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What Happens to Your Breasts After Stopping Breastfeeding?

Posted on April 25 2017

What Happens to Your Breasts After you Stop Nursing?

Weaning is a personal choice.

As we've said before, there is no set time to stop. Some do it when their child is a year old, while others do it when breastfeeding ceases to be enjoyable. Some moms breastfeed much older babies and toddlers and do not wean till later than the "social norm".

Whatever your reasons for stopping breastfeeding, it's important to remember that your baby will still need lots of your attention.

Weaning doesn't mean losing that special bond with your child. It just means that your relationship has evolved and that you're ready to explore other ways to bond with and nurture your baby.

Now, if you've come to a decision to end your breastfeeding journey, there are some things you need to know so you won't be caught off guard.

Some you may already know about like mood changes and the return of your menstrual cycle (if it hasn't already). So those who used breastfeeding as birth control, it's time to go back to preventative measures.

One area of concern for a lot of moms who want to wean is their breasts. In particular, what would happen to them once they stop breastfeeding?  This is a normal thought! We love our bodies and the fact that the female form can do miraculous things, but it doesn't mean we lose concern over the shape of our breasts. 

Let's take a closer look at how stopping breastfeeding changes a mother's breasts.

What's Phagocytosis?

You know what's really interesting about stopping breastfeeding? 

After breastfeeding is over, your boobs start to eat themselves.

Here's what happens:

During pregnancy, hormones cause epithelial cells lining ducts in the breasts to form alveoli, where milk is made. Once women stop breastfeeding, the alveoli self-destruct, with the epithelial cells eating their dead neighbors.

Phagocytosis is the process where the body's immune cells remove dead and dying cells. Sometimes, this is accompanied by inflammation, pain, and tissue damage. But this doesn't happen when stopping breastfeeding.  

As it turns out, there's a molecular switch, a protein known as Rac1 that controls the transformation of breasts from milk producers to cellular eaters. Rac1 is essential for both normal milk production and phagocytosis in immune cells. 

Without Rac1, dead cells and milk will flood the breasts. This then triggers swelling and inflammation. According to the scientists who have identified Rac1, further research is needed to explore the protein's role in breast cancer.

Why Do I Still Have Milk?

Stopping breastfeeding isn't like turning off a faucet. Some mothers who have weaned still get breastmilk when they hand express. It could take weeks to months for your milk to completely dry up. 

Remember, how much milk you produce depends on how often milk is removed from your breasts.

It's supply and demand.

If you suddenly stop breastfeeding when your baby is still feeding often, it can take a long time for your breasts to stop producing milk. 

On the other hand, if you're at that stage where your breasts aren't producing a lot of milk - maybe because you're nursing a toddler - it may be only a matter of days or weeks for your supply to reduce even further until your milk production completely ceases.

Is Sagging Normal?

Breastfeeding has been tagged as a culprit for a lot of things including stretch marks and saggy boobs.  Don't blame any sagging on breastfeeding...

The truth is that breastfeeding will not cause your breasts to sag. It's actually pregnancy that may contribute to sagging. 

You already know that breasts go through a lot of changes during pregnancy. The areolas get bigger, breasts increase in size, the ligaments that support the breasts stretch, and so on. These changes could lead to sagging whether you breastfeed or not.

Sagging also becomes more obvious with each additional pregnancy. Smoking, getting older, being overweight or obese, genetics, and lack of exercise are also factors that contribute to droopy boobs. 

After breastfeeding, your boobs may go back to their pre-pregnancy size. It's a process that can take several months to complete as your milk-making cells gradually shrink and fat cells get laid down again.

How do I Prevent Saggy Breasts?

There are plenty of tips out there that will help you keep your breasts from sagging after breastfeeding. 

But if you can only follow one tip, let it be this: wear a good supportive bra. The right support will ensure that your breasts are constantly supported. This helps prevent stretching of the ligaments that support the breasts, which is the number one cause of sagging. 

It goes without saying that you should also wear quality nursing tops. Wearing the right support and the right gear goes a long way in preventing the dreaded sag.  Sports bras work very well because they lack an underwire (which helps with not getting clogged ducts) and they are savvy to use when you have a fashionable and functional nursing top. All you have to do with a sports style bra is lift up or pull down which can sometimes be easier than a regular bra. These days, sports style bras have padding and come in sexy and fun colors and designs to go with your nursing wear.  Wear the right size that is snug in the right places and supportive.

Other things you can do to prevent drooping is to have proper posture when nursing your baby. You should also go back to exercising as soon as your doctor gives you the go signal.  Cardio barre, pop physique, pilates, and yoga are excellent workouts to evolve back into that tone and tighten your postpartum body.

Don't forget though to take it easy!  Just like weaning, go gradual in everything so your breasts don't change shape so dramatically. 

Losing weight too quickly can lead to loose, sagging skin. You don't want to lose too much fat tissue in the breast area. 

Some women also swear by certain moisturizers such as shea butter or vitamin E oil. Applying these to your breasts can help keep them supple. These can also reduce the appearance of stretch marks on the breasts.  Start moisturizing like this as soon as you can such as before or during pregnancy. 

And last but certainly not the least, follow a clean diet.  

Some foods that you may want to include in your diet to prevent saggy skin include complex carbs, healthy fats, foods rich in vitamins B and E, and protein.

Egg yolks and grass fed organic butter are also good for nursing mothers (in moderation). These foods contain arachidonic acid which keeps skin firm and tight. 

Avoid lots of sugar. This breaks down collagen and creates wrinkles.

What About Boob Exercises?

Sadly, there aren't any exercises you can do to specifically target breasts. Your boobs don't contain muscle. But you can do exercises for the chest muscles, specifically the pectoralis major muscle. Start easy and gradually go higher on weights as you gain strength.

Push-ups, for example, help elevate the breasts and give them a perkier look. Push ups are one of the best overall body exercises.  You can also do table top chest press, bridge chest flys, plank, and butterfly chest squeeze for stronger, firmer, more lifted chest.

Stopping Breastfeeding Soon?

Going back to work? Read on our top tips for pumping and working moms returning into the workforce. 

If you want to keep going, you may want to read our post about extended breastfeeding: Experts Say that Children up to Six Years Old can Benefit from Breastfeeding

Need to store your breastmilk? Read here on our tips for how to store your milk.

Or check the rest of our blog for nursing style and new mom survival tips.