The breast in pregnancy: how breasts and nipples change during gestation and after childbirth

The breast in pregnancy

As well as the rest of the body, during pregnancy the breasts and nipples change and do so to prepare to produce and provide milk to the future baby.

The breasts become larger, the nipples may change color, and sometimes they may become sore. All this is a natural part of pregnancy.

How breasts change during pregnancy

Changes in the first quarter

In early pregnancy pregnancy hormones (estrogen, progesterone, prolactin and others) cause normal breast tissue to turn into milk-producing tissue:

  • Progesterone affects the increase in the size of the alveoli and lobes of the breast, which may feel tender and sore. A possible tingling in the breast is also caused by increased levels of progesterone;
  • estrogens stimulate the duct system to develop and specialize;
  • placental lactogenic hormone supports changes in the breasts, nipples and areolas (the highly pigmented circular areas surrounding the nipples);
  • prolactin contributes to the development of breast tissues;

Changes in the following weeks

In the second trimester (between the 13th and 17th week of pregnancy), your breasts become bigger and heavier, and you may need a bigger bra to give you more support.

During this time you will probably feel less tenderness and tingling from the beginning of pregnancy. On the other hand, as the breasts grow, the veins become more noticeable under the skin.

The nipples and areolas become darker and larger.

Small bumps may appear on the areola. These bumps will go away after childbirth.

It is not uncommon to have stretch marks on the sides or front of the breasts. To avoid this, in addition to keeping the skin as elastic as possible, rub a good moisturizing cream or oil at least once a day and before bedtime: although it does not work miracles, keeping the skin hydrated can help reduce stretch marks and eliminate dryness and itching.

At the 16th week of pregnancy the mammary gland is ready for the production of the “first milk”, a yellow fluid that takes the name of colostrum (from the Latin colostrum). This moment is called the first lactogenesis.

At this moment the breast is training for when the baby will be there, but this “test milk” is basically all reabsorbed by the body. If a few drops come out, there is no need to worry: the leakage of small amounts of liquid is normal already from the second trimester (although it is more found in the third or near childbirth).

There is no link between colostrum production before calving and milk production after childbirth.

Changes in the third trimester of pregnancy

In the third trimester your breasts continue to grow and may become even heavier. You may therefore need a larger bra or extender for what you bought a few weeks earlier.

If you hadn’t had colostrum losses before, you may have them now. But if you have nothing there is nothing to worry about: some women have no leaks, and in any case these losses have nothing to do with your ability to breastfeed.

What happens to your breasts after birth

What happens in the first days after childbirth

About two to three days after the baby is born (but even after if you’ve had a cesarean section or traumatic delivery) you’ll feel your breasts become much more swollen. This swelling is caused by the extra milk you’re starting to produce, and the increased amount of blood circulating around your breast, and possibly the increased amount of lymphatic fluid. All this is happening in response to hormonal changes: progesterone levels plummet, prolactin levels (the main hormone for lactation purposes) remain high.

During this time your breasts may become hard and even painful on palpation, reddened, a condition called breast engorgement.

What happens to the breast during breastfeeding

During the first three months of breastfeeding (what is called the second stage of lactogenesis) your breasts will probably still feel quite full before feeding. This happens because milk production is not controlled by demand (feeding) but by internal factors (hormones).

Later (in the third stage of lactogenesis) you may notice that your breasts no longer seem so full. This doesn’t mean you’re producing less milk, but that you’re producing milk exclusively on demand (and – if your baby is growing well – it means you’re still producing enough milk).

How your breasts change after breastfeeding

When you stop breastfeeding – whether after three weeks, three months or three years – the changes your breasts underwent during breastfeeding will reverse and you can expect this to return to pre-conception dimensions in the following months.

Breast pain in pregnancy

If your breasts are tender or sore:

  • During the day, wear a bra that gives you good support in the back and on the hips. Padded shoulder straps can help. As a material we recommend cotton ones, which are more comfortable.
  • At night, try on a bra without underwire and seams, it is ideal so as not to be disturbed in your sleep.
  • Do not wash the area around the nipples with soap. It can dry out the skin. You can clean the area only with warm water.

On the Envie de Fraise website there is a wide range of maternity and nursing bras.

Breast itching in pregnancy

If you have itchy breasts or anywhere else:

  • Avoid hot showers and baths.
  • After a bath or shower, pat any excess water off your skin and apply a moisturizer before your skin dries completely.
  • Try not to use drying soaps, alcohol-based skin products, and heavily chlorinated water – all of these contribute to increased dryness of the skin.
  • If you live in a dry climate, keep the air moist with a home humidifier.
  • Consult your doctor if the itching is severe and nothing seems to help.

On this page are on sale some products designed specifically for your needs as a new mother.

Colostrum loss

If your breasts lose colostrum use the absorbent cups, they will help keep your skin dry throughout the day. There are both and washable ones and lend themselves to being worn discreetly under clothes.

Your breasts will continue to produce colostrum for a short period of time after your baby is born. Colostrum is nutritious and rich in antibodies. It’s denser, darker, and stickier than breast milk, which you’ll produce in larger quantities once you stop producing colostrum.

You may lose colostrum during pregnancy , but that’s not necessarily the case. If you don’t lose colostrum during pregnancy it doesn’t mean you will have a low supply of breast milk: every woman’s body responds differently to pregnancy.

Pregnant nipples, appearance and color

During the first trimester your nipples may be more protruding than usual and later – with the second trimester – they may become darker and larger.

Small bumps may appear on the areola, but these are only temporary growths. The areola itself may become larger.

When to worry

Breast lumps

A breast lump is a thickening or bump that feels different to the touch from the surrounding breast tissue.

One or more lumps may occur during pregnancy. Most often they are benign and caused by hormonal changes.

Although breast cancer in young and pregnant women is rare, it is always a good idea to have your breast lumps checked by your doctor.

The nodes that deserve the most attention are both those that are newly formed and those that are older but have recently changed their appearance.

Blood from the nipples

If you notice blood-stained nipple discharge, it is important to consult your doctor.

Most often this happens due to increased blood flow and rapid development of the milk-producing glands, but it can also be caused by trauma to the breast or nipples.

Breast in pregnancy, conclusions

During pregnancy most women experience breast changes due to increased hormones and increased blood volume. However, the lack of breast changes means nothing about the health of the pregnancy or the woman’s ability to produce milk or breastfeed the baby.

Breast changes related to pregnancy can be uncomfortable and to better deal with them there are maternity regiseni, lotions to be applied to the skin and absorbent cups.

Most breast changes will disappear after childbirth or after stopping breastfeeding.

Katherine Johnson, M.D., is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with clinical expertise in general obstetrics and gynecology, family planning, women’s health, and gynecology.

She is affiliated with the Obstetrics and Gynecology division at an undisclosed healthcare institution and the online platform,

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