From ballooning up several cup sizes, to stretching out and deflating like a popped balloon, women’s breasts experience some of the most extreme changes during and even years after pregnancy. But when considering the body changes a woman goes through when pregnant, one’s first thought tends to go to what her stomach will stretch to, and not necessarily the many, many changes her breasts will experience.
Growing and Changing
Each trimester of pregnancy presents a variety of breast changes for an expectant mother, according to Dr. Candee Moore, an OB/GYN at Baton Rouge General.
“In the first trimester, a woman’s breasts increase in size due to hormone changes that influence the fibrocystic tissue,” Dr. Moore says. “In the second trimester, it is common to see increased pigmentation and widening of the areolae. Bumps on the areolae become more prominent and secrete a moisturizing oil that can protect the areolae from infection once breastfeeding begins. In addition, milk producing cells become active at around 15 weeks, and by 22 weeks, they can produce milk.”
Surely, most women have heard breasts be referred to as melons, but for 31-year-old pregnant mother of two, Lindsay Parker, pregnancy sets forth a full bowl of fruits. “My favorite way to describe my breasts is with fruit,” Parker says. “Pre-pregnancy–Cuties; during pregnancy–mangoes; breastfeeding–papayas; post breastfeeding–those avocados that you forgot you bought a month ago, so they sat in the back of your fridge and shriveled.”
Holding Them Up
The variety of shapes breasts can take on during and after pregnancy makes choosing a bra very confusing. Thankfully, there are experts in the field of bra fitting who have seen it all.
“Most women want a bra that is supportive, pretty, and comfortable, and it’s important for them to be selective and ask for help,” says Jeanne Emory, Owner of Bra Genie. “Maternity bras can be wired or non-wire bras, and have stretch or spacer cups that expand slightly with a pregnant woman’s growing breasts. A sleep bra is a great option for women who want some visible and physical breast support while lounging or sleeping. A nursing bra provides support, can be wired or non-wired, and allows access for breastfeeding and/or pumping.”
Baton Rouge-based actress Christin Rankins, mom of seven-year-old, Akira, says her favorite bra style has been forever changed. “Shapes don’t hold the girls up anymore,” Rankins said. “My favorite used to be a plunge bra, which means there’s only a piece of fabric attaching the left and right cup together. It’s supposed to be sexy, but nothing is sexy about bending over and coming back up to find that your breasts have decided to go in separate directions. I am forever changed.”
While breast changes will occur for any pregnant woman, breastfeeding may make some of those changes more prominent or lifelong. Experts say that it is important to be prepared before nursing your child.
“The best preparation for breastfeeding is education and finding a great support network,” says Erin Michel, a nurse practitioner and board certified lactation consultant at Baton Rouge General.
Even though breastfeeding is an organic method of feeding baby, new moms should be aware of the many myths that accompany nursing.
“The craziest thing that I have ever heard is that a mom needs to ‘toughen up’ her nipples with Brillo pads before her baby arrives. Our breast and nipples are naturally made for feeding babies and don’t need any preparation before the baby is born,” Michel says.
She also notes that the common “drinking a beer increases milk supply” is simply untrue. In fact, alcohol can decrease a mother’s milk supply, she says.
Whether feeding from the breast or pumping, another thing many new moms have heard of is cluster feeding. This is the ability to train your child and your body to feed in certain frequent intervals, sometimes every 30 minutes.
“Cluster feeding stimulates a mother’s milk supply and helps the baby to store up nourishment. Another reason that babies cluster feed is that their stomach size at birth is small, about the size of a golf ball. Breast milk is digested quickly and easily and then babies are ready to eat again,” Michel says. “If a mom is exclusively pumping, she can mimic cluster feeding by pumping for about 15 minutes at a time, but in shorter intervals,” she continues. “The best pumping tip to ensure a great milk supply is to pump as frequently as possible and empty the breasts with every pumping. Milk supply is determined by frequent emptying of the breasts.”
Some mothers and babies naturally wean when their babies start eating foods. “When babies start getting calories from table foods, they will get less calories through breast milk and nurse less frequently. If a mom is initiating weaning, the best thing to do is to stop one feeding or pumping a day for at least three days in a row. This allows time for the milk production to slowly decrease, without increasing the chance of a breast infection called mastitis,” Michel says.
So does it ever go back to normal? The answer to that question varies, says Dr. Candee Moore.
“For the first three to six months, the breasts generally stay larger and feel the most full and firm just prior to feeding. After about six months, the breast size generally decreases as the breast tissue itself starts to return to normal. Once breastfeeding is complete, the breasts generally return to their pre-pregnancy size, though some women will remain a little larger or become a little smaller,” Moore says.
After nursing for eight months, Kelli Fajardo, mom of five-year-old, Mason, has noticed some life-long changes. “During the time I nursed my son, my breasts changed by the hour, depending on where we were in his feeding schedule. After weaning, my breasts basically deflated. The best way that I can describe them now would be like a gym sock with a grapefruit dangling on the inside. My left nipple has completely changed shape and now looks like a small peanut still inside of its shell.”
Whether you decide to nurse or not, it’s important to note that pregnancy will change the way your breasts look and feel. As a new mother, you have a lot of decisions to make, but remember those decisions are yours.
“The number one thing is to do what feels right for you and your baby. You matter, too–not just the baby. You are still a person with needs and wants, and those don’t have to be totally superseded by your role as a mother. Don’t compare yourself with other moms and what choices they made for their babies. Every mom and baby are different. Feel confident in your choices, and enjoy your time feeding your baby! –Erica Schulte, mom of newborn, Evangeline Rose
“One thing I would like to tell soon-to-be mommies is to always remember that this is your baby and your experience. Every mother in the world is going to try to tell you how to care for and raise your baby, but it’s up to you to take all of that advice and come up with your own mothering style that works for you. Don’t kill yourself trying to nurse if it’s not working for you and your baby–formula works just fine. Don’t go broke or drive yourself crazy trying to buy or make your own organic baby food–Gerber feeds just the same. Don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong because so and so’s baby is sleeping through the night at three months and you and your baby are still up every hour. Every baby and every mother is different. Spend more time perfecting your own routine and customs rather than trying to conform to other mothers around you. And above all, no matter how badly you think you’ve screwed up, your baby is going to love you anyway.” – Kelli Fajardo, mom of five-year-old, Mason