When a woman gets pregnant, the body produces the hormones progesterone and estrogen. These hormones are key to preparing the breasts and body for lactation. But what should one look for in breast changes during and after pregnancy?
Many women experience changes to their pregnancy when they are expecting a baby. Being aware of the changes taking place will help in tracking any unusual changes during this time. If you are worried about the changes, talk to your gynecologist or GP.
What is going on in your body?
Estrogen is the hormone which stimulates duct cells in the breast to grow and secrete prolactin. Prolactin is essential for milk production. Progesterone supports the growth of cells which produce milk. After the baby is born, levels of both hormones drop, prolactin levels go up and milk is produced for the infant. Since breasts undergo changes during and after pregnancy, it is important to pay attention to what is going on so you can get timely help from the doctor. Some changes to look for are:
- Tender breasts
- Change in nipple size and breasts
- Changing areola and nipple color
When the pregnancy reaches the 16th week, the breasts are ready to produce milk. If you notice fluid leaking from the nipples, there is no need for worry. It is colostrum. In the last stage of pregnancy, it is quite common for the breasts and nipples to become larger. If the breasts hurt quite a bit, then get pain medication from the doctor.
Things to note
Lumpy breasts: Some women may experience lumps while they are expecting. Some of the common ones are cysts, galactoceles (cysts filled with milk) and fibroadenomas. These conditions are quite common and benign. In case you are worried about such changes, talk to your OB/GYN.
Blood from the nipple: Some women may experience leakage from their nipples and this is because of the size and number of blood vessels in the breast. Though it is normal, it is always a good idea to get checked out by the doctor.
Right bra size: Since breasts do increase in size during pregnancy, it is important to find the right sized bra. This can be done by a trained person at a department store. Make sure that the straps do not dig into your shoulders and the band fits well around your torso.
Breast changes after birth
After the baby is born, progesterone and estrogen levels in the body decrease quite fast. It is quite common for milk to leak and this can be addressed by using breast pads. Possible issues that women face after pregnancy are:
- Sore nipples usually occur if the baby does not latch on properly. This can be quite painful and a doctor or midwife can help with counselling and help to ensure that the baby is getting enough milk.
- Engorged breasts usually occur if the breasts fill up with milk and feel hard to the touch. This situation can be eased by feeding the baby when it is needed and also expressing milk using a breast pump to reduce the amount of milk.
- Milk ducts can sometimes get blocked during breast feeding or when one stops. Feeding the baby more often and changing the feeding position can help with better drainage of the milk from the breast. Ensuring that clothes and bra fit well can also alleviate discomfort associated with this issue.
- Abscess in the breast can occur if mastitis or a related infection is not treated by the doctor. Antibiotics are usually prescribed, after the abscess is aspirated using a needle and syringe. Doctors usually encourage moms to keep breast feeding or express their milk as it is essential for the baby.
- Thrush or yeast infections can occur on the nipple/areola when a mom is breast feeding. It is not an easy condition to diagnose and can pass to the baby from the mom.
- Mastitis is a condition that occurs when blocked milk ducts or engorged breasts cause inflammation or an infection. The breast looks hot, red and painful and could result in flu-like symptoms. If it is bad, then you may need to take antibiotics prescribed by the doctor. Keep breast-feeding unless otherwise advised by your doctor.
If as a new mom you experience any of these symptoms, do see your doctor and get the condition treated immediately to avoid general health problems. Do keep in mind that your breasts will reduce in size when you stop breastfeeding. Changes in breast size and shape are quite common for all women after they have had a baby. This is quite normal and being aware can help you deal with these changes over time.