Postpartum Breast Changes
"Immediately after the placenta is delivered, your body begins to release the hormone prolactin to signal to your breasts that it's time to make milk," explains Dr. Mass. "The breasts are further stimulated by the baby's sucking, so if you plan to nurse, start breastfeeding right away."
Since it usually takes two to three days for breast milk to come in, your baby will receive colostrum when he or she first begins to nurse. When your milk does come in, expect your breasts to swell significantly, feel lumpy and heavy, and, most likely, to ache. To ease this engorgement:
- If you plan to breastfeed, keep nursing. Around-the-clock feedings (8 to 12 times over a 24-hour period) in the first few days keep engorgement to a minimum and help you develop a good milk supply. If you need further help, try standing under a hot shower to let some of the milk flow out.
- If you don't want to breastfeed, it's as simple as not nursing, says Dr. Mass. Hospitals used to give women drugs to prevent milk from coming in, but that practice is out of favor. Instead, Dr. Mass suggests donning a tight sports bra within 24 hours of giving birth and wearing it continuously for a week to signal to your breasts that they don't need to produce milk. You can also apply a cold pack (or a bag of frozen peas) to alleviate discomfort.