When you’re expecting, some of the changes your breasts go through to prepare you for breastfeeding might take you by surprise. Most of that transformation is just Mother Nature’s way of preparing your body for your baby. But knowing ahead of time how pregnant breasts can change over the course of nine months can save you from worry. Likewise, understanding that sore nipples from breastfeeding are common — as are other postpartum breast changes — helps prevent some unwelcome surprises.
What Happens When You’re Pregnant Or Breastfeeding
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Changes During Pregnancy
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Your bra size is likely to increase by at least one cup at some point during your pregnancy. The change often starts within the first trimester. But for some women, growth continues. In fact, pregnant breasts can account for two pounds of total pregnancy weight gain.
Much of this increase is nature’s way of preparing your body for breastfeeding. Your milk ducts are growing to supply the coming demand. In addition, fatty tissue builds up, as it does elsewhere in your body.
That annoying itching sensation you may feel in either one or both of your breasts during pregnancy is a direct result of their increased size. To make room for the enlarged milk ducts and fatty tissue within your breasts, skin tissue needs to stretch out. Unfortunately, stretching skin is itchy skin!
As with itching, stretch marks are a possible side effect of the changes your skin tissue must make to accommodate quickly growing breasts. (Obviously, you may notice this on your belly as well.) The marks can appear as grooves in your skin, or as silvery lines.
For both itching and stretch marks on pregnant breasts, cocoa butter and other moisturizers can help. Stretch marks in breasts usually fade after some time has passed, with or without special creams.
Your nipples, areolas and the rest of your breasts can develop bumpy tissue over the course of your pregnancy. In the nipple region, tiny growths are known as “Montgomery’s tubercles” may start to appear on the darker ring surrounding your nipples. These small areola bumps will eventually become beneficial to your baby if you breastfeed. The tubercles produce bacteria-fighting oils that also act as a protective, lubricating shield to fight chafing during the nursing stage.
The lumps that may appear on the main area of your breasts are also normal. Some are cysts that are filled with milk, and some may be regular cysts and fibrous tissue. Just as you might find stretch marks on the surface of your skin, internally your breasts can form lumps as a reaction to the increased size of ducts and tissue.
If you feel any lumps or bumps that seem unusual even for a pregnancy, let your doctor know. For most women, however, their pregnancy checkups are frequent enough that problematic growths are spotted right away.
Speaking of that changing nipple region, you might notice increased pigmentation. Women with “rosy pinks” find their nipples and areolas turning brown or deep red when expecting. Even women who already had darker nipples notice a deepening color during pregnancy.
“Why do my breasts hurt?” Breast discomfort that ranges from tenderness when touched, to ongoing “I can’t take it!” soreness, is another typical pregnancy symptom. It’s one that’s most frequently experienced in the first trimester, as your hormone levels ramp up dramatically. During this time, make sure you have a supportive, but non-constricting bra. (If you have sore breasts later in your pregnancy, a lack of support may be the culprit. A better maternity bra can help.) During this “touchy” time, you may need to move extra carefully to avoid bumping into things, and at times,even showering can be a bit painful. Luckily, once you’re past the first trimester, most of your breast soreness should be behind you.
More Visible Veins
You’ve always had veins in your breasts. Yet they often become more noticeable during pregnancy. Suddenly, those darker blue lines start to crisscross the sides and fronts of your breasts. Your blood flow can more than double during this period because of the increased nourishment needs for you and your baby. That increased flow makes veins expand and look more prominent. The finer skin on breasts is one of the more noticeable areas in which this change will show. The paler your skin tone, the more the vein changes will stand out.
Leaky breasts are a well-known circumstance related to breastfeeding. But you might not have been expecting this discharge to happen before the baby even arrives! As with many other changes you’re experiencing, your body is preparing itself for the baby’s needs once it’s born. Your breasts might begin producing colostrum during the second trimester. This is the substance your baby will receive in the first few days of her life if you breastfeed. It’s often known as “first milk” because it’s thicker and yellower than the milk your breasts begin producing starting a few days after your baby is born.
Colostrum is something of a miracle substance for your newborn because it’s full of immune-boosting nutrients. But before she’s born, the discharge is only a nuisance. If leaky nipples are an issue during pregnancy, nursing pads in your maternity bra can prevent any noticeable staining on your clothes.
Changes During Breastfeeding
“More of the Same”
Many of the preparatory changes your body makes during pregnancy will continue during the nursing stage. If your breasts didn’t become noticeably larger while you were expecting, they almost certainly will once your milk comes in. Leaking will also increase, so bra pads are a must.
Tenderness is normal during pregnancy, but sore nipples and other breastfeeding issues are even more common. The sensation usually ranges from a bit of swelling and tension just before nursing, to actual pain if you’re not able to nurse right away. Some women find that expressing a bit of milk from one nipple while baby nurses from the other side can ease the tightness. If you’re away from your baby, or she’s not hungry, use a pump or even your hands to release some of the milk.
Hungry babies are not the most patient creatures — and your raw, chapped nipples are proof. Try rubbing a bit of the leftover breast milk around your nipple area after nursing; it has healing nutrients, including Vitamin E. Lanolin-based ointment can also help. (If you or your baby seem to have a lanolin allergy, ask your doctor for a different type of ointment.) In addition, change bras and/or nursing pads frequently to decrease chafing and rash from that moist, constricted environment.
The occasional phenomenon of asymmetric breasts can be unsettling. But that unevenness will dissipate after the breastfeeding stage, or even after the first few weeks of nursing. But in the beginning, some women do notice that one breast looks larger, or one breast might appear more flat or misshapen. This is all due to the unpredictable ways that milk ducts can cluster. It’s totally normal, and almost always temporary.
Find out more about the changes your body goes through during breastfeeding with this video from Health and Pregnancy.
Concerned that your breastfeeding issues, sore nipples, or pregnant breast pain is too intense or unusual? Don’t hesitate to ask your OB-GYN. On rare occasions, changes to breast tissue can signal a health issue that needs further tests. In most cases, however, the answers to “Why do my breasts hurt?” for pregnant and breastfeeding women will be reassuring ones.
Have you gone through any of the changes in the list with your own body while pregnant or breastfeeding? Share your experience with us here.