Science You Can Use: What? Breastfeeding actually prevents sagging?

You may have it from your mother, or maybe from a celebrity, but you’ve probably heard it:  Breastfeeding causes your breasts to sag.

This may be widely believed, but a new (ahem) uplifting study says that not only does breastfeeding not cause sagging, it’s actually associated with better breast skin appearance.

Why do some mothers report sagging after breastfeeding?  Research says that pregnancy, not breastfeeding, is the culprit.  Pregnancy, generally a requirement to have a biological baby, does cause sagging, research has found.  But if you go on to breastfeed you aren’t any worse off, say the studies.

But this study takes it one step further – stating that breastfeeding actually slows the decline in breast skin aging.

So on to the study, which is a study of twins…about your twins.  (This is too easy.)  It’s actually a very straightforward and kind of entertaining study design to think about.

The researchers recruited women at the annual Twins Day Festival in Twinsberg, Ohio, enrolling 161 pairs of identical twins averaging 48 years old.  They then photographed their breasts and had six plastic surgery residents (who were blind to the survey results and probably somewhat in shock over their assignment) evaluate the images and rate aesthetic qualities between twins’ breasts.  They had the women fill out detailed lifestyle questionnaires, and then looked for patterns between the photographs and the survey information.

The authors point out that some factors involved in breast aging are mostly the luck of the draw – deriving from your genes and things like how your breasts develop in puberty.  But others are modifiable.  So what are they?

The study found:

Factors associated with poor “breast aesthetics:” Smoking, alcohol consumption, higher body mass index, greater number of pregnancies, and larger cup sizes.

Factors associated better “breast aesthetics:”  Moisturizer (hey, come back here – you can moisturize later!), hormone replacement therapy after menopause, and breastfeeding.

More specifically, the study found that “twins who breastfed (whether they had been pregnant or not, according to the author’s comments) had less attractive areolar size and shape but better skin quality than their counterparts who never breastfed.”

The study’s author commented on this finding:

My explanation is that women who breast fed have a different hormonal milieu — sort of like internal hormone replacement. So even though those [factors like pregnancy] were disadvantages, they gained some benefit. (parentheses mine)

While this may sound like a frivolous topic, the perception that breastfeeding causes sagging deters some women from breastfeeding.  And for those mothers who do breastfeed, it can be a real worry.  So this study may encourage some women to try breastfeeding, and perhaps put a few nursing mothers’ minds at ease.

Obviously, there are many underlying issues here about what constitutes an attractive breast, how these notions are culturally bound, and of course how the sexualization of the breast can lead to the discomfort our culture has with their primary role.

But for today I’m just enjoying embracing this brand new notion that breastfeeding might give breast appearance a boost.  Excuse me while I go moisturize.



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2 Comments | Last revised on 09/07/2012


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2 Responses to Science You Can Use: What? Breastfeeding actually prevents sagging?

  1. krista says:

    I don’t think the study actually determined that breastfeeding prevents sagging…at least in your summary, it seems like what the study determined was that the overall appearance of the SKIN was better/prettier, not that the breasts themselves were less saggy/perkier. And they admitted that pregnancies contributed to “poor breast aesthetics” and “less attractive areolar size and shape”. Assuming you underwent pregnancy in order to breastfeed, it seems to me like you’re just back where you started, at best; and worse off in the “pretty breasts” department than you were before you had kids, at worst.

    Anyway, your title and some of the statements in the article were misleading, and I do not agree that the study showed breastfeeding actually *prevents* sagging.

    • Tanya Lieberman, IBCLC says:

      Hi Krista,

      I thought about that as I was writing. What’s the relationship between skin quality (taught, loose, stretched, etc.) and what we think of as “sagging” breasts? Can you have loose, stretched skin and firm breasts? Can you have taught (I don’t know if I’m using the right term) skin and sagging breasts? I’m sure that fat and connective tissue has something to do with it, too. Anyway, I think we’d need a plastic surgeon or some other expert on breast aesthetics to figure out which terms are appropriate.

      As far as “admitting” that pregnancies contribute to sagging, that’s not a new finding. And as far as “being back where you started,” that’s doesn’t seem to really be in the cards. They found that women who had been pregnant had worse aesthetics than women who hadn’t been pregnant – again, nothing new. And they found that, of the women who had been pregnant, the women who breastfeed were better off in aesthetics than women who didn’t. In other words, on average you take a step “down’ (so to speak) due to pregnancy, but if you breastfeed you don’t head quite as south as you could have if you didn’t. Excuse the metaphor!

      Tanya

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