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Pregnant women often worry that breastfeeding will spoil the appearance of their breasts. Even in developing nations, where international agencies actively promote nursing, the fear of sagging breasts often prevents new mothers from following the recommendation to breastfeed, says Brian Rinker, M.D., an assistant professor of plastic surgery at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
However, his research shows it's not breastfeeding that's to blame for a loss of breast perkiness. In his study of 93 women undergoing cosmetic breast surgery, he found that prior nursing wasn't linked to droopier breasts—nor was the number of babies breastfed or the duration of breastfeeding.
Having been pregnant was the more likely culprit. As breasts swell during pregnancy, the skin stretches, which may lead to sagging later on. Rinker found that women with larger breasts, a higher body mass index, more pregnancies, a history of smoking and who were older had the highest risks.
"Women aren't imagining their sagging breasts," Rinker says. "There are clearly changes after pregnancy." He notes that some women think their breasts are larger following pregnancy, while others perceive them as smaller, and some cite no change. "But the experience of breasts becoming more droopy is pretty universal," he says.