Women's bodies are fascinating. On the very basic, primal level, they're fascinating the way any living organism is. Sociologically, all the absolute toxic sludge we constantly douse them in is, similarly, fascinating. Horrifying, yes, but also interesting from an academic perspective. This is particularly true when those bodies are pregnant — the body changes, but it's also scrutinized, judged, and reassessed for its social value. That's why there are things I wish I could say to my pre-baby boobs, both as a warning and as a source of encouragement.
Honestly, I don't want to get too into the social aspect of breasts in the context of pregnancy and breastfeeding. It's a lot to unpack and, four and a half years after my last pregnancy and two and a half years after my last child was weaned, I still have barely made a dent. But that's OK because there's plenty I wish I could time travel and tell my pre-baby boobs about from a purely anatomical perspective.
Everyone will have their own experience when it comes to babies and breasts. Bodies are fascinating in that they all work basically the same way but there's a very broad range of "normal," so much so that the term is more or less useless. So trust that I can only speak from a very personal perspective, and how your breasts change as you navigate pregnant and postpartum life will undoubtably vary. But if I could go back in time, here's what I would say to my pre-pregnancy boobs:
"Things Are Going To Get Strange"
Just, like, in general. Pregnancy, nursing, and post-baby boobs follow and entirely different set of rules a lot of the time. If I could give my pre-baby boobs one bit of advice (or, I suppose, warning) it would be as follows: prepare for the weird. In the end, "weird" sort of encapsulates the entire experience.
"You Will Be The First Pregnancy Symptom"
I was first prompted to take a pregnancy test when I realized my boobs were super sore for no clear reason. I spent a day just lugging around my poor aching breasts, furtively and gingerly rubbing them at my desk at work before thinking to myself, "Oh. This could be, like, a thing. And I don't remember the last time I had a period."
It was, indeed, a thing. I feel like achy boobs are a common early pregnancy symptom but they're not actually discussed all that much.
"The Idea That Breastfeeding Doesn't Change Your Boobs Is Crap"
I feel like some breastfeeding advocates make this argument in an attempt to encourage people not to be scared of breastfeeding but, you guys, this is such a lie. Or, rather, it's such a lie to suggest that breastfeeding can't change your breasts. Maybe it's not a foregone conclusion, but are you seriously telling me that weeks, months, or years of fluctuating between engorged and drained isn't going to have any affect on the appearance of your breasts?
Yes, pregnancy can affect your boobs, too, but breastfeeding is a completely different, more intensely boob-centric ballgame.
"You're Going To Get Bigger Than You Ever Could Have Imagined"
Between 4th and 8th grade, my breasts grew a cup size a year. The rate of growth was startling and when they finally stopped I was like, "Oh thank God, because I don't think I could handle them any larger than this."
Within weeks of finding out I was pregnant I popped yet another cup size and a half. My husband didn't look at my face for months. And then came breastfeeding, where that sort of "blossoming" was a daily occurrence. The first time I woke up engorged I took pictures because I legitimately couldn't believe it.
"Your Areolae Are Going To Go Nuts"
I know areolae come in a variety of different colors — from pale pink to ebony— and that each of those colors is normal, healthy, and beautiful in its own way. But it's bizarre when you go your whole life with one color only to have it radically change during pregnancy or in the days/weeks following childbirth. It's not that there's anything wrong with the color it's turning, but it's a lot of change to get used to in very little time. Like, there's nothing wrong with red hair, but if your hair suddenly went from black to red you'd probably be a little unsettled, yes?
"My Kids Will Aggressively Love You"
You will be motor-boated. You will be groped. You will be nuzzled. If you breastfeed you will have your clothing wrenched off of you. You will be used as a pacifier. Your breasts will become a source of comfort for your children, which is cute and also funny and sometimes annoying. Mine didn't stop shoving their hands down the front of my shirt until, literally, years after they'd weaned.
"Milk Comes Out Of The Entire Nipple"
This was one of those things I just didn't know before I had a baby. I figured, as many people do, that milk squirted out from one spot in the center-ish of your nipple. Nope! Your nipples actually host from four to as many as 20 "milk duct orifices" from which you'll lactate. I realized this when I self-expressed for the first time and, well, it was an interesting discovery.
"You're Going To Look Very Sad For A Little While After The Children Are Weaned"
Once I was no longer feeding a toddler with my body, my breasts shrunk down from the biggest they'd ever been in my entire life to smaller than they'd been since 6th grade. They were pretty pathetic-looking. It's not that small boobs are pathetic, but mine looked deflated.
"You'll Go Back To Normal In Time"
I can only speak personally here but, boobs: don't be too dismayed. In time you'll "fluff back up" to your customary size. It just takes some time.
"Appreciate Every Day You Are Not Connected To A Breast Pump"
OMG, run, pre-baby boobs, run! Those things are the worst. Again, speaking personally here — I know other people who had no problem with pumping whatsoever — but I hated it so much. It felt absolutely godawful and I feel like I'd love to time travel and tell my pre-baby boobs to be warned about that insidious (but unfortunately often necessary if you want to breastfeed) machine.
"Sex With Post-Baby Boobs Is Weird"
Pregnancy boobs can be really sensitive. Like, possibly even "these things are off-limits for the duration of my gestation" sensitive. Like "I don't want to take my bra off ever because even that much movement is going to hurt" sensitive. It's not always fun, but you can manage. And after you actually deliver your baby, lactation can make intimacy... different. I mean, we're all adults here, but things can get oddly milky.
"For The Love Of God, Make Sure Your Kids Nails Are Clipped"
THEY ARE TALONS AND THEY WILL CLAW THE SH*T OUT OF YOUR BREASTS GIVEN EVEN THE SLIGHTEST OPPORTUNITY! STOP THEM!
"We Will Have A New Relationship With One Another"
When your body changes as a result of it doing new things, it's understandable that your concept of your body — how you think about it and how you value it — can change. When your body changes as the result of something as monumental as, say, sustaining a life, then it's really going to rock your world. All the ways your boobs change and the things they may do will potentially make you see them and yourself differently. I no longer saw them as exclusively or primarily as ornamental but as another important and powerful bit of a whole.