There are two ways to looks at changes to the breast after breastfeeding: short-term and long-term. Short-term changes to the breast occur immediately after each breastfeeding, while long-term changes affect the breast after the infant is weaned. Short-term changes primarily involve the relief of pressure on the breast. Long-term changes may include stretch marks, enlarged nipples and sagging. Not all women with experience long-term changes and the breasts may return to their pre-breastfeeding shape and form within six to nine months after weaning.
Breasts often become engorged and feel swollen and firm, if not downright hard, before breastfeeding as the breasts produce and fill with milk. As the infant suckles, the pressure is relieved and the breast after breastfeeding is much softer. Shortly after a feeding is finished, there often is a tingling or slight burning sensation as the breast begins producing more milk in anticipation of the next feeding. Milk leaking from the breast after breastfeeding is common and usually minimal, although this can continue for several months as the milk dries up after the infant is weaned.
It is common for women, especially new mothers, to have sore and chapped nipples after breastfeeding. This is temporary and easily alleviated by properly caring for the breasts after breastfeeding. Applying lanolin or vitamin E immediately after a feeding keeps the breasts from chapping and helps to relieve previously chapped nipples. Severely sore nipples after breastfeeding are often the result of the infant improperly latching on or pulling off. Proper infant placement and switching sides often will reduce the likelihood of overly sore and tender breasts after breastfeeding.
Vitamin E oil and lanolin are also helpful in reducing the long-term effects of stretch marks that develop as a result of swollen and engorged breasts. While minor stretch marks are easier to treat, most stretch marks can at least be reduced with proper care. Those with naturally smaller breasts can help reduce stretch marks by breastfeeding more often or expressing milk between feedings. Preventing the breasts from becoming overly engorged will also help to prevent permanent stretch marks.
Permanent changes to the breast after breastfeeding ceases often include enlarged nipples and sagging breasts. Long-term nipple size usually is determined by the size of the nipple during breastfeeding, and breastfeeding women who do not experience enlarged nipples generally do not see a post-weaning change in nipple size. Women who experience larger breasts while pregnant and breastfeeding usually see a return to normal after breastfeeding, though often with some degree of sagging. On rare occasions, women may find their breasts after breastfeeding to be smaller than their breasts pre-pregnancy.