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Sure, you know all about morning sickness, stretch marks, and the other transformations your body might go through during pregnancy. But what about your breasts? Turns out they undergo plenty of changes themselves those nine months -- and we're not just talking about the fact that they can balloon into a rack that would give Sofia Vergara a run for her money. Here, all the breast-related info you need to know while you're expecting, breastfeeding, and long after you've weaned:
You'll Be Sore. A Lot.
You're taking a shower, when suddenly the water hits your breasts and you immediately start shouting like a foul-mouthed truck driver. Trust us -- we understand. One of the more uncomfortable symptoms of pregnancy -- and often its first sign -- is the fact that breasts can become really sore, thanks to raging hormones and an increased blood flow that make that area extra sensitive. The good news is that this tenderness usually goes away by the end of the first trimester, says Virginia R. Lupo, M.D., chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minnesota and spokesperson for the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. In the meantime, try wearing a sports bra to minimize movement, even at night, and don't be afraid to tell your partner "hands off."
You're Not Off the Hook
Don't think that just because your breasts become hardly recognizable during pregnancy that means you can take nine months off from doing breast self-exams. You can't. "Breast cancer is notoriously under-diagnosed during pregnancy and lactation," says Dr. Lupo. "Women just assume changes in their breasts are a normal part of pregnancy and nursing, so they ignore symptoms they would have otherwise paid attention to. Remember, a lump is a lump, and if you find one call your doctor and have it evaluated. Breast cancer doesn't just take a break when women are pregnant or breastfeeding." Also, notify your doctor of any bleeding from your nipples -- even though it can likely be caused by cracked nipples during breastfeeding -- so she can rule out more serious health issues such as breast cancer.
Two Words: Bigger Boobs
Va-va-va voom. Most women's breasts -- yep, even the tiny ones -- grow one or two cup sizes as early as the first three months of pregnancy. They can feel heavy and dense. Of course, if you gain more than the recommended 30-35 pounds, your breasts might get even bigger (though they'll more likely sag when you eventually lose that weight.) Something to keep in mind: "With this rapid growth, some mothers may notice visible veins as well as stretch marks on the breasts and they might experience itchiness," says Kathleen Huggins, R.N., author of The Nursing Mother's Companion. Stretch mark creams may help with these symptoms.
You'll Have to Go Shopping (Sorry!)
You'll probably have to buy new bras and/or bra extenders during pregnancy, and then nursing bras if you're breastfeeding. "Most mothers find that not only their breasts get bigger, but also their rib cage enlarges making their bra feel tighter," says Huggins. Luckily, the right support bra can actually alleviate symptoms such as soreness and sensitivity. Look for adjustable ones that have wide shoulder straps and a deep band underneath the cups, according to the American Pregnancy Association. And note that many moms and some experts recommend avoiding underwire bras, which can not only dig into your ever expanding body, but, anecdotally, might also lead to clogged milk ducts during lactation.
You'll Stick Out More
During pregnancy, nipples can not only get bigger and protrude more, but they and the areola can appear darker, too, thanks to the extra blood flow to the breasts. If you want to prevent your nipples showing through your clothing (which, unless you're Britney Spears, you probably do), stick with dark shirts for a while and relegate your sheer garb to the back of the closet. You might also want to invest in nipple covers such as pasties.
You May Look Bumpy
Don't panic if you suddenly notice raised bumps all around your areolas (the dark ring around your nipples.) It's not acne or the chicken pox -- these bumps are actually small glands on the surface of the areola called Montgomery's tubercles that are always there but just appear bigger and raised during pregnancy. "The good news is that these bumps are benign and nothing to worry about," says Silvana Ribaudo, M.D., assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the New York-Presbyterian Sloane Hospital for Women. They'll likely flatten out after delivery. Another plus: These glands secrete an antibacterial lubricant (whether you're pregnant or not), so you actually don't have to use soaps or creams on your areola or nipple, says Huggins.
You May Not Want to Be Touched There
Even if breast foreplay is your thing, you might want to take a little break during pregnancy -- stimulating your breasts can cause uterine contractions. "The physiological reason is that when a woman is breastfeeding, uterine contractions help stop the vaginal bleeding after delivery and help her uterus contract back down to a normal size," says George Macones, M.D., chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University in St. Louis and spokesperson for the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "However, stimulating your breasts during pregnancy can also cause these contractions and, theoretically can cause preterm labor."
All About Colostrum
Around 20 weeks, your body will start producing colostrum, which is a sweet, thick liquid known as the "pre-milk." And that's what breastfeeding moms are actually feeding their babies at first, since the milk supply takes a few days to come in. Ranging in color from clear to dark yellow, colostrum might not look like much, but it's packed with nutrients and antibodies to protect your newborn against infections and disease. Colostrum also has a laxative effect, which helps your little one pass his first stool (called meconium.)
