A Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Breasts

From orgasms to milk spraying, a labor nurse answers your most embarrassing questions about pregnancy and postpartum breasts.

breasts as melons in bra
Photo: Kaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock

Like many things in your life, your body changes dramatically during pregnancy. One significant change that occurs during pregnancy is your breasts. They not only change in size, but they often feel and behave differently, too. For example, you may find that your nipples are darker, your breasts are hyper-sensitive, or you start spraying milk during sex. So, it's natural to have many questions about what's "normal."

Since people are often embarrassed to ask questions about some of these changes, we've done the hard work for you! So read on for answers from a labor nurse on common questions about pregnancy and postpartum breasts to get you up-to-speed.

Q: My breasts didn't do much for me during sex before I got pregnant. But I had an orgasm when my partner fondled my breasts. Am I normal?

You bet you are. During pregnancy, your breasts get larger, more sensitive, and receive more circulation than ever before. So even if you didn't receive much sexual pleasure from them before pregnancy, you might be pleasantly surprised at how much you receive during pregnancy. It's one of the bonuses of being pregnant.

Consider it Mother Nature's gift as payback for some of the less enjoyable parts of pregnancy like nausea and stretch marks.

Q: If my partner stimulates my breasts while I'm pregnant, will I make milk early?

Probably not, though if you do leak a little liquid during pregnancy, don't worry about it. Many people leak colostrum or clear fluid from their nipples when pregnant. It's not the same stuff you'll produce when breastfeeding, but it is your breasts' way of priming the pump (so to speak). As long as you and your breasts enjoy it, your partner can, too.

Q: My breasts are so sensitive it hurts to wear a shirt. Is that normal?

Having very sensitive breasts during pregnancy is normal. According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, hormonal changes can make breasts feel sore, tingly, and heavy. If certain fabrics irritate your breasts or nipples, try to find a comfy bra (sports bras without seams are good choices) with no lace or scratchy material and some nice soft t-shirts.

Q: I've heard that nipple stimulation will bring on labor. Is that true?

It's true for some people who are already very ripe for labor. Nipple stimulation can stimulate the release of oxytocin, the hormone that causes contractions. But, if your body isn't already extremely close to going into labor, nipple stimulation probably won't push you over the edge, but some say it did the trick for them.

Nipple stimulation to start labor is supported by evidence. For example, a 2018 PLoS One study evaluated the effects of nipple stimulation on the spontaneous onset of labor. Researchers found a correlation between breast stimulation and the beginning of labor within 72 hours. However, the minimum breast stimulation time to induce labor was one hour per day for three days.

What's even more likely to get labor started is if breast stimulation is combined with penis-in-vagina ejaculation. While nipple stimulation prompts oxytocin release, semen contains prostaglandins, which can ripen the cervix. For these reasons, some researchers have concluded that sexual activity may be a natural way to start labor in uncomplicated term pregnancies.

Q: Why are my nipples so dark all of a sudden?

Hyperpigmentation (skin darkening) occurs in 85-90% of pregnancies. It often affects parts of the body that are already physiologically darker, like the areolas and nipples.

These hormonal changes going on in your body may be working to prepare for breastfeeding. Babies can't focus their eyes very well after birth and need a lot of color contrast to find the nipple. So that may be why nipples get dark—to make them an easy target for babies to find. Chances are that they'll fade to their pre-pregnancy color after you're finished breastfeeding.

Q: I had breast surgery. Can I still breastfeed?

That depends. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people who have had breast or nipple surgery can still breastfeed. But, it depends entirely on how much tissue was removed, whether milk ducts were severed, and if nerves are still intact.

Sometimes people who have had breast surgery cannot make a full milk supply. Even so, the good news is that plenty of people breastfeed with a partial milk supply and supplementation.

Also, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not consider silicone implants a contraindication for breastfeeding. So, even if you have implants, chances are good you'll be able to breastfeed.

Ask your breast surgeon exactly what they did during your breast surgery and whether they think you can breastfeed. No matter what kind of surgery you had (augmentation or reduction), schedule an appointment with a lactation consultant to find out about your options.

Q: I had my baby six months ago, and now, when I have sex, milk sprays out of my breasts. What should I do about that?

The oxytocin hormone is responsible for the milk ejection reflex—this hormone surges not only during breastfeeding but also during sex. So, put a towel on your chest and try to have a sense of humor about it. It's normal.

You can try breastfeeding or pumping before sex, but other than that, there isn't much you can do about it. Your breasts will do what they're going to do, but as long as it doesn't bother you, your partner probably won't mind either. Plus, some couples find it's a way to spice things up in the bedroom.

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