One of the amazing things about pregnancy is how your body gears up from the word go. Even when it is too early to take a test and long before the world can see your bump, your breasts are changing - and probably becoming more sensitive or sore.
Senior midwifery lecturer, Sian McLaughlin, gives us the low down on sore breasts during pregnancy - from when they occur, what causes it and what you can do to soothe them.
When do you get tender breasts in pregnancy?
Sore and tender breasts are often one of the first symptoms women notice during pregnancy. ‘Breast tenderness is not a reliable sign of pregnancy, but it’s one that women often pick up on,’ says Sian McLaughlin.
This is because breasts can become tender or sore very early in the first trimester. ‘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,’ says Sian.
What causes your breasts to become tender during pregnancy?
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.’
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.’
What happens with your breasts later in 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 get 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.’
Related: When to buy a maternity bra
How long after pregnancy will breast tenderness last?
The pain will eventually go away on its own, once you've fed your baby or once your body has determined how much milk needs to be made. Any pain experienced during feeding your baby will also eventually go away on its own. However, if you do experience the pain being persistent you can contact your doctor.
9 ways to soothe tender boobs in pregnancy:
1) Wear a supportive bra
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.
High-street stores such as Anne Summers, 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.