Mothers, do note that your pregnancy will change your breasts. This isn’t just to help develop milk for your baby, but also due to the hormones in your body and your changing body shape. Even once you’ve finished breastfeeding, you may find your breasts just aren’t the same as they were pre-baby.
However, there are some changes that shouldn’t happen and these changes could mean an underlying medical condition that you need see a doctor about. Therefore, it’s important to track all the changes that happen to your breasts. You need to know about normal types of discomfort or pain and what the signs could point towards. These facts will help to make sure you have healthy breasts and a healthy body throughout your life.
Here’s all you need to know about your breasts before and during pregnancy to ensure a healthy life.
Breasts Change Every Single Month
Even before you’re pregnant, your breasts will change on a day to day basis. While they are usually similar, there will be elements about them that are not the same. They change in shape and size, and these changes are perfectly normal and healthy.
Once you hit puberty, your breasts will start to grow. The size does depend on a number of hormones that are in your body. Once you are in your mid-20s, the natural changes should stop or at least slowdown. However, hormonal imbalances, changes in medication, and weight fluctuations will all affect the size of your breasts.
As you lose weight, you may find that your breasts get smaller. Unfortunately, we can’t pick and choose where the weight falls on us. We’d all have the hourglass figure then, wouldn’t we?
Throughout the month, hormones change and our bodies get ready for the possibility of pregnancy, which means that the breasts get ready for the chance of breastfeeding in a few months’ time. They start to get bigger and change shape to make sure they are ready for the upcoming possible major changes to your life.
When you have your period, the breasts will go back to normal. However, the changes will explain why some of us experience pain and discomfort in the lead up to menstruation. The changes to size and shape cause the nerves in the breasts to become more sensitive.
Some Lumps Are Normal and Nothing to Worry About!
You’ll hear all the time about lumps and how they shouldn’t occur. The truth is that some lumps in the breasts can be normal and they may be nothing to worry about. The breasts are full of glands, which tend to be lumpy. When you have hormonal changes, the glands can swell or shift position, and you may find that the lumps in your breasts are more prominent.
What you should look out for are solid lumps. The glands will be soft to touch, and you should find that it’s not painful to touch them. They may move around easily under the skin. If the lumps are solid and/or painful, you will need to discuss this with your doctor. This could be a sign of something more serious, like breast cancer.
If you are pregnant or you have had a baby, a lump forming could also be mastitis. This is when the milk ducts become blocked. The breasts may be itchy and hot, and there may be some inflammation in the surrounding area or some redness.
Most blocked ducts will repair themselves within 24 hours. You can also help by massaging the areas to remove the reason for the blockage. If the milk ducts don’t unblock themselves within 24-48 hours, you will need to see a doctor to prevent infection and other problems.
Nipple bumps that look like pimples on your nipples are completely normal and nothing to worry about. Everyone has them, but hormones can make them grow. They are usually enlarged during pregnancy. Similar to pimples, just leave them alone and they will disappear on their own.
Do look out for the density of your breasts. You should always have some fatty tissue around the area. This is a sign that you have more connective tissues in the area, which make it harder to spot abnormalities on mammograms. Earlier signs of breast cancer could be missed.
One of the other signs of breast cancer is discharge from the nipples. This can be normal, and it will depend on the colour. Brown or straw-like discharge is completely normal, but you shouldn’t see any blood. If there is blood coming from your nipples, then you will need to see a doctor. While pregnant, you may see some milk discharging, which is also completely normal.
Breast Changes Start from the Beginning of Pregnancy
One of the most common signs of pregnancy is discomfort or tenderness in the breasts. This is because your breasts will start to change the moment you are pregnant. Your body is naturally getting ready for you to start breastfeeding in the future. It needs to start creating the milk, which means expanding the breasts to make room.
Swelling in your breasts may be one of the first signs that you are pregnant, even before you miss your period. Remember that conception occurs around two weeks before your next period, so you will be pregnant long before you even realize. The dating starts from the last period you noticed.
It is possible to make yourself a little more comfortable when your breasts are starting to change. Try removing your bra or buying one with less restriction. Those without underwires are good for the creation of the milk ducts and supply.
You may find a slight change in your diet will help. Reduce your salt intake and drink more water. This will help to reduce salt and fluid retention, which can lead to swelling breasts.
Stretch Marks and Itchy Skin During Pregnancy
During the second and third trimester, the growth of your breasts should start to slow down. The main growth has happened, and your milk supply is ready. You may experience some white liquid leaking from your nipples, which is the colostrum before your milk. Don’t worry about this. Your body is just getting ready for your full milk supply for your baby.
