How your breasts change in pregnancy

Will they get bigger? Why do they hurt? All you need to know about the changes in your breasts – and nipples – during pregnancy

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Pregnant? Your breasts are going to get huge! Or at least, that’s what you’ll hear. It’s actually one of those well-worn pregnancy cliches but it’s not actually true for all of us – and, besides, there’s a whole load of other stuff that could be going on in the breast and nipple department while you’re growing this baby…

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Your breasts feel sore and tender

Breast tenderness can be one of the very first signs of pregnancy. Your hormones are triggering an increase in blood flow to your breasts and a change in your breast tissue – and all this can make your breasts feel sensitive, tingly, swollen and sore. 

For some of us, it’s an intense version of the same kind of soreness you get just before a period – not helpful if you’re actually not sure if you’re pregnant or not!

You may find it uncomfortable to wear underwired bras or bras made with lots of nylon or lace, especially ones with seams near your nipple line. Stick to soft bras, made of breathable cotton. A good maternity bra should tick those boxes at this point; if you’re in the early stages of pregnancy, though, choose one with (very) adjustable straps that fits you nicely on its tightest fastenings, so there’s some room for your breasts to grow. Our step-by-step guide to buying the right maternity bra should give you some useful tips.

The tenderness and sensitivity tends to ease off gradually during your 1st trimester but it’s not unusual for periods of soreness to return throughout your pregnancy, If your breasts are ever very painful, though, do mention it to your midwife.

Your breasts get bigger

Well, yes. Although not everyone’s get humungous – and actually some pregnant women’s breasts don’t really enlarge that much at all.

You’ll probably notice the ‘bigness’ more if it’s your 1st pregnancy and/or your breasts were fairly small before you became pregnant; it can be less obvious if it’s not your 1st baby or if you were quite buxom already.

But however things look to you, it stands to reason that there’ll be some volumising going on, though: your body is preparing for the arrival of a baby it expects to feed, and so it’s busy laying down fat, increasing blood flow and multiplying your milk-producing cells. And all of that activity is bound to result in some breast growth.

You may find that fuller breasts make you feel uncomfortable, especially at night-time. Some people swear by sleeping with a small cushion tucked under them to support their breasts; others find wearing a supportive (breathable-fabric) maternity bra in bed is just the job.

Your nipples get sore

You may find that your nipples suddenly harden, and feel tender and sore and achingly over-sensitive – particularly in cold weather.

It can help to warm them or gently massage them, until they feel a bit softer again. And, actually, cooling them may help, too, especially with the soreness. And that’s ‘cool’, not ‘cold’ remember: a cool, damp flannel rather than an ice bath!

Your breasts feel itchy

The most likely cause for itchy breasts is the stretching that occurs as your breasts enlarge. You may have felt a similar itchiness on your tummy as the skin around your bump getting itchy as it stretches and grows.

Take a little time every day to gently massage your breasts with an oil or cream that’s specially formulated for pregnant skin. Maybe combine it with a daily ‘creaming’ of your bump that can stop your belly feeling itchy and help prevent stretchmarks. The more you can keep the skin on your breasts supple and moisturised, the more likely you are to be able to stop it feeling so itchy and dry.

Your breasts are veiny and your nipples are darker

Don’t panic! It’s completely normal to be able to see veins under the skin of a pregnant woman’s breasts. And it’s perfectly normal, too, for your nipples and areola (the bit around your nipples) to darken a shade or two. If you believe the old wives’ tale, that’s to help your baby find its milk ‘target’ more easily!

Your nipples have bumps

Actually, there have always been bumps on your areola – the area around your nipples. It’s just probably that you haven’t noticed them before. They’re little glands, called Montgomery’s tubercles, and their job is to secrete an anti-bacterial oil.

During pregnancy, these bumps/glands get more noticeable and ‘pimply’. They’re just beefing up a bit, ready to cope with infection and lubrication during breastfeeding. (Obviously, this will happen even if you’re not planning to breastfeed, because your body just programmed that way.)

Your nipples start leaking

This is the one that tends to freak you out, if it happens to you and you didn’t know about it: you can leak a bit of breastmilk – way before you’ve had your baby.

Your body actually starts making colostrum (a thicker, more yellowy ‘first milk’ for your newborn) in the 3rd month of your pregnancy and, during your last few months, it’s not uncommon to have the odd leakage incident.

The amount of leaking is usually quite small but, if you find you are prone to it, make sure you keep your breasts as dry as you can. You may even find it helps to put breast pads (the ones designed for breastfeeding mums) inside your bra or to sleep on an absorbent cotton towel at night. 

Oh, and a word of warning: one of the most common leakage triggers is sex!

Occasionally, you might notice spotting of blood in the leaked milk. It shouldn’t be anything to worry about but, if you’re concerned, mention it to your midwife at your next check-up.

Don’t worry if you don’t leak and you’re intending to breastfeed: pregnancy leakage has absolutely no bearing on how good how good your milk production will be or how easily you’ll take to breastfeeding.

Towards the end of your pregnancy, though, if you are intending to breastfeed, it’s worth stocking up on a really well-fitting nursing bra or two. Our step-by-step buyer’s guide to nursing bras should give you some useful tips.

‘Face it: your boobs will take on a life of their own’

So there you have it: your breasts are certainly going on a bit of a journey during your pregnancy, and it pays to be ready for anything. As MFMer Sarah-Jane says: “My breasts have always been small, at 34A, and perky. Within 10 weeks of pregnancy, I’d gone up to a 36C and had a few stretch marks, which I was moody about!. My advice would be to accept that your boobs are going to take on a life of their own – you’ll just have to adjust. Use lots of moisturiser all through the pregnancy and hope for the best!”

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