Breast changes during pregnancy

By Jayne Leonard 

Reviewed by Cynthia Cobb, APRN

First trimester | Second
trimester | Third trimester | Milk production | Ways to ease discomfort | Changes to
expect after pregnancy | When to see a doctor | Summary

Breast changes are a normal
part of pregnancy and occur as a result of hormonal fluctuations. Changes to
the breasts can occur as early as 1 week after conception, and they can
continue right up until the birth of the baby and beyond.

In this article, we discuss
the breast changes that are most common during each trimester. We also provide
some tips on easing breast discomfort when pregnant.
It is important to note that
breast changes vary from woman to woman, and not everyone will develop all of
the symptoms below.

First trimester breast changes

During weeks 0 to 13 of
pregnancy, women may experience:

Tenderness and discomfort

Breast tenderness is often one
of the earliest symptoms of pregnancy.
According to the National
Institute of Child Health and Human Development, women may have sore, heavy, or
tingly breasts as early as 1 to 2 weeks after conception. The nipples may also
feel sensitive or even painful to touch.
These changes occur because of
rising hormone levels in the body and increased blood flow to the breast
tissue. Breast discomfort often subsides after a few weeks, although it may
return in the later stages of pregnancy.


Going up a cup size or two
when pregnant is normal for many women, especially if it is their first
pregnancy. This growth can begin early on in pregnancy and continue throughout.
A woman’s breasts may also increase in size while she is breastfeeding.
This rapid growth can cause
the breasts to feel itchy as the skin stretches.

Blue veins

Blood volume typically
increases by 50 percent throughout pregnancy. As a result, prominent blue veins
usually appear on several areas of the skin, including the breasts and stomach.
These veins are necessary to
carry the increasing volumes of blood and nutrients around the body to the
developing fetus.

Second trimester

From weeks 14 to 27, the
second trimester of pregnancy may bring about the following breast changes:

Darker areolas

The areolas are the colored
circles around the nipples. Over the course of the second and third trimesters,
the areolas often become larger and darker. Some people believe that this
occurs to help the newborn locate and latch onto the nipples.
Darkening areolas are likely
to result from hormonal changes. Often, the areola returns to its prepregnancy
color after breastfeeding, but it sometimes remains a shade or two darker than
it was originally.

Areola bumps

Pregnancy causes small,
painless bumps to appear on the areolas. These are oil-producing glands called
Montgomery’s tubercles, and they lubricate the breasts and promote easier

Nipple discharge

Some women may notice nipple
discharge during their second trimester. For others, this may not occur until
the third trimester or after labor. Discharge can occur at any time, but it is
more likely when the breasts become stimulated.
This thick, yellow discharge
is colostrum, which is a liquid that boosts the immune function of newborns in
the very early stages of breastfeeding.

Breast lumps

Lumpy breasts affect some
individuals during pregnancy. Usually, these lumps are not a cause for concern.
They are often either:

  • galactoceles, which are
    clogged milk ducts
  • fibroadenomas, which are
    benign breast tumors
However, it is still important
to tell a doctor about any breast lumps that develop. Although the risk of
breast cancer during pregnancy is low, especially in women under the age of 35 years,
pregnancy can make it more difficult to diagnose and treat breast cancer.

Third trimester

Weeks 28 to 40 of pregnancy
can lead to the following breast changes:

Continuing growth and other

Many of the breast changes
that occur in the first and second trimesters will continue throughout the
final months of pregnancy. The breasts can become even larger and heavier, the
nipples may continue to darken, and colostrum might leak more regularly.

Stretch marks

Rapid tissue growth causes the
skin to stretch, which may lead to striae gravidarum, or stretch marks.
Research indicates that between 50 and 90 percent of pregnant women develop
stretch marks on their body, most commonly on the breasts, stomach, and thighs.
These red lines typically
occur in months 6 and 7 of pregnancy, but they can also appear before or after
this time.

Milk production

Breast changes occur to allow
the newborn baby to feed.
However, women who do not
experience dramatic breast changes during pregnancy should not worry about
their ability to feed their baby. Nipple and breast changes are not indicative
of a woman’s ability to produce milk or breastfeed.
After delivery, or sometimes
before, the breasts produce small amounts of colostrum. This fluid helps boost
the baby’s immune system. Newborn babies have very small stomachs and only
require modest amounts of colostrum to meet their nutritional needs.
Over the next few days, the
breasts begin to produce milk instead of colostrum. Breast milk production
typically starts between 5 days and 2 weeks after delivery.
Anyone who has concerns about
their ability to breastfeed should consider seeking help and support from a
doctor, midwife, or lactation consultant.

Ways to ease discomfort

Many women experience breast
discomfort during pregnancy. However, there are many ways for people to
accommodate their changing breasts and ease discomfort during this time:

Wearing breast pads for

For colostrum leakage, try
wearing breast pads. These are available in either a disposable or reusable

Applying lotions and oils

Applying lotions or oils to
the breasts can relieve skin tightening and itching. Many women also use these
products in the hope of reducing stretch marks.
However, current research
suggests that topical treatments, such as cocoa butter and other oils, do not
prevent the formation of stretch mark. Instead, the Office on Women’s Health
recommend being patient, as stretch marks and other skin changes usually fade
after the birth of the baby.

Treating blocked milk ducts

A person can treat blocked
milk ducts by applying a warm compress to painful, blocked areas of the
Massage can also be helpful.
Gently massage the breast from the sore area toward the nipple.

Checking breasts for lumps

Carry out regular breast
checks during pregnancy to look for lumps and bumps, and speak to a doctor
regarding any concerns. Usually, a lump will be benign, or it will occur due to
a blocked milk duct.

Bra tips

Investing in a well-fitting
and supportive bra is one of the best ways to ease breast discomfort during
pregnancy. When choosing a bra, look for one that has:

  • good support
  • wide straps
  • adjustable closures
  • no underwire
  • cotton fabric composition
  • seam-free design near the
Sports bras and sleep bras are
both comfortable options for pregnancy. Many women prefer to buy nursing bras
as they approach their delivery date. Nursing bras are also suitable for use during
pregnancy and while sleeping.
It is a good idea to get a
professional fitting for a bra during pregnancy because a woman’s bra size can
change several times as her breasts and chest expand.

Changes to expect after

After women give birth, their
breasts will maintain their larger size due to milk production.
Once they stop breastfeeding,
their breasts and nipples often return to their normal size, shape, and color.
For some women, this occurs
quickly. For others, it can take time. However, some women may find that their
breasts never regain their prepregnancy appearance.
Sometimes, breasts may appear
droopier after pregnancy. This change is more likely in women who smoked or who

  • a high body mass index
  • larger breasts (prepregnancy)
  • several prior pregnancies
When to see a doctor

Anyone who has concerns about
breast changes during or after pregnancy should see their doctor.
It is essential to seek
medical attention if breast lumps develop or if the nipples produce an unusual
discharge that does not resemble colostrum. These symptoms are likely to be
harmless, but it is a good idea to have a doctor check them.

Most women experience some
breast changes during pregnancy due to rising hormones and increased blood
However, not everyone
experiences these changes. A lack of breast changes does not signify anything
about the health of the pregnancy or a woman’s ability to produce milk or
breastfeed the baby.
Pregnancy-related breast
changes can be uncomfortable. To manage symptoms, women can invest in a
supportive bra, apply lotions to itchy skin, and wear pads for leakage. Most
changes will reverse after the delivery of the baby or the discontinuation of

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.