The Changes Your Breasts Go Through During and After Pregnancy
February 8, 2021
Among the many events during/after pregnancy is when your breasts change. Apart from being one of the earliest noticeable signs of your pregnancy, they are important – your body has already begun the necessary steps to support the baby after birth.
Are you aware of the extent your breasts may change after you have your baby? Many women are surprised to learn their breast size may not return to normal for some time (if ever); or some other challenges that happen during breastfeeding.
And these changes happen as a result of hormones which prepare the body to carry the pregnancy and support the baby after birth.
There are several hormones working, but in early pregnancy, Estrogen & Progesterone cause the main changes.
Although breastfeeding is a natural way to feed a baby, there could be a few issues around getting it right.
Breastfeeding is a skill that can take time to learn; there may be a few challenges before you get used to it.
If you do decide to breastfeed, you should know some of the problems that can arise:
This is when your breasts are not making enough milk for the baby.
It could happen if you were ill before or after birth and are unable to start breastfeeding straightaway for one reason or another.
It’s important to feed your baby as often as they desire – this empties the breasts and gives your body the alert (via your hormones) to produce more milk.
Eating a regular, balanced diet and drinking plenty of vegetables helps your milk production.
One of the ways breasts change during pregnancy is with the development of sore nipples.
They can also be a big challenge after childbirth causing you pain and may go on to affect your baby’s feeding.
It usually happens if the baby is not taking in enough of the nipple and areola into the mouth.
Your baby’s mouth needs to be open wide to allow a good amount of the areola around which to latch with the nipple in the centre to avoid them pulling at the nipple.
They need to exert pressure on the milk ducts within the breast/ areola to release the milk.
If your baby catches just the nipple in their mouth and is pulling at it, you can use a clean finger to gently dislodge it and reposition your breast.
When they keep sucking at the nipple, the pressure leads to cracked/bleeding nipples developing.
Treating Sore/Cracked Nipples
If you do develop sore nipples, you can rub a few drops of your breast milk over your nipple with clean fingers, then let your nipples air dry after feeding.
Breast milk has natural healing emollients and, of course, is readily available.
Alternatively, you can get breast emollient cream containing Lanolin to apply to your breasts after feeding. This can help keep them from cracking/ bleeding
You should also be careful with some bras – synthetic fibres could irritate the nipples leading to damage to the nipples.
When your breasts become too full of milk, they are engorged.
This condition makes the breasts become hard, heavy and painful.
It’s most likely to happen in your first week of breastfeeding while you adjust to your baby’s needs or demands.
The milk ducts or channels in the breasts can become blocked.
Firstly, if there are long gaps between feeding, engorgement can develop. Secondly, a poorly fitting bra or even a car seatbelt could put pressure on the ducts and lead to engorgement.
Having engorged breast also plugs up your ducts, further reducing your milk supply.
If the breast is hard and the nipple flattened, the baby cannot latch on properly too. This is one of the important ways breasts change during/after pregnancy.
To prevent your breasts from filling up with excess milk, make sure you breastfeed, pump or hand express as soon as possible.
One recommendation is to nurse (feed the baby) eight times or more in 24 hours, for at least 15 minutes for each feed, to prevent engorgement.
To prevent engorgement, allow your baby to breastfeed as often and as long as he/she desires.
If you are working, you can also plan ahead, use a breast pump or hand express at the same time you will normally feed.
If you do get engorged breasts, breastfeeding often or expressing your milk will help.
Alternate taking warm showers followed by cold compresses to help to relieve the discomfort.
If engorgement persists, mastitis may develop, a painful condition where there is inflammation in the breast tissue.
Mastitis (inflammation of the breast) is quite common – 1 out of 5 women could develop it.
One of the breasts change during/after pregnancy, it’s more likely to happen with one of the following conditions:
In some cases, mastitis may happen because of an infection, and it very commonly progresses from blocked ducts or engorgement to mastitis and then breast abscess.
Infection is more likely if you have a cracked nipple.
The infection affects the (fatty) tissue of the breast and causes swelling, which pushes on the milk ducts causing pain and often a lump developing in the breast.
Your treatment may include antibiotics if early symptoms haven’t settled after a day or so.
You may develop a fever, headache, feel tired and generally unwell.
Mastitis may progress into an abscess and require drainage in the hospital as well as antibiotics.
If possible, you should continue breastfeeding (or pumping to relieve breast engorgement) while receiving treatment.
This is when there is a yeast infection of the nipple.
Most often, your baby may have thrush in the mouth at the same time – and you both will usually be treated together.
You may have a burning pain around the nipple or deep pain in the breast but no signs of mastitis or engorgement
It’s treated with an antifungal cream, applied to the breast, and oral antifungal to the baby’s mouth.
Some mums may need to use oral antifungals if they are not getting better or the infection keeps coming back.
Many mums describe a big challenge when it comes to latching on.
A key event happening within days or hours of birth, this breasts change during/after pregnancy, can be quite traumatic.
You may also be battling with other issues, like an episiotomy cut or recovering from anaesthesia after surgery.
Remember that getting breastfeeding right is a skill which can be learned, so don’t get yourself down.
Some people around you may be flippant about just letting it happen, but such advice is usually unhelpful.
A lactation counsellor or your midwife can both demonstrate and show you feeding and latching positions.
Check out this link for a great video demonstration of breastfeeding positions and techniques.
Almost all women will observe their breasts change during pregnancy; some may simply occur without illness.
Others may get one or more of the complications we describe here, but as you can see, they can be addressed with a good amount of success.
We’d love you to share your experience of any changes you experienced while pregnant or breastfeeding in the comments below.
Just knowing how other women got through such a challenge can help expecting/new mums.
Editing by AskAwayHealth Team
All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising Medical Practitioners on a wide range of healthcare conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality healthcare.
The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified healthcare practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly
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