Along with the freedom to eat whatever you want (a fallacy by the way – depending on your pre pregnancy palate, that bun in your oven can completely destroy your love of a good steak), the pregnancy benefit that usually gets the most air time (other than creating life, obviously) is about how big your breasts will become. With nothing more than a sprinkle of fairy dust, your chest will expand to such epic dimensions that Chesty LaRue will seem petite by comparison. Sounds great, right?
Well here’s what they leave out:
They might hurt.
In fact, your breasts might hurt a lot, particularly during the early days when your body gets its first rush of pregnancy hormones. During your first trimester, increased quantities of oestrogen and progesterone flood your system in preparation for you baby. These hormones cause an increase in blood supply to your breasts; milk ducts grow and breast fat thickens. This can make your breasts swell and feel extremely tender. As your skin stretches to accommodate your new size, it might start to itch. Nice, huh?
For some women, this happens before they even realise they were pregnant.
This pain can herald the beginning of your sleepless nights as a mother as your breasts can make it impossible to get comfortable – or you wake up in agony the moment you do finally manage to drop off. Although the NHS says paracetamol is safe in small doses throughout pregnancy , there are non-chemical ways you can try to find relief should you prefer, including:
- Buy yourself a nice soft bra – non-wired is usually the safest bet to minimise the risk of engorged milk ducts. It also tends to be more comfortable, especially at night when you still require the support. You might need to buy a couple of bras depending on how much and how quickly your breasts change over the course of your pregnancy.
- Prop yourself up with strategically placed pillows.
- Take a warm shower or placing a heated (or cool) flannel over your breasts. Sadly, hot baths are a thing of the past now you’re pregnant.
- A swim can also help relieve the pressure and give gravity a helping hand.
- An oh-so-gentle massage might help as well – just make sure the oil/cream is pregnancy safe.
For some women, this can last the whole pregnancy in one form or another. For others, it might be over once the second trimester is under way. Fingers crossed…
They might not get that big.
It’s worth noting that your breasts just might not get that big. General consensus is that most women go up a cup size or two but not everyone does.
If you were hoping for larger breasts, but it doesn’t work out that way – take heart: most women who find their breasts don’t really change shape, report that on the flip side they didn’t get any of the downsides mentioned above. Major win.
Not just your breasts grow…
Something nobody mentions early on is what happens to your nipples during pregnancy. Like your breasts, they can get big. Really big.
During the third trimester in particular, your nipples will start to darken and extra nodules called Montgomery’s tubercles can appear more prominently across your areola.
With no official word from the medical world on why your nipples darken (though we know this is a result of hormonal changes – isn’t everything?), the old wives’ tale is that your body is making it easier for your baby to find your milk. Seems plausible.
There is science behind the increased production/appearance of those weird and wonderful nodules however. These little glands secrete oils to help keep your nipples moisturised. This is useful during breastfeeding when sore and cracked nipples really come into their own – but most women find mother nature needs a little help in that department so it’s still worth investing in nipple cream if you do choose to breastfeed.
Other lumps and bumps you might notice are in the breast tissue itself – odds are that these lumps are just a common cyst, but it’s probably worth checking them out with your GP just in case.
They might start to leak.
As early as 14 weeks into your pregnancy you might notice your breasts start to leak. This is perfectly normal and is usually a thick pre-milk substance called colostrum.
If your flow is particularly bountiful, it might be worth stocking up on breast pads as it can quickly soak through your bra and tops. Incidentally, breast pads can provide a nice cushion for sore nipples and are infinitely more comfortable (and effective) than tissue paper!
Some women choose to save their colostrum or actively harvest it after they are 36-37 weeks pregnant. There are a whole host of reasons you might decide to do this such as:
- Preparing for a baby who could have difficulty feeding early on (e.g. a baby born with a cleft palate);
- Preparing for a non-spontaneous birth (i.e. planned caesarean or induction); or
- Simply preparing because you want to have as much colostrum stockpiled as possible, perhaps to take the pressure off during those early days before your ‘real’ milk comes in (usually 2-3 days after the birth, but for some mums it can take longer).
The harvesting process (including sterilisation of all the equipment) is the same as for expressing breastmilk proper. If you do choose to actively harvest your milk during pregnancy, speak to your midwife about it to make sure you’re not at risk for an early labour as the pumping action can set off contractions.
In addition to colostrum, you might notice a little blood leaking from your nipples – though this is most likely down to a build up of blood vessels in your breasts, it’s probably still worth getting it checked out with your GP just in case.
It’s also completely normal to not leak at all – don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you won’t have enough milk when your baby is born.
You could audition for spiderwoman without needing a suit.
Last but not least: veins. Lots and lots of veins. Suddenly you can see every single vein spreading out across your breasts, and now they’re thick and wide and dark. It’s a consequence of the increased blood flow to your breasts, but the effect can stay with you until you stop breastfeeding. Joy.
Written by Nadia Thompson