While pregnant, your tummy expands to accommodate your growing baby. But many women may not realize that their entire bodies are transformed by the brand new lives inside them—and no other area changes more than the breasts.
Thought of as an adornment until now, the breasts experience dramatic changes during pregnancy as they prepare for their role in providing nourishment for a little one. Here’s what you can expect from your breasts during pregnancy and in the postpartum stage.
You may notice it before you find out you’re pregnant: tenderness. The breasts can become very tender to the touch during the first three months of pregnancy, says Sue Huml, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and member of the Lansinoh Breastfeeding Advisory Board. They may become fuller as well, which is the primary reason for the increased sensitivity.
The fun has only just begun! As your pregnancy progresses, so does the expansion of your breasts. The extreme sensitivity usually diminishes by now, says Huml, but expect quite a gain in the bust area. “It is not unusual to increase breast size by four to six inches and one to three cup sizes,” says Huml. Get ready to change your bra often!
The middle months of pregnancy also bring a change to the nipples. The nipple and areola can double in size and may actually stay that way after delivery. The typically pinkish-brown skin will darken and continue to do so for the remainder of the pregnancy. This is due to the increased blood circulation to the breasts, says Dawne Kirkwood, mother of five and author of Giving Birth to Me, The Guide to Birthing Your Dreams.
As you near your due date, your breasts will continue to expand with your belly. They will feel much heavier, says Kirkwood, especially once they begin to produce colostrum. This yellowish fluid is rich in antibodies and filled with nutrients to provide your newborn with the vital minerals needed to make a healthy start in life.
You will also notice tiny bumps around the areola called Montgomery’s tubercles. These glands produce an oil that will help make breastfeeding more comfortable when the time comes. The nipples will become much more elastic, too, says Huml, which will be a lifesaver once you’re breasts are called for active duty.
Though the changes your breasts encounter during pregnancy are completely normal, there are a few things you should be aware of in case there is a problem.
- Inverted Nipples: Sometimes, the nipples can turn inside, says Kirkwood, and this can lead to trouble once you begin breastfeeding. If you notice flattened or inverted nipples, make sure the baby takes much of the areola into her mouth. This makes for a good latch and will help to encourage the nipple to express milk.
- Engorgement: This filling of the breasts can be extremely painful for a new mother. Your body is producing milk like crazy, and you may not be nursing enough to relieve the pressure. “Apply chilled ice packs to breasts between feedings and try a warm shower right before nursing,” says Huml. This will slow down the milk production and minimize the pain for you.
- Clogged Duct: When a milk duct gets clogged, it can become painful and make it difficult to nurse. Speaking from personal experience, Kirkwood says, “Warm compresses were helpful but the best thing was to have the baby nurse and massage the duct.” It’s important to nurse often in this situation, as a clogged duct can lead to mastitis.
- Mastitis: This painful condition can develop during pregnancy and after delivery says Dr. Robert Atlas, MD, chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mercy Medical Center. Whether spurned on by a clogged duct or a cracked nipple, mastitis occurs when one area of the breast is hard or sore. This is an infection that can be treated with antibiotics. Since cracked nipples are usually the cause, it’s important to treat them with lanolin or another cream to ensure they heal properly.
So your breasts have just been on the proverbial rollercoaster, expanding and changing to accommodate their new role as nourishment providers for your newborn. Breastfeeding is a very natural process, but that doesn’t mean you’ll know all of the tips and tricks for successful feeding right away. Here are a few tips to help feed your baby as painlessly as possible.
- Nurse Often: You’ll be glad that you did. This ensures your baby is getting all of the nutrients he needs and that your breasts will not become engorged.
- Ice Packs: If engorgement should occur, ice packs will be your friend. Coldness slows down milk production and helps to ease the pain of tight breasts.
- Warm Showers: Conversely, a warm shower will encourage milk production and help it flow more freely when it comes time to nurse.
- Good Latch: It can be quite painful and ineffective for the baby to only take your nipple into his mouth. Ensure that he is taking the areola into his mouth as well. This makes for a good latch, meaning the maximum amount of milk is expressed and will help to minimize the risk of cracked nipples.
- Use Lanolin: Nothing will be kinder to your breasts as you breastfeed than lanolin. This cream will soothe sore nipples, making it easier for you to continue to breastfeed and reducing your risk of a clogged duct or mastitis.
The breasts go through a lot as your pregnancy progresses, but rest assured, they are equipped for the process. Heed your body’s signals and visit the doctor if you think something may be wrong. Otherwise, enjoy the changes your breasts make as your due date approaches. They are one more sign of your impending motherhood and of the joy that’s about to enter your life.