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Saggy Breasts After Pregnancy/Breastfeeding: Causes And Prevention

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Breast sagging is part of natural changes that occur after pregnancy. It is also known by the term ‘ptosis’ and tends to be a cosmetic change rather than a medical condition.

This post deals with the possible reasons for sagging breasts after pregnancy, and how you can try to prevent them.

What Causes Breast Sagging After Pregnancy Or Breastfeeding?

The breasts are attached to the muscles by Cooper ligaments, which hold them in position (1). These ligaments are subjected to tension as early as the first trimester; they get heavier and fuller over the course of the pregnancy. With time, the stretched Cooper ligaments may begin to lose their elasticity, resulting in sagging. It is not the breastfeeding alone that causes the breasts to sag, but rather pregnancy, genetics and other factors.

During pregnancy, the breasts undergo changes as they prepare for breastfeeding. The milk glands grow and, therefore, there is an increase in breast size, which may be one of the causes for the sagging of breasts.

During the postpartum period , the breasts increase in size. Breast milk continuously fills the breasts, causing the skin to stretch . You may also notice engorgement and inflammation, which are likely to alter the breast shape.

Once you wean, the milk producing glands return to their original size. It is believed that this process could leave the breasts empty, shrinking the fatty breast tissue and, therefore, making them look saggy and loose.

Breast sagging could increase with subsequent pregnancies, but breastfeeding may not have an impact  on the shape and appearance of the breast (2).

Other factors that are likely to cause breast sagging include:

  • Multiple pregnancies
  • Larger breasts
  • History of weight loss
  • Higher body mass index (BMI)
  • Aging and smoking—both contribute to a reduction in skin elasticity (3)

How To Prevent Breast Sagging After Pregnancy/Breastfeeding?

Listed below are some ways that may help in preventing breast sagging or firming up the breasts.

1. Wear a supportive bra

Wear a correct-fitting and supportive bra. Choose one that is non-elastic and has wide straps. It should be snug and fit the entire breast tissue into the bra cup. The nipple line should remain between the elbow and the shoulder, whereas the back of the bra should stay between the shoulder blades. Also, do not choose a bra with plastic or metal underwires (4).

2. Manage your weight

Gaining weight during pregnancy is essential but you can try not to gain too much weight. The excess weight you gain during pregnancy might add more fat tissue to your breasts (5).

3. Moisturize your breasts

All the rapid stretching during pregnancy could leave the skin dry. Apply a mild and safe moisturizer on your breasts as it maintains hydration and firmness. Exfoliation using a gentle body scrub or loofah could also help, just make sure to avoid the areola and nipple area. Having moisturized skin restores elasticity better than dry skin.

4. Lose weight gradually

Once you have had your baby and are planning to lose weight, talk to your doctor first. You may want to lose all the weight at once, or as fast as you can. Try to lose weight slowly and steadily. This may give your skin the time it needs to adapt to the changes.

5. Stop smoking

Smoking may accelerate the skin’s aging process (6). It could, therefore, cause the breast and skin tissue to lose firmness.

6. Maintain a good breastfeeding posture

A leaning forward posture while breastfeeding (considered a poor posture) may have a negative effect on your breasts. For a good posture, use a nursing pillow, or any other support, that could raise the baby to your breast level. Try to keep your shoulders, back, and spine supported and in a straight position. A lot of mothers find the laid back or also called natural position very comfortable, a mother is in a semi-reclined position, and the baby is on her stomach laying on the top of her. This position ensures that the mother’s back is completely relaxed and gravity works for her.

7. Take a hot and cold shower/massage

Hot water improves blood circulation, whereas cold water is said to improve skin tone. While taking a shower, alternate between the hot and cold water, and massage your breasts. Finish the shower with cold water. Breast massage, called therapeutic breast massage, if done prior to or between feedings, improves circulation in the breasts as well as prevents milk statis.

8. Follow a healthy diet

Include foods rich in complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats as they provide the body with necessary nutrition. It could help keep the skin and connective tissues of the breasts healthy. Eat foods rich in vitamin E (leafy greens, nuts, and seeds) and vitamin B (eggs, poultry, and fish) as they improve skin tone.

9. Wean your baby gradually

When you plan to wean your baby, do it over time. Reduce the number of feeding sessions gradually. This could help regain the pre-pregnancy form of the breasts, as well as let your body adjust the hormones slowly.

