Changes to a woman's breasts from pregnancy to weaning
Your breasts undergo changes during pregnancy and breastfeeding to accommodate your body’s natural ability to provide milk for your baby. During pregnancy, hormonal changes prepare your breasts to produce milk. After birth, additional hormone responses trigger milk production in larger volumes.
Changes of the breasts during pregnancy
During pregnancy, hormones cause the growth of glandular tissue in your breasts and they get larger. Your nipples become more sensitive, the skin around the nipple and areola darkens and the Montgomery glands (the bumps on the areola) enlarge and secrete a liquid that treats and protects the nipple area.
In the second trimester of pregnancy, your breasts begin to produce early milk, which is usually absorbed by the body. Some women may notice this early milk leaking and others may not. In any case, you will produce the amount of breast milk your baby will need and your body is able to.
You may be concerned about the size of your breasts – are they too small or could they possibly be too big? Most women experience some breast enlargement in pregnancy but ultimately, breast size does not matter when it comes to breastfeeding success – women with large and small breasts can breastfeed successfully.
Changes after delivery
Three to five days after delivery, for around one day or less, your breasts may become hard, red and warm as a physiological reaction to decreasing levels of placenta hormones. The blood circulation in your breasts increases and there is more lymphatic fluid in your breast region. The small amounts of colostrum produced in the first days postpartum will give way to mature milk within approximately 10 to 14 days.
If your breasts become uncomfortable and excessively firm, please tell your nurse or doctor. This physiological breast engorgement is not uncommon at this time but there are ways to relieve it.
Changes during lactation phase
In the first three months (approximately) the hormone prolactin is responsible for milk production. During this time your breasts may feel full before a feed. After the first three months or so, your baby's sucking triggers milk production and you will no longer feel this fullness of the breasts, but you will still produce enough milk for the baby.
Changes after weaning
After weaning, many of the breast changes noted during pregnancy and the lactation phase will reverse. The extra glandular tissue that produced milk is no longer needed and will revert to almost the same state it was in before pregnancy.
Every woman's breasts are different. Check with your health professional or lactation consultant if you have questions or concerns.