Pregnancy breast changes

From the beginning of your pregnancy, there are breast changes you should expect. These changes are normal because your breasts are evolving and preparing for the arrival of your baby.

What breast changes during pregnancy can I expect?

There are a number of breasts changes during pregnancy that you should expect.

These pregnancy-related breast changes include the following:

  • Growth and enlargement
  • Tenderness and hypersensitivity
  • Darkening of nipples and areolas (the skin around your nipples) due to hormones that affect the pigmentation of the skin
  • Darkened veins along with your breasts (due to the increased blood supply to your breasts)
  • Your breasts may start leaking a yellowish, thick substance known as colostrum
  • Nipples stick out more, and the areolas and nipples will grow larger
  • Small glands on the surface of the areolas called Montgomery’s tubercles may become raised bumps

Your hormones are the cause of these changes, and you may experience some effects more than others.

How can I handle pregnancy and breast changes?

Here are some helpful suggestions you can follow to make some of these changes more comfortable and easier to manage.

Growth and enlargement: Buying a good supportive bra can help you feel more comfortable as your breasts grow. If your breast size increases greatly, you may want to sleep in a cotton sports bra at night.

What to look for in a bra:

  • Good support
  • Deep band beneath the cups
  • Wide shoulder straps
  • Adjustable closure (back-fastening bras give you more flexibility to adjust than front-fastening bras)
  • Avoid underwire bras

Sensitive and tender breasts: Hormones in your body are preparing your breasts for lactation. The milk ducts are growing and being stretched as they fill with milk early in pregnancy. All this causes your breasts to be more sensitive, particularly your nipples. This may cause you discomfort.

Colostrum: Colostrum, or pre-milk, is a sweet and watery fluid that is easy to digest. During your second trimester, your breasts will begin to produce colostrum. Colostrum appears thick and yellow at first, and as the birth draws near, it becomes pale and almost colorless. Colostrum will provide your baby with his first few meals before your milk comes in.

A discharge may occur at any time, when your breasts are massaged, or when sexually stimulated. There is no need to be alarmed when this happens, and there is no need to worry if it does not happen.

Women who do not experience discharge in pregnancy still produce milk for their baby.

What about breast cancer?

Continuing with self-breast exams during pregnancy is important. Unfortunately, during pregnancy, it is more difficult to accomplish because of all the changes your breasts are going through. Your breasts are growing in size, are tender, and sometimes may even be lumpy. It is still important for you to examine your breasts during pregnancy every 4-5 weeks.

Very common lumps found among women during pregnancy are clogged milk ducts. These are red, tender-to-the-touch, hard lumps in your breasts. Warm compresses (running warm water over your breasts in the shower or applying a warm washcloth) and massages will probably clear the duct in a few days. If you are unsure of any new lump, tell your doctor on your next visit.

Keep in mind breast cancer is rare among women younger than 35. If you are planning on having a baby and are over the age of 35, you may want to consider asking your doctor about a mammogram before you get pregnant.

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Compiled using information from the following sources:

1. Williams Obstetrics Twenty-Second Ed. Cunningham, F. Gary, et al, Ch. 30 and 57.

2. Planning Your Pregnancy and Birth Third Ed. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Ch. 7.