July 2nd 2023
Pregnancy is an exciting journey that brings about many changes in your body. If you’ve noticed changes in your breasts and are wondering if they’re normal, you’re in the right place. Breast changes are a common occurrence during pregnancy and are often one of the first signs of this incredible journey. Let’s explore what’s normal and what to expect when it comes to changes in your breasts during pregnancy.
Tenderness and Sensitivity: Experiencing the Hormonal Shifts
One of the initial changes you may experience in your breasts is tenderness and sensitivity. This sensitivity, especially on your nipples, can become quite noticeable early on in your pregnancy. These changes are primarily influenced by the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which start to increase in your body as you grow your baby and placenta.
You may find that this tenderness and sensitivity persists throughout your pregnancy, although it may fluctuate in intensity. Sometimes you’ll feel the sensitivity when you’re getting dressed and for others, it shows up more as you get into and out of the shower due to the temperature changes and pressure of the water. Rest assured, these sensations are entirely normal and expected!
Size and Shape: Preparing for Motherhood
Another common change you’ll notice is a physical increase in the size and shape of your breasts. It’s completely normal for your breasts to become larger during pregnancy. This change occurs as your body prepares to nourish and feed your baby. The average change in size is going up 1 cup size though many people experience a much more significant change in size.
Around 16-18 weeks is when the network of milk ducts grows and your body begins to produce your baby’s first milk, called colostrum. This rapid growth of milk making tissue can also lead to some of the sensitivity you’re experiencing.
If you don’t notice much of an increase in breast size throughout your pregnancy, this isn’t something to necessarily worry about right away especially if you’re experiencing some of these other changes. For some, the growth happens much later in pregnancy. If you do have any concerns, do bring them up with your Midwife/OB/Lactation Consultant.
Areola Changes: Guiding Your Newborn
Alongside the increase in size, you’ll notice changes in your areola—the darker-colored skin surrounding your nipple. The areola becomes much darker in color during pregnancy, serving a purpose: helping your newborn locate the breast. Since newborns have limited eyesight and can only see a short distance, your body prepares for feeding by darkening the areola. This color change helps your baby find the breast, ensuring they can access their nourishment easily.
Montgomery Glands: Nature’s Lubrication System
One potentially surprising change during pregnancy is the appearance of small bumps on the areola. While these bumps may not have been noticeable before, they might become more prominent or even appear for the first time during pregnancy. These bumps are known as Montgomery glands and serve a crucial purpose. They secrete a substance that lubricates your nipple once your baby is born. The secretion has a scent similar to amniotic fluid, further aiding your baby in finding nourishment. While these glands may undergo further changes after your baby’s birth, their appearance or enlargement during pregnancy is totally normal.
Visible Veins: Increased Blood Volume
As your pregnancy progresses, you may observe more visible veins across your chest and breasts. This increased visibility is a result of your expanding blood volume. When you’re pregnant, your body experiences a significant increase in blood volume, rising by almost half to support your growing baby and changing body. While the sight of these veins may be new and surprising, they are positive signs that your body is preparing to nourish your baby.
Leaking Colostrum: Your Baby’s First Milk
Around 16 to 18 weeks into your pregnancy, you may notice your breasts leaking a substance known as colostrum. This thick and sticky fluid is your baby’s first milk. While the leakage may seem unusual, it’s perfectly normal and indicates that your body is producing this essential milk well ahead of your baby’s arrival.
Colostrum is produced in small amounts since newborns require only a small volume of milk in their first 24 hours. Some individuals may notice dried crusts of colostrum on their nipples or in their bras, which is nothing to be concerned about. However, if you don’t experience leakage, that’s also perfectly normal and doesn’t indicate any issues with milk production.
After your baby and placenta are born, your body gets the hormonal signal to ‘turn on’ an increase in milk production and the volume will slowly begin to increase over the next few days following your baby’s birth provided they are nursing often.
Signs Requiring Attention: Possible Red Flags
While most breast changes during pregnancy are expected there are some other signs to watch out for and then get in touch with your primary care provider (OB or Midwife) as well as a lactation consultant if you see them happening.
If you’re feeling any new lumps or bumps it’s something to bring up with your care provider. If your breasts are feeling very tender or swollen or tight that is also something to bring up with your care provider and may also be helpful to also see a lactation consultant. If you see any changes in the texture or colour of your skin (any changes in the color other than the areola) these would all be scenarios to bring up with your primary care provider and then bring on the support of an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
Also, if you’re not really noticing any of much of the above signs, it may be helpful to see an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant while you’re still pregnant. We can talk about your health history and any previous experiences that may impact your body’s ability to produce milk such as breast or chest surgeries. We can also go over your plans and goals for feeding your baby. If you’d like to book a prenatal consultation or learn more about working with me during pregnancy, please fill out the form below.
Alex Wachelka is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, mother of two, educator, writer and podcast host. She works with families locally and across the globe to help them feed their babies.