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 major breast changes – 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, here a few things to look for.
Surprise—that soreness in your breasts may not be PMS after all! About 10 days after conception, your placenta starts releasing human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), the hormone that kicks off estrogen and progesterone production (hCG is what turns the pee stick positive in a pregnancy test). All those hormones kick-start the development of the milk glands in your breast, so your boobs may know you're expecting before you do, explains Erika Nichelson, M.D., an Ob-Gyn at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. "I was probably about half a second pregnant when I noticed that my breasts were extremely sensitive," recalls Dawn, 40, a mom of two in New York. "The slightest breeze on my chest made me wince!"
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 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. (But if you're eagerly awaiting bigger boobs and they never appear, don't worry, says Dr. Nichelson. "I've had three children, including twins, and my breasts never got bigger," she explains. "Everyone is different and size doesn't necessarily matter when it comes to breastfeeding.)"
If your trusty 34Bs suddenly feel as tiny as a training bra, and your favorite lingerie feels soft as sandpaper, get yourself to a maternity store. A proper bra is crucial to relieving the new weight and supporting your back. Olivia Capone Myers, style director at Destination Maternity, suggests you get fitted for maternity bras as soon as your breasts begin to grow in their first trimester: "Looking for at least three to four hooks in the closure to ensure comfort throughout your pregnancy, and make sure it fits on the tightest hook when you buy it so you can loosen it as your body grows," she recommends.
Also look for a maternity bra with a thick band (no underwire!) beneath the cups and wide shoulder straps. Opt for cotton bras over synthetic ones; they're more comfortable because they allow the skin to breathe, suggests the March of Dimes. Capone Myers also recommends buying a sleep bra, which will gently support your girls at night during pregnancy and when you begin nursing.
Remember that one bra run is not enough. Your breasts will keep changing throughout your pregnancy – and so should your bras!
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. "Ice packs, over-the-counter Benadryl cream, or menthol-based moisturizers can help with discomfort when the skin is itchy from growth," says Tsipporah Shainhouse, M.D., a Los Angeles dermatologist who works extensively with pregnant women.
Ah, the irony: As your breasts get more bodacious, your partner may be eager to explore your new curves, but sore nipples can make your boobs a no-touch zone. (Though some women find the new sensitivity actually enhances sex.) 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.
As your body gets ready to feed your baby, you may start dripping colostrum (the nutrient-dense liquid your breasts produce before your milk comes in) days, weeks, or even months before there's a baby around to lap it up. The 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.