What Happens to Boobs After Breastfeeding?

Before and during pregnancy and breastfeeding, your breasts change in size, shape and appearance. And they continue to change even after you’re done nursing.

You may experience engorgement (feeling full and painful), a hardened section of the breast, a red area on your areola or darkening of the nipples. But these changes are normal and can be treated.

Size

Just like a woman’s belly, boobs inflate to epic proportions during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Depending on your body type, they can remain larger than before or even become slightly smaller after you stop nursing.

The hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy also impact the nipple area, leading to darkening and stretching of the nipples and skin. Those changes can happen whether or not you plan to breastfeed, but are more common if you do.

During breastfeeding, each breast typically becomes enlarged as the milk-making cells in your nipple are activated to feed your baby. The nipples can feel full and tight at times as the milk is consumed, and can feel empty or sore when they aren’t at capacity. Throughout the duration of breastfeeding, one breast may become engorged more than the other and that can lead to asymmetry.

The good news is that once you fully wean, the milk-making cells in your nipple begin to deactivate and shrink. This can lead to less engorgement, looser nipples and, eventually, a return to their pre-pregnancy size. However, it may take months for your nipples to fully adjust to their new normal and some women have reported still feeling a bit of fullness in their nipples long after they’ve stopped breastfeeding. This is a normal part of the adjustment process and can be managed with exercise and good bras.

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Shape

When you start breastfeeding, the fatty tissue in your breasts may change shape and nipple tissue might become denser, as milk is produced. This can cause your boobs to feel full, heavy and tender, especially in the first few days of nursing. It’s also common for your breasts to feel softer and less firm once breastfeeding ends, as the fatty tissue can shrink.

Many women worry about sagging after breastfeeding, but according to one study published in Aesthetic Surgery Journal, the majority of breast sagging occurs due to pregnancy and not breastfeeding. However, the study did find that if you had large breasts before pregnancy and were older when you got pregnant, it could lead to more sagging after childbirth.

Breast engorgement, or painful overfilling with milk, is also a common concern for breastfeeding moms. This can be reduced by feeding on demand and expressing as needed, as well as by taking time between feeds to empty the breasts. In addition, rubbing the nipples with natural creams such as fenugreek or saw palmetto can help firm up the skin and reduce sagging.

Many breastfeeding moms continue to produce small amounts of milk after they’re done nursing, which is normal and usually harmless. But if you’re still producing significant amounts of milk months after your baby is weaned, that could indicate a hormonal imbalance and should be checked out by a doctor.

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Sensitivity

Breastfeeding can leave your nipples feeling a little raw and sore. This is because the same hormones that caused your nipples to expand during pregnancy can also stretch out the ligaments that support them, making it harder for your boobs to bounce back to their “pre-pregnancy” shape. The good news is that these changes aren’t necessarily permanent and will eventually go away once you’ve weaned.

Leaky breasts are also a common breastfeeding side effect, particularly in the early days when your milk is coming in. Leaking occurs when a milk duct becomes blocked, which causes the milk to back up in the breast. This can cause it to feel hard or lumpy, and you may experience a pain in your breast when lying down on the couch or in bed after a feed. The best way to prevent clogged ducts is to express milk from the affected breast frequently, change feeding positions (from cradle to football) and massage the area before and after a feed.

If the leaking persists, it’s worth mentioning to your doctor as it can lead to mastitis, which is a painful infection of the breast tissue. Signs of mastitis include a hard, red lump in the breast, a pain or tenderness when lying down and flu-like symptoms. If left untreated, it can spread to the other breast and affect your ability to nurse.

Stretch Marks

The fatty tissue that gives your breasts their perky shape also becomes denser when you’re pregnant and nursing, creating what are often seen as stretch marks on the chest. It’s also common to have nipple and areola scarring from the nipple hooks needed for breastfeeding, as well as the tangles of veins cupping each breast during pregnancy (a sign of increased blood volume).

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After breastfeeding stops, nipples will often return to their pre-pregnancy size, though it can take time for your hormone levels to regulate again. It’s normal to experience leaking breast milk as your body gets back to producing it, too, but if the problem persists, speak to your doctor or lactation consultant for advice.

Blocked milk ducts are very common, as are nipple pain and itching (which can be the result of infection or just from the rigours of breastfeeding). Warm flannels, frequent feeding and massaging the lumps can help if the problem doesn’t resolve.

As you can imagine, it takes a lot for the body to produce milk on demand for months or even years at a time. And that means that one breast will engorge more than the other, leading to asymmetrical breasts once breastfeeding ends. This can be helped by exercises that target the pectoral muscles, says Nguyen.

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