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Michael C. Fasching, M.D.

Board Certified Plastic Surgeon


Pregnancy, Genetics, Age: How Life Affects the Appearance of Your Breasts

Submitted by Dr. Fasching on Wed 09/11/2019 - 23:58

Aesthetically, breasts have taken center stage in fashion, sexuality and creating the ideal hour-glass figure. Several changes continue to occur to a woman’s breasts throughout her life that can affect their appearance, often in undesirable ways. Saggy, drooping, and/or deflated looking breasts can be more common than we would like, as the effects of living a full life can take a toll on formerly beautiful, perky breasts. 

If the appearance of your breasts is causing you to feel self-conscious about your body image and affecting your self-esteem, you may want to consider cosmetic surgery. Dr. Michael Fasching is a board-certified plastic surgeon that can help replace the fullness of the breasts, creating beautiful results. Call (763) 577-7500 to schedule your own personalized consultation today. 

How Genetics Affect Breasts 

Your genes are made up of segments of DNA and are responsible for building proteins that regulate and maintain the body. Genes play a part in building bones, enabling muscles to move, and dictate the size and shape of your breasts. 

Genetic inheritance is a basic principle of genetics that explains how the characteristics of your family tree are passed down from generation to generation. This would mean that if the females in your family lineage were to have generally larger breasts, future female offspring are also more likely to display this characteristic, with the opposite being true as well. The gene responsible for the size of breasts is not the only gene passed down affecting breasts’ appearance, as genes responsible for the levels of your hormones, skin elasticity, and breast density can also be passed to the next generation which may all affect how the breasts appear as you age. 

A potential consequence of passing down genes from generation to generation is the inheritance of various breast disorders; the most prominent being breast cancer. Having a family history of breast cancer significantly increases the chances of all future females developing the disease at some point in their lives, potentially resulting in loss of a breast or their lives. Breast augmentation or reconstruction surgery is commonly carried out for those women who elect for mastectomy (removal of the whole breast) in an attempt to prevent breast cancer from spreading. 

Normal Breast Changes throughout Life

While it is easy to assume that a woman’s breasts remain the same as soon as they develop them, this couldn’t be farthest from the truth. The development of breasts occurs even before birth, as the formation of nipples and milk ducts begin during the fetal period. During puberty, starting as early as 8 years of age, young girls being to accumulate fat in the breast tissue, increasing their size and promoting the growth of milk ducts found within them. Once ovulation and the menstruation cycles begin, these milk ducts will form secretory glands in anticipation of producing milk. 

During pregnancy, breasts go through several additional changes as they prepare from the arrival of your baby. In fact, changes to the breasts are often one of the earliest signs you are pregnant, often presenting as breast swelling, tenderness, and feeling heavy or full. The main hormones responsible for many of the changes women experience when becoming pregnant are known as estrogen and progesterone. Together, these hormones play an important role in readying the breasts for lactation and stimulating the growth of milk ducts.    

The growth and size of the breasts also increase during pregnancy as pregnancy hormones continue to run its course. This can also lead to breast tenderness and hypersensitivity as well as darkening the nipples and areolas (the skin around the nipple).  Stretchmarks may also appear on the breasts as they grow larger. The nipples of the breasts may also begin to protrude more, making them more accessible for infants.

Breast typically remain enlarged until breastfeeding is over, at which point they return to their normal size. However, this is not without some changes caused by having a baby, the breasts may become smaller or remain slightly larger, potentially leading to an asymmetric appearance. Nipples may also be permanently changed as infants have a tendency to chew on them, leading nipples to become sore or cracked during the breastfeeding period. When your baby has graduated from breastfeeding, the nipples may appear misshapen or elongated due to this repeated trauma. 

Many women find that their breasts never look exactly the same after becoming pregnant and giving birth.  While the return of breasts to their pre-pregnancy size may vary from person to person, the engorgement of breast milk that occurs during the months of breastfeeding often loosen the ligaments connecting the breasts to the chest wall, leading breasts to appear droopy or saggy when returning to normal size. This deflated appearance of the breasts is often a permanent change to the shape of the breasts that cannot be reversed by conservative methods.  

