One of the amazing things about pregnancy is how your body gears up from the word go. Long before the world could see your bump, your breasts were growing - and probably becoming more sensitive. ‘Breast tenderness is not a reliable sign of pregnancy, but it’s one that women often pick up on,’ says midwifery lecturer Sian McLaughlin.
‘At around the six-week stage, your breasts will start to feel fuller or more sensitive. The first thing you notice may be tenderness or tingling, or perhaps a strange sensation of pins and needles – all signs of preparation for breastfeeding.’
But what’s the reason for all the hurry? Well, it seems that those hard-working pregnancy hormones can’t wait to start adapting your breasts for their new role.
‘Even though breastfeeding is still some months away, your body starts getting ready from the minute you conceive your baby,’ explains Sian. ‘Pregnancy hormones kick-start everything in preparation for the milk production, encouraging fat to be laid down and milk ducts to grow, while extra blood diverted to the area can swell the mammary tissue in readiness for the important job ahead.’
As well as getting bigger, your breasts might start to feel a bit bumpy to the touch. ‘This is largely because of the development of the internal milk-producing ducts and lobes,’ says Sian. ‘You may also notice that your nipples get bigger and the pigmented area around them – the areola – darkens to help your newborn baby find his way to your milk.’
And while it can be a bit awkward, most women aren’t too troubled by having breast tenderness in these first weeks – in fact, it can even be welcomed, says Sian. ‘It’s often seen as a positive sign, a physical manifestation of the pregnancy,’ she points out. ‘There’s rarely any reason to be worried about it, although it’s worth seeing your doctor or midwife if you notice any secretions from your nipples during early pregnancy.’
Once the initial hormonal surge settles, breast growth usually steadies during the second trimester. But your breasts can still feel heavy and tender, as they can enlarge
by around 5cm in size and 1.4kg in weight throughout pregnancy.
The changes pick up again before birth. ‘In the last few weeks, breasts gets ready for lactation, so don’t be surprised if you see a little colostrum (a thick, yellowish liquid) at this stage,’ says Sian. ‘A further increase in blood supply can sometimes create a map of bluish veins under the skin – again, this is a completely normal sign of the changes taking place in the breasts and nothing to be concerned about.’
When you consider the many clever processes that take place inside your breasts between conception and birth, it’s easier to understand the fact that they feel achy or tingly. ‘Breast tenderness can be significant for some women, while others barely notice the changes,’ says Sian.
‘Whether it’s persistent, or comes and goes as your pregnancy progresses, it’s usually nothing more than a reassuring sign that your body is getting ready and preparing itself for your baby’s arrival.’
3 ways to soothe tender boobs in pregnancy
If your breasts do feel uncomfortably tender, then a well-fitted bra will help. Your breasts will keep changing throughout pregnancy, so a bra that fits well now may not stay that way. If your breasts become uncomfortable again, get the fit of your bra checked.
Caring for your breasts will make your sensitive boobs feel more comfortable now and help them bounce back into shape later on. There are lots of maternity bras available, but any supportive bra that will accommodate your increasing cup size and expand around the underband will be fine, even a sports bra. It’s often said that you shouldn’t wear wired bras when pregnant, but there’s no evidence to support claims that wiring can cause blocked milk ducts.
The important thing is that your bra fits well. High-street stores such as M&S, John Lewis and Debenhams offer fitting advice. You can also contact your local NCT to see if there is a trained bra-fitter in your area, nct.org.uk.
Sleep in a bra
Tender breasts can be particularly uncomfortable at night, and a non-wired bra can help you get more sleep. Lace or synthetic materials can irritate sensitive skin, while prominent seams can chafe. A soft, cotton bra that supports your growing bust is best. The medium-support Royce ComfiBra is high in cotton content and has padded shoulder straps, £24, royce-lingerie.co.uk.
A warm flannel or a cooling pad held to your breasts can bring instant relief. Try rinsing cabbage leaves and leaving them in the fridge to chill before popping them in your bra. A more luxurious option is Mama Mio’s Pregnancy Boob Tube, £29.50 for 100ml, mioskincare.co.uk. Rich in antioxidants – including cabbage extract – this cream soothes stressed skin, as well as protecting the breasts from the effects of cup-size changes.