10. Exercise regularly

Incorporating a well-designed exercise routine during and after pregnancy might help in preventing saggy breasts. You may start with simple and low-level strength exercises in your pregnancy. Target your pectoral and back muscles as it could help your breasts appear tighter and lifted. Post-birth, you may have to wait for six weeks to start exercising. Strengthening and toning exercises could make a difference in preventing sagging breasts. Consider wearing a supportive sports bra while exercising.

Exercises To Prevent Breast Sagging

Given below are some chest exercises that might help tone the muscles and prevent breast sagging.

1. Push-ups

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They may help firm up the breasts and the chest muscles (7).

How to do:
  1. Lie down on your tummy, preferably on a yoga mat.
  2. Place your palms on the floor.
  3. Raise your body using the arms (there should be a slight bend at the elbow to avoid any injury).
  4. Lower yourself to the floor as far as you can, and again push back.
  5. Repeat it until you find it comfortable.

2. Arm raises

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This targets the upper body, especially the shoulders and arms.

How to do:
  1. You may do this exercise while sitting with your legs folded, standing, or sitting on an arm less chair.
  2. Extend your arms over the head as much as possible, keeping your elbows slightly bent.
  3. Remain in this position for some time, and slowly lower your arms.
  4. Repeat and do it often during the day.

3. Bench press

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This is a strength-building exercise for the pectoral muscles (chest), shoulders, and back. Take on the help of a fitness expert in a gym as you would need a pair of dumbells and a bench.

How to do:
  1. Lie flat on a bench and hold a dumbbell in either of your hands.
  2. Raise your hands slowly and hold them above your chest.
  3. Remain in the position for a while.
  4. Slowly bring down the arms close to the chest.
  5. Repeat for a few times.

4. Chest fly

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It works on the chest, arm, and back muscles, thereby toning them.

How to do:
  1. You will need a chest fly (pec deck) machine to do this exercise.
  2. Sit straight with both your feet flat on the floor and grab the handles.
  3. Press your arms towards the chest slowly, and keep the elbows bent.
  4. Remain in this position for a second.
  5. Get back to the original position, opening your chest.
  6. Repeat for a few times.

These exercises may not necessarily help bring back the shape of your breasts, but they might help tone them up. Talk to a professional before taking up any of these exercises and make sure to stay hydrated.

Breast Involution After Pregnancy And Breastfeeding

The return of an organ to its original size is called involution. Breast involution might happen about three months after your baby starts weaning or stops breastfeeding. Not all women may experience the same degree of involution. In some cases, the breast tissue may shrink but leave the skin around it unchanged, making the breasts appear deflated (8).

Sagging Breasts And Plastic Surgery

Several surgical options could help in lifting and reshaping the droopy breasts. Breast augmentation and breast lift surgery are two well-known procedures that certified plastic surgeons perform (9). If you are in childbearing stage or trying for subsequent pregnancies, breast surgery may not be an option to consider. Moreover, it is expensive.

Does Wearing A Bra At Night Prevent Sagging?

There is no scientific backing to this belief. If you do choose to wear a bra at night, make sure it’s soft, comfortable, and fits you well. You should not wear an underwire bra or one that’s tight and puts pressure on your breasts. Tight bras and underwires can cause plugged milk ducts or mastitis. If you leak at night, and need to use nursing pads, a soft nursing tank top might be a good solution.

Accept the bodily changes that happen after pregnancy. That makes motherhood even more beautiful. While you need to try exercising and eating healthy to lose weight after pregnancy, there is no point worrying about the natural changes that may happen. Embrace them as part of your motherhood, while following a healthy lifestyle.

References:

1. Allyson B. Rivard, Laura Galarza-Paez, and Diana C. Peterson.; Anatomy, Thorax, Breast; StatPearls Publishing (2020).
2. Rinker B, Veneracion M, and Walsh CP.; The effect of breastfeeding on breast aesthetics; Aesthet Surg J. (2008).
3. Rinker B,Veneracion M, and Walsh CP.; Breast ptosis: causes and cure; Ann Plast Surg. (2010).
4. Physical Changes and Concerns; Weeks 13-21 of Pregnancy; State of South Dakota Publishings
5. Joe Giessler; What is normal weight gain during pregnancy; The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center (2018).
6. Wrinkles, Aging, And Skin Protection; Women’s Health Research Institute; Northwestern University
7. Chest; RRDS Clinical Guide. Physical Fitness: A Guide for Individuals with Lower Limb Loss; Office of Research & Development – VA
8. Ronald D. Beesley and Julia V. Johnson; The Breast During Pregnancy and Lactation; The Global Library of Women s Medicine (2008).
9. Rod Rohrich; Breast augmentation vs breast lift – picking the right procedure for you; American Society of Plastic Surgeons (2017).

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