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Breast Changes During Pregnancy

pregnant woman

Sarah Kehoe

Your belly usually takes center stage in your pregnancy, but a whole lot of changes are happening in your breasts, too. Even before that plus sign pops up on your pregnancy test, hormonal changes are preparing your breasts to feed your baby-to-be.

Those changes affect women to different degrees, so while you may experience some breast changes to the nth degree, including a surprising pregnant squirt here or there, other women may notice few differences, according to the American Pregnancy Association. To avoid any surprises during your nine-month journey, there a few things to look for.

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For good or bad, your breasts are going to get bigger -- and they're going to do it quickly. Throughout the first three months of pregnancy, fat builds up in the breasts and the milk glands increase in size, says Alana Bibeau, Ph.D, a doula and a member of the Rhode Island Birth Network Board of Trustees. By just six weeks into pregnancy, many women's breasts have grown a full cup size or more. And by nine months, the average woman has gained two pounds just in her breasts, according to the March of Dimes.

If you've never conducted a serious search for the perfect bra, now's the time. A proper bra is crucial to relieving the new weight and supporting your back. Look for one with a thick band (no underwire!) beneath the cups, wide shoulder straps, and an adjustable closure. Opt for cotton bras over synthetic ones; they're more comfortable because they allow the skin to breathe, suggests the March of Dimes. A supportive cotton sports bra, maternity bra or a pregnancy sleep bra may give your breasts added support and make you more comfortable while you sleep. Remember that one bra run is not enough. Your breasts will keep changing throughout your pregnancy -- and so should your bras!

But your bra isn't the only thing that has to stretch to accommodate your larger breasts -- your skin does, too. Relieve itching and prevent stretch marks by applying moisture-rich creams and cocoa butter.

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Thanks to thousands of years of menstruation, women are no strangers to breast tenderness. But even though you'll skip your period for nine months straight, don't expect to miss out on sore breasts. It's actually one of the first signs of pregnancy many women notice. Why? An increased supply of blood to the breasts along with the quick growth of milk ducts.

The good news is that for some women, this heightened sensitivity can be a big bonus during sex. But for others, it's just plain uncomfortable. Make sure to explain to your partner how you -- and your breasts -- are feeling.

If your breast tenderness is accompanied by one or more red, tender-to-the-touch, hard lumps, don't panic. As milk ducts grow and fill throughout pregnancy, it's not uncommon for women to suffer from clogged milk ducts. Warm compresses, baths, and massage can often clear the duct in a few days. If you also feel achy, run-down, and feverish, call your doctor: Your clogged duct might have become infected. Also, keep in mind that although breast cancer is rare among women younger than 35, women older than 35 should talk to their doctor about having a breast cancer screening before trying to become pregnant.

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Colostrum, a sweet and watery pre-milk, is most often seen on pregnant women's shirts. Sometime between the end of the first trimester and the third trimester, breasts begin to produce the thick and yellow liquid, which later becomes pale and almost colorless, and provides newborns protection against disease and bacterial infection during the first few days of life, Bonnie Herbst, R.N., a board-certified lactation consultant at The Ohio State University Medical Center. Rich in protein and antibodies, colostrum has less fat and sugar than mature milk, which comes in a few days after delivery.

Many women experience pregnant squirts in which they leak small amounts of colostrum, but others just find dried colostrum on their nipples, and others notice nothing different. All of these are within the range of normal, Bibeau says. Discharge may occur at any time or when stimulated through massage or sexual arousal. If you're worried about colostrum leakage, you can wear disposable or washable breast pads, Bibeau says. Allow your breasts to air-dry a few times each day and after showering.

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Hormonal changes during pregnancy also shape your nipples so that your baby can more easily latch on. The nipples grow and become more defined, often sticking out more than they did before pregnancy. The areolas, the skin surrounding the nipples, grow with the nipples, get darker and develop raised bumps on their surface, which are called Montgomery's tubercles. These are actually small glands that produce an oily substance that protects your nipples and areolas from cracking or drying out during these changes as well as during breastfeeding, Herbst says. Avoid applying soap directly to your nipples and areolas, so you don't wash away the oil and dry out the skin. Just let your breasts do their job because, frankly, they are pretty amazing at it.

Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.

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