Breast changes during pregnancy

As soon as you fall pregnant, it’s fair to say that your body is no longer your own. The hormones released right from the very beginning cause many changes, and for some women (including the author), the feelings and appearance of your breasts can be the first sign of pregnancy.

In my case, just one look told me something was afoot, and I knew days before taking a pregnancy test exactly what the outcome would be.

First trimester

It’s common for women to experience sore, tender breasts in the days leading up to their period, and in many ways pregnancy is an exaggeration of this feeling. By the time you find out you are pregnant, you are already several weeks in. Your breasts may suddenly – literally overnight – feel swollen and full, and you might even notice an unfamiliar tingling sensation. Everything may feel magnified and you might not be able to bare the sensation of your nipples brushing against your clothes.

Typically noticeable fullness occurs around six to eight weeks into pregnancy, but often it can be much sooner. For flatter chested women, this will be the first time they have ever experienced the joys of a cleavage, which may go some way towards balancing out all the other less pleasant symptoms of early pregnancy, such as lethargy and morning sickness.

Second trimester

Breast tenderness tends to have reduced by the beginning of the second trimester, and in general terms, these middle months of pregnancy are the easiest as the nausea subsides and you begin to feel like your old self again. As your breasts grow, it’s time to ditch your underwire bras and exchange them for properly supportive cotton maternity bras, which allow for comfortable support without the danger of the wire damaging your milk ducts.

Around this time you may notice your nipples darken and become more pronounced. Likewise the little bumps on your areolas (Montgomery’s tubercles) may also become much more noticeable. If your skin is pale you will see the veins are now visible all across your chest – this is all perfectly normal.

Sometimes women develop breast lumps during pregnancy. Although these are most likely to be harmless cysts, it’s always a good idea to get any changes checked out by your doctor.

Third trimester

In the weeks leading up to the birth of your baby, your breasts are likely to grow larger again, quite possibly entailing a new bra or two as your body prepares itself for producing milk. It’s a good idea to get fitted for a nursing bra when you have around four weeks to go, although bear in mind that once your milk comes in, your breasts are likely to be temporarily even larger than they are now, entailing even more expense.

In the final weeks you might notice a little leakage from your nipples: this is colostrum, which is the first nutritious milk you will feed your baby. If you’re leaking a lot, you might want to invest in a pack of absorbent breast pads, which are placed inside your bra cups and prevent staining and unwelcome dampness.

What if you’re not planning on breastfeeding?

Regardless of your plans to formula feed, like it or not your milk is going to come in on the second or third day after the birth, which will leave your breasts feeling hard, hot, swollen and full. GPs advice varies on how best to cope with your milk supply until it naturally dries up, partly because the very act of expressing surplus milk to provide relief only stimulates your breasts to produce more in its place. Some doctors recommend to wear the tightest (non-wired) bra you can bear and take paracetamol to relieve the symptoms, but it’s vital to keep checking your breasts for signs of infection such as angry red lumps at this time, as mastitis can easily occur.

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