What Causes Sagging Breasts?
Marianne Campolongo, Staff Writer
Marianne A. Campolongo is an experienced writer and photographer. Her work has appeared in newspapers and magazines and on websites. The topics she has written about include health, parenting, lifestyles, travel, food, and dieting. She has also photographed magazine covers, including personalities such as Hillary Clinton and former CBS co-anchor René Syler. She holds a law degree from Fordham University School of Law.
December 05 2007
Why Do Breasts Sag?
Retirees aren't the only ones going south when they get older. It's an unfortunate fact of life that as women age, their breasts go south as well.
Genetics determine how quickly this happens, but there are other factors too—some of which are avoidable. However, for most women, the aging process will eventually overcome our best efforts and a breast lift may be the only way to restore those once full and perky breasts.
Busting the Myths
First, let's look at what doesn't cause sagging breasts. For years, women assumed that breastfeeding resulted in droopy breasts. A recent breastfeeding study shows that isn't true. According to a University of Kentucky study by plastic surgeon Brian Rinker, MD, your breasts after breastfeeding are no more likely to sag than your breasts after pregnancy. It's not breastfeeding that makes breasts saggy—it's pregnancy alone—whether you breastfeed or not.
That study concluded that smoking, your body mass index (BMI), the number of pregnancies, larger prepregnancy breasts, and age all contribute to breast ptosis (saggy breasts).
The Anatomy of the Breast
Women's breasts contain fatty tissue, connective tissue and ligaments, which surround glandular tissue. The glandular tissue is made up of lobes (groups of milk glands or lobules) connected to milk ducts. The pectoral muscles of the chest lie underneath the breasts, but the breasts themselves have no muscle tissue. Breasts only have fragile ligaments, connective tissue, and skin for support.
Since gravity causes breast ptosis (saggy breasts), larger breasts are more likely to sag because they weigh more than smaller ones. Wearing a bra that properly supports your breasts can help take the weight off. Flat-chested women are less likely to see their breasts sag, but being well endowed whether naturally or through breast augmentation certainly has its benefits, too!
Exercising, particularly strenuous exercise such as jogging, stresses fragile ligaments as the breasts bounce. A British study showed jogging wearing a regular bra puts twice as much stress on breasts than wearing a supportive exercise bra. Here again, using the right bra for support can make a difference.
Stretching and Age Make Breasts Sag
The ligaments, skin, and connective tissue that support the breast stretch as they grow. Each time you gain and then lose weight from dieting or pregnancy it becomes harder for them to stretch back. So your breasts lose their natural support.
The eventual loss of elasticity in the breasts due to age also affects this support structure, even if you maintain a consistent weight and do not bear children. Collagen gives the breasts' connective tissue its strength and flexibility. Collagen dries up as you age, especially during menopause, so breasts lose this support resulting in sagging breasts.
Fat content largely determines breast size. Loss of fat can make breasts look empty. So can the process of breast involution, which is the shutting down and shrinking of your glandular (milk producing) system after breastfeeding, pregnancy, and especially during menopause. Sometimes, breast implants can help fill this lost volume.
What to Do About Saggy Breasts?
Not smoking, wearing a supportive bra during the day and a sports bra while you exercise can help delay droopy breasts. But eventually age will catch up. How to keep breasts from going south as you age? A breast lift is another possible solution.