Like it or not, your boobs have a starring role in your pregnancy. They get bigger, more tender, and they change in color and even shape. But, unlike most of the rest of your body, those transformations don't stop after you've given birth. In fact, that's when they really get going. Whatever you've experienced during pregnancy, hold on to your hat, because there are some horrifying, fascinating, and surprising ways that your boobs will change after pregnancy.
Despite what a lot of people think, many of the more permanent metamorphoses apply whether or not you've decided to breastfeed. The results of a 2004 study showed that apparent breast changes, including a loss of breast firmness, were similar between mothers who breastfed and those who did not, according to Babble.
“When you gain weight during pregnancy, ligaments in your breasts stretch, just as they do in your abdomen,” Fahimeh Sasan, D.O., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, explained to Health. And your chances of seeing those ligaments re-elasticize themselves back to your pre-pregnancy shape are pretty much down to your genes — though limiting your weight gain during pregnancy can also help.
“Unfortunately there is little a woman can do to prevent breasts from sagging after giving birth or breastfeeding other than weight control and wearing a supportive bra,” Dr. Jenny Jaque of Health Goes Female told Babble.
But at the end of the day, it may be comforting to remember that your body is just doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing — turning from a cozy incubator into a milk-filled fridge. It's a pretty amazing transformation, and you're entitled to cut yourself a little slack.
1. They will get bigger
You've probably already experienced at least some pregnancy-induced enlargement, but about 2 to 4 days postpartum, expect your boobs to increase to previously unimagined proportions. If you're breastfeeding, they'll probably stay large for a few months, according to Heidi Murkoff on What to Expect. But this is not a one-size-fits-all rule, cautioned Murkoff: It's perfectly normal if you don't experience a huge change in size, especially if you've had a baby before.
2. They could become engorged
In the first days and weeks after you give birth, your hormones are making enough milk for two babies, even if you just have one, Maureen Fjeld, a lactation consultant in private practice and director of the Calgary Breastfeeding Centre in Alberta, explained to Today's Parent. That can lead to your breasts becoming engorged — red, painful or hard to the touch. If they reach the point of clinical engorgement, explained Fjeld, the pressure on the nipples might make them flat and difficult for the baby to grasp, potentially making it impossible to feed your baby. Fjeld recommended applying heat and trying to express some milk. If that doesn't work, she advised applying gel ice packs or frozen peas, ten minutes on and ten minutes off.
3. They may leak milk — on command
You may start to experience some leakage before your baby is even born. That's colostrum, the pre-milk fluid that your baby drinks up for the first few days of its life. But then your estrogen and progesterone levels decrease quickly and your milk comes in, and you may start to see that leaking out too. It may just happen because your breasts are full, but it can also happen if you're feeling emotional, or if you hear your baby cry, according to Breast Cancer Care. Congrats if you've been lucky enough not to need them up to this point, but this is when you'll want to reach for the breast pads, which come in both disposable and washable versions.
4. They might get stretch marks
If you're noticing stretch marks on other parts of your body, you may see them appear on your breasts, too. Stretch marks are the visible result of the collagen and elastin in your skin getting pulled beyond the point where they can snap back, according to Parents. Unfortunately, there's nothing you can do about stretch marks, except maybe commiserate with your mother. Whether or not you get them is down to your genes, and there's no guaranteed remedy to make them disappear — not even laser treatments, as Rod Rohrich, MD, president of the American College of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, told Parents. Give it a few months, though, and they will fade from an angry red or purple to a pale silver color.
5. Your nipples could get painful
If you're among the lucky ones who didn't experience nipple soreness during pregnancy, postpartum breastfeeding may be your undoing. It's normal to experience some soreness for the first week or two of nursing, but if it continues past that, it could be a sign that your baby's not latching correctly. For short-term relief, try applying lanolin ointment (Lansinoh is one that you don't have to wash off before your baby nurses). For a long-term solution, consider a lactation consultant, who can help you figure out what's causing the problem.
6. They might sag
Whether or not you decide to breastfeed, your boobs are planning that you will. So they start filling with milk. Once they get the signal that you're not breastfeeding, or that you've stopped, they can appear to deflate, as Maureen Whelihan, M.D., an OB-GYN at the Center for Sexual Health & Education, told Self. And once they stop filling with milk, some people find that their breast tissue sags or droops. But there's a big upside to this, according to Health: as your breast density drops, so does your risk of breast cancer.
7. They could feel lumpy
Especially when they're full of milk, your breasts can feel a bit lumpy, which in most situations would make you a bit anxious. But, as Very Well Family pointed out, these postpartum or breastfeeding lumps are almost never a cause for concern. You should definitely speak with your doctor if you're worried, but know that only a small percent of these lumps turn out to be cancerous, they reported. Symptoms of a cancerous lump are that it's painless; it's only on one side; it's solid, hard, and dense; its borders are irregular; and it's difficult to move because it's attached to the breast tissue.
8. They might stay that way
If you are happier with the new size and shape of your post-baby boobs, you might be lucky enough to find that they stay that way. “Some women’s stay large, and others shrink,” Karen Soika, M.D., a cosmetic surgeon in Greenwich, Connecticut, told Health. It all depends on different factors, like your genes, your weight, and your age — the younger you are, the more dense your breasts are likely to be, and that makes them less susceptible to weight fluctuations.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.