Breasts and pregnancy: So many changes take place, and these changes can differ from woman to woman. We called on expert Heather Porter to give us the low-down on exactly what happens to your breasts during pregnancy, from mastitis and which bra to wear to exactly how to keep your boobs perky. The Boob Report. Here it is!
What happens to your breasts during pregnancy?
Both the breast and nipple change during pregnancy, breast growth and tenderness can be one of the first signs of pregnancy. Breasts unfortunately succumb to gravity, so as we age they do not remain as pert as they once were, and after expanding in size during pregnancy, the weight increase pulls the breast down further. After birth when the milk comes in the breasts grow even more and it is at this time they will be the largest and the heaviest, possibly two to three sizes more than your normal state.
What happens to them if you breast feed? I hear that they can be left looking empty.
You put on an extra pound of breast tissue and accumulated fat as the breast prepares for the onset of milk production. After feeding, the breasts do decrease in size, but they may not reduce back to exactly how they were before the nine month plus expansion! Some women can be left with less volume above the nipple and may even shrink down a cup size.
Does the amount of time you breast feed have an impact on how they look afterwards?
How long you breastfeed for is up to you. The World Health Organisation recommends feeding for the first six months at least. The most important thing is that the baby gets all the amazing nutrients from you, even if just for a short time. On a cosmetic note; the longer the breasts are heavy with milk for full time feeding the more the breast tissue is pulled on and stretched. When you are ready to replace with formula feed, I would advise to reduce feeding gradually by dropping one feed at a time. The breast then has chance to adapt gradually and regulate the decrease in milk flow each time a feed is dropped. Mastitis is an infection of the breast and it can sometimes be caused by not emptying the breast sufficiently after feeding. Therefore to lessen the milk flow little by little, the risk of having excess milk getting infected is reduced.
Are bras important and is wearing underwire dangerous?
A bra needs to do its job well to support your bust. An ill-fitting bra may not only be uncomfortable but inhibit blood flow. Supporting your breasts is a must, pregnant or not! Underwired bras are not advised during post pregnancy as the unforgiving wire under the cup can dig in and interrupt the natural milk flow, which could then cause blockages. This is why feeding and maternity bras do not have underwire. I would also advise wearing a night bra; these are soft and gently supportive. They may help you to sleep, especially if the breasts are large and heavy during this time. They are a comfort and gently ease the passage of rolling side to side at night. The right bra is important, you will need to change bras through this growing and shrinking process to correctly support each stage. Most maternity stores should be able to advise you and stock maternity and feeding bras. Your bras pre-pregnancy may not fit you afterwards, so when you feel your body is close to normal again, have another fitting.
Is Mastitis rare or might it happen to me?
Mastitis is a painful infection of the breast and can be caused by bacteria entering a cracked nipple, so in theory any nursing mother could be prone, however it is not very common. The important thing is to be aware of the symptoms, keep the nipple area clean and your hands washed before each feed. Empty the breast at each feed. Be aware of any aches or swelling, especially if the breast becomes sore or you have a temperature. If you experience any symptoms or generally feel unwell, you must see a Doctor and if you are diagnosed with mastitis, you will be prescribed a course of antibiotics.
Are there any magic lotions or potions that help keep them looking pert?
There are a variety of creams and gels on the market that claim to tighten and lift the skin. There is no real miracle cream that can fight gravity unfortunately and as our breasts have no muscle to support them, options are limited! However at least by moisturising we can nourish and tone the skin. However it is unadvisable to use such products on the breast when you are feeding.
Can exercise help with toning the area and how soon after birth can I think about that?
After birth it is advisable to wait and let the body repair properly. Exercising too soon can cause damage and delay the healing process. Six weeks post delivery is the usual time to have a follow up check with your Doctor. This is the time to discuss how much and what sort of exercise you can do. Every woman will be different; it depends on your delivery and how you are feeling. If you have had a caesarian it will be longer before you can exercise. Exercise will help to get your circulation and metabolism regulating again after the massive hormonal ride of pregnancy. Many pregnant women experience water retention; this can gradually reduce after the birth but exercising will help speed up reduction (and drinking more water). With regards to exercising the breast area, the pectoral muscles are the closest situated behind the bust. These can be targeted with exercises such as half and full push-ups, chest flies and chest press. There are a variety of exercises that work the pectorals. Before targeting the local area it would be more beneficial to start exercising for general fitness, increase heart rate and start to work off the baby weight. But not too soon!
Is there anything else I can do to help keep my breasts looking youthful?
Breasts, just like any other area of the body, benefit from a nutritious healthy eating plan, less toxin intake, less acidity in the diet and more water consumption. Breastfeeding is dehydrating; therefore nursing mothers are advised to drink more than they normally would to keep properly hydrated. Always have a large glass of water next to you when you are feeding and remember to drink water throughout the day (tea and coffee doesn’t count!). Keeping a good posture during feeding will help the back and neck; raise the baby up to you with a V cushion or similar rather than you bending over to the baby. When standing or sitting, a good posture will not only improve the appearance of the bust but is much better for you (for example slouching is not good for digestion) and as mentioned before, a jolly good bra. When you do start your fitness regime, your ‘exercise’ bra must be supportive and fit correctly so no more damage is done by stretching the tissues with the weight of breast ‘bounces’. Therefore aftercare for your breasts is a combination of the above.
Heather Porter is author of Body Back: The Mother’s Handbook to Medical, Physical and Emotional Well-being (Clementine Publishing 2012). As mother of four, Heather Porter has firsthand experience of a post-pregnancy body. She has had four caesareans and four recoveries. Her challenges to get back into shape after each birth varied and her experiences have gone into Body Back, her encyclopedia for women.
In addition to managing a bustling family, she is extremely dedicated to her charity work spanning across the globe including her own foundation, The Red Shoes Trust, which provides for children with disabilities.
Click here to buy the book.