As mammographers, we are exposed to many different types and shapes of breasts. We are also with our patients at a time when they are exposed, possibly anxious and understandibly uncomfortable. While each patient is unique, in my experience these conditions often lead to interesting conversations about the patient and their ideas and questions on breast health. It also leads to many misconceptions.
Here are some frequently shared breast health myths about breast feeding and the truth around them.
MYTH: BREAST FEEDING CAUSES THE BREASTS TO SAG
REALITY: Plain and simple, age causes the breasts to sag. Another reason could be significant weight loss. Regarding breast-feeding, this myth may have originated centuries ago when the British aristocracy hired wet nurses to feed their babies because breastfeeding was seen as ruining a woman’s figure. This practice was very common until the middle of the 19th century when doctors realized that wet nurses might be passing on infectious diseases such as syphilis, cholera, and TB.
The medical term used to describe sagging of the breast is breast ptosis. For many years, women have assumed that breastfeeding will cause or has caused their breasts to sag. An October 2007, study throws out this old wives’ tale. This myth causes many new mothers to decide against breastfeeding in an effort to retain their youthful breast shape. Dr. Brian D. Rinker, a plastic surgeon from Lexington, KY, often heard his breast-lift patients complain how breastfeeding had caused their breasts to sag. In turn, he conducted a study, perhaps the first study of its kind, which involved questioning 132 women between 1998 and 2006 who visited the University of Kentucky’s plastic surgery clinic.
Of the 132 women questioned:
• 93 women had at least one full term pregnancy
• 54 women breastfed at least one child for an average of nine months
• 51 women believed that their breasts changed in size and shape following pregnancy
Researchers questioned the women regarding:
• BMI (body mass index)
• Pre-pregnancy bra cup size
• Breastfeeding history
• Weight gain or loss during pregnancy
• Smoking history
Dr. Rinker’s findings were presented in a report titled, “The Effect of Breastfeeding Upon Breast Aesthetics” in October 2007, at the annual meeting of the American Society for Plastic Surgeons in Baltimore. He concluded that a history of breastfeeding, the number of children breastfed, the duration of each child’s breastfeeding, and the amount of weight gained during pregnancy did not contribute to breast ptosis. Those factors that negatively affect the appearance of a woman’s breasts were found to be a larger pre-pregnancy cup size and a higher number of pregnancies. Age and a history of smoking, both associated with the loss of skin elasticity, were also found to increase the degree of breast sagging.
So, go ahead and breastfeed those babies! This important study should encourage woman to breastfeed instead of offering a bottle at birth. Pregnant women can now relax knowing breastfeeding does not change the appearance of the breast. The benefits of breastfeeding are undisputable. Human breast milk is tailor-made to meet the needs of the newborn by supplying all the necessary nutrients to help them grow strong and healthy with antibodies to protect from illnesses. The mother also benefits from breastfeeding by reducing her risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
MYTH: WOMEN WITH FLAT OR INVERTED NIPPLES CANNOT BREASTFEED
REALITY: Years ago women were often told to use a nipple shield to encourage the baby to feed. Now doctors believe the use of a shield may actually cause more problems for the infant, like poor feeding and weight loss. Babies do not latch on to the mother’s nipple. They latch on to the breast. It may be easier for the baby to feed when the mom has prominent nipples, but it is not a requirement. Women should consult with a lactation specialist if the baby does not take the breast at first. With proper help, the baby will usually latch on, sooner or later.
MYTH: WOMEN WITH BREAST IMPLANTS CANNOT BREASTFEED
REALITY: Most women who elect to get breast implants can successfully breastfeed their babies. The implant is commonly placed behind the pectoralis muscle (submuscular placement), which leaves the glandular structures of the breast (ducts and lobes) intact. The placement of the incision is also important. An incision in the area of the inframammary fold (IMF) is a better choice than a peri areolar incision that may interfere with the ductal network.