For many women there is an emotional weight behind how we view our breasts. They can come to represent things like femininity and desirability, and not recognizing how they look post-breastfeeding can be unexpected or even shocking. Knowing what to expect can help normalize your new gals. Remember, no four boobs are alike, and the degrees to which one woman might experience some changes vary widely.
Hormones (yay, your best friends) are genetic geniuses and are responsible for a lot of what happens to your breasts. They cause temporary things that seem unnecessary like the darkening of the nipples and areolas, and possible engorgement. But hormones also do clever things like enlarge the areolar glands, which secrete an oily substance that helps lubricate the nipple and provides olfactory stimulation for a newborn to more easily latch. How awesome is that?!
Some more permanent changes one can expect include a change in shape, and let’s face it, perkiness, due the rapid expansion and subsequent shrinking of the tissue. It’s not uncommon to find yourself buying a bra 4 sizes larger than you’re used to while pregnant and breastfeeding, and then going back to the old faithfuls when they return to your regular size. That’s a big shock to the skin.
If you are feeling dismayed by your new normal, there are a host of exercises that focus on strengthening the pectoral muscles. But it’s important to remember that you carried and fed another human using your own body, and staying positive about yourself and your body has lasting emotional impact on your mood. You’re amazing, and we’ll remind you of that every day.
During Pregnancy- Hormones estrogen and progesterone are now in full force and preparing your body for lactation by causing the milk ducts to become enlarged, which can lead to swelling and tenderness in the breasts and nipples. Other changes that may occur during pregnancy are:
- Darkening of nipples and areolas (the skin around your nipples) due to hormones that affect pigmentation of the skin
- Darkened veins along your breasts (due to increased blood supply to your breasts)
- Your breasts may start leaking a yellowish, thick substance known as colostrum
- Pronounced nipples, and the areolas and nipples will grow larger
- Small glands on the surface of the areolas called Montgomery’s tubercles become raised bumps
Some women experience all of these changes, some experience very few. The important thing to remember about changing breasts is that the occurrence of any of these, or lack there of, is normal.
Postpartum – Your breasts will change a lot within hours after delivery and more in the next few weeks until they get used to their new role as nutritional resources for your newborn.
When your breasts become overfull and uncomfortable, try applying heat. Hot baths or showers, or even a heating pad or warm gel pack can help the ducts open. Make sure you are feeding or pumping every 2-3 hours to avoid overfilling. If the breasts are so full that the nipples are flattening out, try gently expressing a small amount of milk after applying heat. Expressing before a feeding can relieve the pressure on the nipple and areola so the baby can latch.
Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue that results in breast pain, swelling or “hardness”, warmth and redness. It may also cause flu like symptoms like fever and chills. Lactation mastitis generally occurs within the first six to 12 weeks postpartum, but it can happen after. The condition can cause you to feel run down, making it difficult to care for your baby. Sometimes mastitis leads a mother to stop breastfeeding before she initially intended to due to the discomfort, but continuing to breast-feed, even while taking an antibiotic for the mastitis, is better for you and your baby.
When you first detect the symptoms contact your doctor for treatment. Oral antibiotics are usually effective in treating this condition. If your signs and symptoms don’t improve after the first two days of taking antibiotics, see your doctor right away to make sure your condition isn’t the result of a more serious medical condition.
With mastitis, signs and symptoms can appear suddenly and may include:
- Breast tenderness or warmth to the touch
- Generally feeling ill possibly flu like
- Breast swelling/hardness
- Pain or a burning sensation continuously or while breast-feeding
- Skin redness, often in a wedge-shaped pattern
- Fever of 101 F (38.3 C) or greater
How to avoid mastitis:
- Proper latch will reduce sore and cracked nipples.
- Breastfeeding with your baby in multiple positions and fully draining your breasts at each feeding.
- Wear properly fitted (not too tight) bra and tops to allow for unrestricted milk flow.
- Proper nutrition and hydration.
Lactation Nutrition – The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months with your newborn. If you stick to this plan, there are some specific nutritional guidelines breastfeeding women should follow to ensure proper nutrition for baby, but to make sure mom’s nutritional needs are met.
Doctors suggest breastfeeding women should eat an additional 350 calories per day, and drink plenty of water, before you feel thirsty.
There are also certain vitamins and nutrients mom’s need a boost of, including: B vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamins D and K. Other vitamin groups that are important for a child’s development, though not solely relied upon breast milk are vitamins A and E, and these may require external supplementation for the baby through a shot or liquid form.
Because of the transference of nutrients from the mother’s diet to her baby’s, if she is not receiving enough of these nutrients in her own diet, she may be at risk for deficiencies that could cause severe health problems like anemia. Additionally, a vegetarian diet, malabsorptive stomach surgery, or other health conditions could exacerbate a deficiency. Blood work to determine these levels can be helpful in guiding a specific diet for a new mom.