Some women claim that their breasts get smaller and sag or droop after giving birth. While many consider breastfeeding the culprit, the truth is these changes can happen whether you choose to breastfeed or not.
In a 2007 study—the first to explore factors that impact breast shape (not size)—researchers found that heredity, age, body mass index (BMI), number of pregnancies, larger pre-pregnancy bra size, and smoking increase the risk of sagging. A history of breastfeeding, the number of children breastfed, the duration of each child’s breastfeeding, or the amount of weight gained during pregnancy did not predict changes in breast shape—dispelling the myth that breastfeeding causes breasts to sag.
Maintaining a healthy and consistent weight throughout life may minimize the effects of weight gain and weight loss on breast size and shape, but gravity and time will eventually take its toll.
While it’s commonly thought that wearing a bra reduces the risk of sagging, the opposite may actually be true. One study done in Japan found that the breasts actually “hung down more” after a group of 11 women who had previously gone braless, wore a bra for three months. Despite the small sample size, this study lends support to the theory that bras are an unnecessary accessory item that may actually do more harm than good by allowing the chest muscles to atrophy from lack of use.
If you are among the many women who choose to wear a bra while breastfeeding—whether for comfort, support, or to hold breast pads in place—be sure to remove your bra for one or two feedings during the day or at night. This will allow milk to drain from all portions of the breast and reduce the risk of plugged ducts and breast engorgement. This is particularly true for mothers who wear bras with underwires.