How pregnancy and breastfeeding changes your breasts

Your body goes through a host of changes during pregnancy and breastfeeding and your breasts are no exception. Sr Burgie Ireland explains what’s going on.

If you’re concerned breastfeeding will take a toll on your breasts, Dr Angela Lanfranchi, breast cancer surgeon and co-founder of the American Breast Cancer Prevention Institute, reassures women that it’s pregnancy, and not breastfeeding, that changes the breasts. This also depends on the woman’s age, weight and breast size before pregnancy, and her number of pregnancies.

ALSO SEE: 8 ways your body changes during pregnancy

Dr Lanfranchi explains further that by not breastfeeding, the physiological changes of pregnancy are incomplete. This means women lose out on extra protection against breast cancer afforded by breastfeeding.
There are no guarantees that breastfeeding is going to be a hassle-free, bonding experience. It’s not a foolproof contraceptive, or a promissory note that you won’t get breast cancer. But women who have breastfed will tell you breast changes are a small price to pay for the rewards of motherhood. Mom and author, Vicki Iovine writes in her book The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy, “Most breast-deflating comes from losing pregnancy weight, not the act of nursing.”

ALSO SEE: 10 benefits of breastfeeding for mom

Noticeable breast changes

One of the first signs of pregnancy is super-sensitive, painful, heavy breasts. Your nipples will also get bigger, darker and more sensitive. Little “bumps” also appear around the nipples that look like pimples, but are actually lubricating glands that keep the nipple moist and supple during breastfeeding.
All this may even happen before you’ve missed a period or had a positive pregnancy test. Your breasts will now steadily grow bigger (which means buying bigger bras), the ducts will mature and blood vessels will dilate.
In the third trimester (from 28 weeks onwards), your breasts may leak a thick, yellowish fluid called colostrum, or your baby’s first milk. Colostrum is full of goodness and can act as an antimicrobial cream if you rub it into your nipples.

What you don’t see

While you’re either grappling with, or enjoying, your more voluptuous breasts, there’s plenty going on inside them. With the help of oestrogen and progesterone (now made by the placenta) lactiferous ducts grow like the roots of a tree and you now have between 10 and 20, which merge into ducts just under the nipple. This means you now have between 10 and 20 minuscule openings from the nipple that “spray” milk into your baby’s mouth.
Breast lobules are the glands that make milk. These glands look like bunches of grapes and milk travels through the ducts to the nipple. Each of the lobules is nestled in a circle, like petals, in connective tissue and fat to make up the breast.

Stages of breast development:

Stage 1: At birth, boys and girls have dormant, immature lobules.
Stage 2: At puberty, with help from oestrogen and progesterone, girls develop breast tissue.
Stage 3: Begins at the start of a pregnancy and lasts for the first and second trimester.
Stage 4: Begins during the third trimester and continues throughout breastfeeding.

Once your breasts have reached the fourth stage (full maturity), breast tissue is no longer sensitive to the carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects of oestrogen. This helps to give you some protection against breast cancer.
You can produce milk for as long as you’re feeding a baby. Recent studies suggest genetic “tags” are passed down through generations, helping to maintain breast tissue preparation between pregnancies. So, once you’ve breastfed, you’ll find it easier the next time.

ALSO SEE: Do you have enough breast milk? Here’s how to tell

Preventing the droop

  • During the day, wear a supportive bra without underwires, and at night, wear a stretchy sports bra.
  • Providing you’re not likely to go into premature labour, massage your breasts daily during your last trimester. Not only will this help your milk to flow, it helps you to feel comfortable handling your breasts.
  • In the bath/shower, soap your hands. Use one hand to cup your breast while massaging from the base to the nipple with your other hand. Repeat all the way around. Gently roll your nipples a few times between your finger tips to prepare for baby’s strong grip. If this stimulates contractions, stop.
  • How your skin stretches and bounces back to its original shape depends on your age and how much elastin and collagen (proteins in connective tissue) you’ve inherited.

Add the following to your diet:

  • Berries and pumpkin – they’re powerful antioxidants
  • Celery and cucumber – these contain silica, which helps to boost moisture and elasticity
  • Salmon, olives and walnuts – they contain omega 3 fatty acids, which help to improve skin ageing.
  • Spices like turmeric and cinnamon – have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.
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