The Affect Time Has on Breasts

The aging process plays a significant factor affecting the appearance of your breasts, regardless if you have had children or not. As you age, breast tissue and structure continue to change due to fluctuations in reproductive hormones and the effects of gravity. The quality of the skin is also significantly affected by time, as its elasticity and radiance tend to diminish as we get older. As is with the case with skin found elsewhere on the body, decreased elasticity of the breast skin causes breasts to lose their firmness and fullness, leading to a stretched or elongated appearance caused by the downward force of gravity. These changes of the breast can be linked to the natural decline of estrogen, causing the skin and connective tissue of the breasts to become less hydrated, and therefore less elastic. 

It is important to become familiar with the shape and feel of your breasts as you age. While the development of a lump may be simply fibrocystic in nature, only a trained medical professional can determine if it is cancerous or not. The following are some changes of the breast inconsistent with fibrocystic changes and should promptly be checked out by your health care provider.

  • A hard lump on the breast or under the arm 
  • Nipple discharge  
  • Change in size or shape of the breast
  • Red, itchy, or scaly breast skin

Menopause is a biological process affecting all women in time and marks an end to the menstrual cycle. You are officially in menopause if you have gone 12 months without a menstrual period, with the average age of the onset of menopause in the United States being 51 years old. As you near menopause, levels of estrogen drop dramatically leading to the shrinkage of the glandular tissue of the breast. This is due to the fact that the body does not need to produce milk anymore, resulting in breasts to become smaller, fattier, and appearing less full.

The effects of time may also lead to downward-pointing nipples, wider space between the breasts, and stretch marks. 

While it may seem the effects of time are inescapable, there are some things you can do to better promote a gentler aging process. Cigarette smoking has been shown to negatively impact a woman’s breasts over time as tobacco smoke can break down elastin proteins found within the skin; necessary for giving support and a more youthful appearance of the breasts. Smoking may also encourage the production of a hormone responsible for the breakdown of collagen, a protein that helps to regenerate skin and sustain elasticity. This can lead to decreased breast skin quality and decreased breast projection. 

Regaining Youthful-looking Breasts

Cosmetic surgery could be just what you are looking for if you want to rejuvenate the appearance of your breasts. The following are some of the most commonly done cosmetic procedures that can help make breasts larger, fuller, and correct uneven breasts; boosting self-esteem in the process. 

Breast Augmentation

Breast augmentation can enhance the size and shape of your breasts by surgically placing breast implants under the existing breast tissue or the chest muscle. While breast augmentation can provide upper breast fullness, it will not correct sagging breasts, of which a breast lift would be better suited. Several types of implants exist with the primary purpose of creating a larger bust size, however, the two most commonly used implants, saline and silicone, do come with adherent advantages and disadvantages when choosing either. 

Saline implants are essentially silicone shells filled with sterile saltwater and have the advantage of requiring smaller incisions to be placed under the skin. Saline implants are inserted empty and are then filled once in place. If a saline implant were to break or rupture, the implant will appear deflated prompting medical attention with the saltwater simply being absorbed by the body causing no harm. A disadvantage of these types of implants is that they are not as natural-feeling or natural-looking when compared to silicone implants. 

Silicone implants consist of a silicone shell filled with silicone gel that closely resembles natural breast tissue, making it the popular choice for obtaining natural feeling and looking breasts. While being the most aesthetically pleasing type of breast implant, silicone implants are required to be placed under the skin prefilled, making it necessary to have larger incisions and therefore the increased possibility of scarring. However, with the hand of a skilled and experienced plastic surgeon, scaring may be near invisible or at the very least easily covered up by clothing or swimwear. In cases of silicone implant rupture, leaking silicone is not thought to cause any health problems but may go unnoticed by the patient for some time. This may lead to the possible development of breast pain, breast thickening, or changes in breast shape. 

Breast lift 

Also known as mastopexy, a breast lift is a surgical procedure that can change the shape and position of the breasts. A breast lift can reduce sagging, raise the position of nipples, and even reduce the size of the areola to make them proportional to the new breast size. It is recommended that women seeking a breast lift to first complete their family, as becoming pregnant after having undergone a breast lift could reverse the results gained from the procedure.  A breast lift is often combined with breast augmentation to provide optimal breast position and volume increase to restore a more youthful breast appearance.

To learn more about cosmetic procedures that can rejuvenate the look and feel of your breasts, schedule a personalized consultation with Dr. Michael Fasching in the Plymouth, MN area, call (763) 577-7500 today!