How does breastfeeding or pregnancy change breast tissue?

New mom sitting by the window holding her baby

Breast tissue can change during pregnancy and breastfeeding. But how much does breastfeeding alone permanently change the shape and feel of breasts?

Not much, as far as research can show.

The typical changes in breast tissue

When we talk about changes to breast tissue over time, we typically are referring to ptosis, the medical term for the sagging of breast tissue. While there has been at least one study that associated breastfeeding with a higher risk of ptosis, there generally aren’t obvious changes to the breast because of breastfeeding.

In my experience as an Ob/Gyn who performs breast examinations, I can’t tell from the look or feel of someone’s breasts if they’ve breastfed or even if they’re currently breastfeeding — unless they’re in the early stages of breastfeeding or are leaking milk.

Pregnancy and weight loss are more associated with breast changes

Changes that occur to breasts happen primarily as a result of pregnancy — not from breastfeeding. Weight loss is also much more associated with breast ptosis or sagging.

During pregnancy, there are a number of changes that may happen to the breasts. While breastfeeding, the breasts will undergo changes over time, but most changes will happen in just the first few months. Pregnancy-related breast changes can include:

  • Growth/enlargement
  • Itchy skin, as breasts grow
  • Tenderness
  • Darkening of nipples and areolas
  • Darker/more prominent veins on the breast
  • Leaking of colostrum, the yellowish, thick substance that can provide a baby with their first few meals
  • Small bumps on areolas

These changes are part of a range of what’s normal during pregnancy — some people don’t experience any of these changes, and some people experience all of them — and they’re not necessarily permanent.

“Reversing” breast changes

Surgical procedures such as breast augmentation and breast lifts can change the shape and feel of breasts if you’re uncomfortable with how they look or feel.

When to expect breasts to settle into a “new normal”

Because breast size and sagging are most associated with weight gain or loss, breasts are most likely to settle into a more consistent size when a consistent weight is maintained.

After weaning from breastfeeding, it will take a month or two for breasts to settle into their new size and shape.

Breast tissue changes to look out for

Lumps, skin redness, skin dimpling (like that on an orange), sudden changes in breast size or shape, and fluid leaking from the nipple are all symptoms to get checked out by your health care provider when you’re not pregnant or breastfeeding.

When you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, however, some of these symptoms are relatively normal — for example, lumps can be clogged milk ducts that may clear up in a few days with warm compresses and massaging.

Any breast pain accompanied by a fever, or a lump that causes skin dimpling, should be checked out by a medical professional.

If you’re unsure about any changes in your breasts, it’s worth checking in with your doctor, even just through a message in MyChart (or whatever platform your provider uses for an online patient portal).

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