Changes in how your breasts look and feel are some of the earliest signs of pregnancy. Hormones that are released during pregnancy and after childbirth cause these changes, which are meant to prepare you for breastfeeding your baby (whether or not you choose to do so).
Each of your breasts has 15-20 lobules made up of milk-producing cells. Ducts connect the lobules to the nipple, and transport the milk. The darker area around the nipple is called the areola. On the areola are little raised bumps, called Montgomery glands, which produce fluid to moisturize the nipple. During your pregnancy when the levels of the estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin in your body increase, you may experience the following normal pregnancy-related changes:
- Growth and enlargement of the breast
- Tenderness and hypersensitivity, especially of the nipple
- Darkening of the nipples and areolas
- Darkened veins along the breasts (due to increased blood supply to the breasts)
- Leaking of a yellowish, thick fluid (called colostrum)
- Further protrusion of the nipples
- Enlargement of the nipples and areolas
- Enlargement of the Montgomery glands
Keep in mind that you may experience one of these, or some of these, more than the others.
Common Breast Concerns in Pregnancy
The growth of your breasts during pregnancy can cause tenderness or even pain. This tenderness or pain can be reduced by wearing a well-fitting, supportive bra. You may even find that sleeping in a bra at night provides comfort.
Changes in the size of breast lumps during pregnancy may also occur due to hormonal changes. Although the vast majority of breast lumps in pregnant women are benign (noncancerous), you should see your healthcare provider if you notice any new breast lump or any growth in an existing lump during pregnancy or while breastfeeding to rule out breast cancer. While breast cancer is not common in pregnant women, it can occur. Fortunately an expectant mother’s breast lump can be evaluated with physical exam and breast ultrasound and, in most cases, reassurance can be given. If necessary, a core needle biopsy can be safely performed with local anesthesia as an outpatient procedure.