Weight gain during pregnancy can make your breasts expand even more. If you can keep your weight gain between the recommended 11 and 16 kgs for the average female, you should find that your breasts don’t enlarge too much.
The discomfort and pain should disappear, but you may experience some itching of the skin. This is often due to the skin expanding, as the nerves are affected by the changes. Stretch marks may also start to appear. You can reduce both side effects by using moisturiser or body lotion on the skin on your breasts. The moisturiser will help to add the fluid back into the skin to help the production of collagen. More collagen means better flexibility within your skin and thus reducing the appearance of stretch marks.
More Swelling After Your Baby Is Born
After the birth, the milk production is intensified. Once your placenta is removed from the body, the hormone releases change again. Your body gets the signal that your baby is born and your body needs to start producing the milk to nourish your baby. This can take a couple of days, but your breasts will start to change in shape and weight.
Your milk production can be heavy and will likely feel that weight in your breasts, especially when it comes to feeding time for your baby. Your breasts will expand to keep hold of the milk, ready for feeding time. However, there is only so much liquid they can hold. You may experience some leakage of the milk in between feeds, especially if you miss a feed.
Your nipples will also change color. They should darken, and this is completely normal and nothing to worry about. The darker nipples help your baby know where to go for food. The eyesight in new-borns is poor, and they work more on colours and blurry shapes, rather than the actual sight of the nipples.
There are steps that you can take to avoid leakages. The first is to stick to a schedule for your baby’s feeds, which is great if you’re at home with your baby all the time. Avoid missing a feed at all. This will also help your baby’s growth.
If you can’t stick to a set schedule, you can always express your milk. This will help to improve the milk production since your body gets the message that your baby still needs more milk. You can express by hand or with a breast pump. There are now hands-free breast pumps, meaning you can get on with other things throughout the day.
Those who have babies that sleep through the night may find that their breasts leak while asleep. Try sleeping on a towel overnight to avoid damaging your sheets and your mattress. You can also set a timer to express your milk during the night if you would like. If you are bottle feeding, opt for pads and a towel to help prevent the leakages.
Allowing your breasts to become engorged could lead to other problems. This is when mastitis is likely to happen since your body hasn’t been able to get rid of the milk that is being produced.
If you aren’t breastfeeding, you may want to express a little bit of milk still. This can help get rid of the heavy and full feeling in your breasts. You will also keep the risk of mastitis and leaks occurring. However, doctors tend to recommend wearing a tight sports bra to help support your breasts and tell your body that you don’t need to produce the milk. After about a week, the body will get the idea and stop the production. Within a month, you should see your milk production stop completely.
Do keep in mind that expressing your milk will encourage your body to make more. It doesn’t know that you’re not feeding a baby! If you want to keep up your supply while your baby is in a hospital or unable to breastfeed for a medical reason, opting for expressing can help to keep the supply until you are ready.
Changes to the Shape of Your Breasts After Breastfeeding
When you’ve stopped breastfeeding, or your breasts have stopped producing the milk, the shape and size will start to return to normal. However, there are plenty of women who say that their breasts never return to the exact same shape or size as before.
Many women complain that their breasts are much bigger than before. This is more likely to do with weight gain rather than the pregnancy hormones. If you have gained weight during pregnancy, it will need to go somewhere. The chest, hips, and butt are the three places that will see most of the weight gain.
Some women experience saggy breasts, which is linked to the skin stretching. If you haven’t helped the production of collagen or it is naturally poor, you will find that the skin’s elasticity is poor. When the skin stretches, it should bounce back like an elastic band. If it has been stretched too far, it won’t return to the old shape and instead remain saggy.
You can help to tone up and repair some of the skin, but not all of it. You’ll need to consider using bras to help improve the look and shape of your breasts.
There may be lumps afterward. You should check your breasts periodically, before, during and after pregnancy. Lumps are a sign of cancer, especially if they are solid and painful. Check the whole breast area, including up into the armpits.
If you notice other abnormalities, it is worth mentioning them to your doctor in order to help rule out any other serious problems that could affect your overall health.
Understanding the Changes Is Important
When you understand all the changes that will happen to your breasts, you are more informed to know of problems to look out for. Some changes are perfectly normal, even before and after pregnancy. You may find that your breasts get larger even when you’re not pregnant, as hormone fluctuations will affect the things happening within your breasts.
By knowing the changes, you can avoid panic if you feel some softer lumps. If you are concerned about anything, talk to your doctor to rule out anything serious. This is especially the case if you have painful lumps or you see blood coming from your nipples. These changes should be discussed before, during and after pregnancy, whenever they occur.
Original article and photos adapted from Positive Health Wellness