There's A Lot to Know About Breast Milk
It's perfectly normal for it to take a few days for your milk to come in. "No woman will have a full milk supply right after she delivers -- progesterone levels are still too high and that hormone prevents prolactin from forming the milk,"says Dr. Lupo. "Once progesterone clears out of the system, then that process can take place." Some mothers might worry that their babies aren't getting enough food, but experts say to rest assured that they are. "Babies are born well-hydrated and it's normal for them to lose 5 percent of their body weight the first few days," says Dr. Lupo. In other words, whatever liquids you're producing are probably plenty of nutrition. Then, after a few days, women's breasts will become engorged with milk -- this can be painful, but nursing or pumping will relieve the tight, tense feeling. However, while some women produce so much breast milk they can feed a set up octuplets, plenty of new moms continue having a low milk supply even days or weeks after they give birth. If that's the case, ask a lactation expert to help you make sure you have the best latching position, consider nursing or pumping more often since doing so can stimulate milk production, and don't feel guilty if you have to find other options. "Breastfeeding has unquestionable benefits, but use common sense,"says Dr. Macones. "If you are trying to breastfeed and your baby isn't growing well, supplementing with formula might be the only option."
Breastfeeding May Not Feel Natural at First
You know all those television commercials that show the mothers peacefully nursing their babies with a smile on their faces? Well, a lot of new moms are probably thinking, "Yeah right!" Yes, eventually many, if not most women do find breastfeeding a pleasurable, bonding experience, but at first it can be really painful. "Breastfeeding is like breaking in a new pair of shoes -- the nipples have never been used for the purpose of breastfeeding before so they might get sore initially," says Dr. Ribaudo. "Also, as the milk ducts open up and become patent, women might experience a painful, pulling sensation." And don't even get us started on cracked nipples, which can be treated with Lanolin cream and ice packs, as well as possible infections such as mastitis, treated with antibiotics. Keep in mind, however, that many of these troubles will subside as your body gets used to breastfeeding -- just like you get used to that new pair of shoes. Just don't worry if it's not easy at first -- many moms say that breastfeeding was actually downright confusing, stressful, and difficult for a few days or weeks, but then they finally got the hang of it.
Your Boobs Could Be a Mood Booster
Some women say that nursing gives them a sense of well-being and helps them feel relaxed and peaceful. (And that's not just because it's 3am and no one in the neighborhood is awake but you.) Actually, you can probably thank the hormones prolactin, which causes milk to form, and oxytocin, which helps eject milk into the milk ducts. Both of these hormones skyrocket during breastfeeding, and they are likely the cause of those feel-good feelings, says Dr. Lupo.
Your Boobs May Help You Lose Weight
You've probably heard that one of the perks of breastfeeding is that it will help you lose the baby weight faster, possibly because you're burn extra calories to make it. Some research shows that that's the case, but other studies (and plenty of women who very, very slowly watch the scale inch its way down) refute breastfeeding's supposed superpower. Bottom line: Breastfeeding moms should focus on eating a well-balanced diet to lose weight gradually and provide plenty of nutrients to their baby.
You'll Be Hyper-Aware of Your Boobs (And Maybe Amazed By Them!)
If you're nursing, you're always aware of how full they are or if you have a clogged duct. You'll feel pins and needles when your milk lets down and you'll worry about leaking. And, again, you might think you understand that your breasts will get bigger during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but many women say they just never expected them to get THAT huge. There's just so much going on with your breasts, and after just strapping them into a bra for your whole life until now, you'll be amazed to see them in action. It's like they have a mind of their own.
You May Want to Flaunt Them
If you're normally an A cup, you may actually love having porn star boobs for a while. And if you're already big to begin with, then don't be surprised if you wind up with a rack that would make Jenna Jameson nervous about the competition. Our advice: "Embrace your new cleavage, girl!" Splurge on some tops and dresses with plunging necklines. (And make your baby daddy very happy!)
Yes, You'll Sag
We can try to sugarcoat it, but you deserve to know the truth -- chances are, after pregnancy and especially after breastfeeding, your breasts are going to sag. Just as skin stretches when you gain weight and sags when you lose it, the breasts do lose some of their elasticity during pregnancy. They also tend to be softer after lactation because your skin is stretched as your breasts fill with milk and then deflated after you feed. Gaining too much weight can make sagging worse, though experts say genetics plays a huge role in just how saggy you'll get. In other words, you should prepare to say goodbye to your pre-pregnancy perky breasts. Welcome to motherhood.
Your Breast Won't Be the Same, but That's Okay
Once you've given birth and finished breastfeeding, it might seem as though your breasts have been through a warzone. They're probably saggier and softer and, well, just not what they used to be. However, before you get down about it, consider this: "While the reality is that your breasts aren't going to be the same, try to embrace your changes," says Dr. Ribaudo. "Your breasts are your badge of honor that will demonstrate that you've done something exceptional by giving life and nourishment to another human being." And if that doesn't make you feel better, you can always go shopping for a sexy new push-up bra!