5 Things That Happen to Your Breasts After Feeding a Child

Have you ever wondered what happens to your breasts after you stop nursing? Read on to learn how your breasts may change.

Young girl in yellow dress drinking a bottle while holding on to her mom
Photo: Maria Manco/Stocksy

If you've been pregnant—or are pregnant—you are probably fairly familar with how your breasts and body change. Most parents find that their breasts enlarge by a cup size—or two!—in preparation for feeding. Their nipples darken, as do their veins, and stretch marks are common. Many pregnant people develop scars on their chest. But what happens when baby arrives? How does nursing and, more importantly, weaning affect your breasts?

Here, our experts answer all your questions about what happens to your breasts once you are done breastfeeding.

Your Breast Size Will Change

While your breast size will change during pregnancy, and if/when you nurse, things don't end there. After weaning, your breasts will definitely get smaller, says Katie Prezas, IBCLC, private practice lactation consultant and owner of Empowering Lactation. "Breasts generally return to a size similar to what they were pre-pregnancy, but during each pregnancy, you develop further glandular tissue inside the breast, so it's possible they remain slightly larger than they were pre-pregnancy," she describes.

Many of us notice that one of our breasts becomes a bit of an overproducer during breastfeeding and becomes larger than the other. This is normal, but many of us wonder if we'll be less lopsided after weaning. Rachelle Markham, IBCLC, a lactation consultant in private practice says that for most of us, that lopsidedness will subside. "As the milk-making cells die off, breast tissue will change shape," she says. Once this process is done, your breasts typically end up looking similar to how they looked before breastfeeding and issues like lopsidedness resolve, she adds.

A Bit Of Sag Is Possible

You've probably heard that after breast- and chest feeding, your breasts become saggier, and while this does happen to some people, a study from 2008 found that breastfeeding itself isn't really the culprit. The study, published in Aesthetic Surgery Journal, found that being older, having a higher body mass index, having had more pregnancies, going into pregnancy with large breasts, and smoking were all risk factors that caused breast sagging during breastfeeding. Breastfeeding, however, wasn't a contributor.

In the study, 55% of breastfeeding parents experienced sagging, so sagging is not inevitable for everyone. In fact, as Dominique Gallo, IBCLC, a lactation consultant in private practice points out, lactation actually helps breasts stay fuller for a longer period of time after pregnancy, before any sagging starts to happen. Additionally, says Gallo, some people experience breast sagging even if they've never been pregnant or breastfed.

Nipples, Veins, and Stretch Marks Will Lighten

During pregnancy, many of us notice that as our breasts become fuller, and the veins on our breasts become darker. We may develop stretch marks as our breasts grow, and our nipples become darker, too, We may even start to develop little bumps along the areola, called Montgomery glands.

"These changes happen in order to help your baby more easily find and latch onto your breast," says Prezas. But after you're done breastfeeding, she adds, your nipples, areolas, and Montgomery glands go back to their pre-breastfeeding state. Stretch marks will also lighten, though they won't ever disappear.

You May Leak Milk

Something that surprises a lot of parents is that they can still leak milk after weaning. "It takes roughly 40 days after your final nursing or pumping session for your body to re-regulate your hormones, so milk secretion during this time is common," says Prezas. "It can even last for several months after completion of lactation." That said, if your breasts stopped leaking completely and then suddenly restarted months or years later, you should check in with your healthcare provider to determine the cause of the leaking.

Many people also find that they can hand express breastmilk past weaning. "Leaking of milk will usually go away pretty quickly after weaning, or even during the weaning process, but it is not unusual to be able to squeeze drops of milk out for months or even years after weaning," Markham adds.

The Insides of Your Breasts Will Change, Too

During pregnancy and lactation, the inside of your breasts are going through a lot of changes. You start to produce an abundance of milk-making tissue so that you can feed your little one. After breastfeeding ends, your body begins the process of involution, where the milk-secreting cells die off and are replaced by fat cells.

An interesting (or gross?) 2016 study published in Developmental Cell found that a slightly different process may be underway that causes the milk-making cells to die off. According to the study, the milk-making cells are essentially absorbed by other cells in the body during involution.

"This is fascinating," Markham commented. "I would imagine that they're not [absorbing] a significant portion of the milk making ducts, as we know that with each pregnancy milk ducts increase. So it must be a small portion of cells that are eliminated after weaning."

Either way, our bodies are pretty amazing, huh? We go from normal humans to milk-making factories in a matter of months and then, after weaning, we go back to our normal selves again.

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