeding group was 41 years, while in the non-breastfeeding group it was 37 years .
According to the study, 51 respondents or 55% reported an adverse change in breast shape following pregnancy. Analysis of the data showed that older age, smoking, higher body mass index, larger bra size before pregnancy and larger number of pregnancies were significant independent risk factors for post-pregnancy breast ptosis. The data showed that breastfeeding, on the other hand, was not an independent risk factor for ptosis, even with higher durations of breast feeding.
The researchers concluded that the risk of breast ptosis does increase with each pregnancy, but that breastfeeding by itself does not seem to increase the effects of ptosis. Expectant mothers may feel reassured that breastfeeding will, in all likelihood, not have any adverse effect on breast shape or appearance.
While further studies in larger numbers of women is needed to conclusively determine the effects on the breasts of breastfeeding versus other factors, this study is a good beginning towards informing and re-assuring those who have concerns about the possible adverse effects on breast shape caused by breastfeeding.