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Of the many signs and symptoms that give you an inkling that you might be pregnant before you have even tried that first pregnancy test, is breast pain. Pregnancy is a life-changing experience for a woman, not only because it creates a new life, but because it alters her body to accommodate and nurture a growing baby for nine months, and also prepares to provide nourishment after birth. Even as your muscles loosen up, your ribcage widens, tummy stretches and your internal organs shift, your breasts grow and change to prepare you to feed your baby when she is born.
Often the focus of dads-to-be, breast growth during pregnancy is not always a pleasant experience. Most women complain of pain, but the level of discomfort varies. Read on for a quick overview of what breast changes you may expect if you are expecting!
Breast changes in pregnancy
As with almost every other symptom related to pregnancy, breast tenderness in pregnancy is also attributed to the two main culprits oestrogen and progesterone. The very same hormones which led to the formation of your breasts when you were a pre-pubescent teen, now kick into action to prepare you for lactation. They ensure that your milk ducts widen and that your breasts receive ample blood supply. Breast pain in early pregnancy is common as you experience most of the changes in the first trimester, that is, between two to four weeks of conception.
Here are the early pregnancy breast changes week on week during the first 12 weeks:
Changes in Week 1- 3
Breast changes start as soon as implantation occurs. A large part of the changes take place during the 2nd week, and you will have increased sensitivity, especially on the sides where the internal mammary arteries are. Milk ducts and alveolar buds grow rapidly during this period.
Changes in Week 4- 6
Changes in the nipples are noticeable in this period. The increase in blood supply causes a prickling sensation accompanied by tingling around the nipples. Tingling may also be triggered by changes in temperature. At the end of this phase, an increase in pigmentation will make you areolas appear darker, and the nipples will be more prominent.
Changes in Week 7- 9
In the 7th week, the breasts start gaining weight as fat accumulates and milk ducts grow further. Lobules are formed by the growing alveoli, making them feel sore and tender. Montgomery’s tubercles or small pimples around the areolas appear around week 8. By week 12, the dark areolas are surrounded by a second areola of lighter tissue, and inverted nipples are corrected.
Changes in week 10- 12
This is the period when the nipples protrude fully, and you are sure to notice the difference, especially if it is your first pregnancy.
While the major changes occur during the first twelve weeks, breast development persists throughout the pregnancy, and is marked by the following changes:
Breast Growth During Pregnancy
Breast enlargement is the most noticeable change during pregnancy, but the pattern of growth may differ from woman to woman. While some women experience a slow and steady growth, others see growth-spurts. If it is your first pregnancy, you may find that your bra-size has increased by as much as one cup, and your breasts feel fuller and heavier. A sudden increase in size stretches your skin and may cause itchiness. It is not uncommon for stretch marks to appear, but these are mostly temporary, and you need not be too concerned about them.
Breast tenderness in Pregnancy
Soreness or breast tenderness is most noticeable during the first trimester and usually eases as the second-trimester approaches. Caused by the surge in hormones, soreness can make the most regular daily tasks, or casual touches uncomfortable.
The increased blood flow in the body during pregnancy may lead to the occurrence of visible veins in the delicate skin of your breasts. This condition is temporary, and the veins usually return to their normal size after you give birth, or after you stop breastfeeding.
Lumps and bumps
Some women may notice the development of lumps in the breasts. While most of these are benign, it helps to have them checked if you notice changes or new lumps. Most lumps are caused by galactoceles (milk-filled cysts), fibroadenomas (fibrous tissue) or cysts.
Nipple Changes while pregnant
Pregnancy causes an increase in pigmentation in your nipples, also called areola. The changes in the third trimester include a growth in the size of the nipples and the appearance of Montgomery’s Tubercules.
Appearing as small pimples around the areola, these bumps are named after an Irish Obstetrician who was the first to observe them. The number of bumps is different for each woman. These tubercles are believed to perform a protective function, as they secrete oil which keeps the areola moisturised and relieves sore nipples during pregnancy. Resist the urge to pop them, or you may end up with an infection.
Breast leakages- pregnancy squirts
Leaky breasts are a common occurrence even as early as 16 weeks into pregnancy. As the milk ducts prepare for their task post-delivery, they leak colostrum, a straw-coloured liquid. The colostrum is what your baby should drink right after birth, as it is rich in antibodies which protect your newborn.
Tips for relieving breast pain
While Breast changes and the discomfort associated with them are unavoidable, there are several things you can do to make the transition easier for yourself:
Get fitted for a maternity bra
Make sure you get yourself measured for a new bra whenever you feel constricted by changing breast shapes during pregnancy. Measuring at the end of the first trimester, and once in the end of the third trimester and buying well-fitting bras will ensure that your breasts are always well supported. Make every purchase cost effective by choosing maternity bras which you will be able to use after giving birth. Adjusting to the changing breast size during pregnancy is the surest way to avoid breast tenderness.
Get rid of itchy breasts during pregnancy by making sure your skin moisturised. As the skin stretches over your growing breasts, it needs to be nourished so that it remains soft and supple.
- Put away the underwired underwear
It was earlier believed that underwired bras could hamper blood flow and milk production, but research has debunked this theory. However, most women find underwired bras uncomfortable for sore breasts. If your bra is adding to your discomfort, make sure you switch to one without an underwire
- Choose cotton for comfort
A hypoallergenic fabric, cotton not only protects against irritation and skin infections but also makes sure your skin can breathe. The soft fabric absorbs sweat, keeping your skin clean and dry. Picking cotton bras brings much-needed relief
- Avoid bumping into things and people
Prevention is the best way to ensure you are not jarred by occasional pain. Look where you are going whether you are at home or outside so that you are not hurt by physical contact
- Ask your partner to take a hands-free approach
Sore breasts during pregnancy can come in the way of physical intimacy too. Make sure you share your problem with your partner and ask him to avoid touching your breast when you are together
- Use a warm compress
Covering your breasts with a warm and wet towel is a great way to relieve pregnancy breast pain. A warm compress helps reduce swelling and tenderness by improving blood circulation
Dietary changes go a long way in helping reduce breast discomfort during pregnancy
- Stay hydrated
One of the reasons for sore breasts is water retention, and this can be avoided if you drink plenty of water all day. This helps flush out excess hormones and fluid which cause pain
- Consume less salt
Some women find that reducing salt-intake temporarily helps lower breast pain in pregnancy
Supplement your water, fruit juice or yoghurt with a spoonful of ground flaxseed. Rich in nutrients and a soured of fibre, Flax seeds help alleviate breast soreness
- Diet and Nutrition
A healthy body is better equipped to handle breast pain. Consume vitamin and mineral rich foods including seeds and nuts, leafy greens, beans and cereal to reduce tenderness
Breast exams- When to See a Doctor
While breast discomfort during pregnancy is normal and transient, as with every other symptom, it is something one must be aware of. Make sure you consult your doctor if you experience any unusual pain or discharge. Speak to your doctor if:
- You notice any rapid changes in lumps or increase in the number of lumps
- You notice blood leaking with the colostrum
- You notice rashes
Learning to deal with breast changes is a part of embracing the many changes your body experiences during pregnancy. While the first and third trimesters see the maximum development, be prepared for mild discomfort from changes in the second trimester too. As long as they do not pose a health risk, these changes should not cause you any worry and are sure to fade as the pregnancy progresses.