From the very first moment of pregnancy a woman’s body starts to change. It changes to accommodate the fetus, then prepares to deliver the baby, and finally, it gets ready for raising the child. Among all the ongoing changes in the body and brain, the one of the most obvious are the changes in the breasts. They grow in size and become more sensitive with more pronounced areas, in preparation for nursings the baby. All these changes happen due to hormones; rapidly increasing levels of estrogen and progesterone that are released during pregnancy. These hormones change the tissue of the breasts, which can make them feel sore, swollen, tingly and unusually sensitive to the touch. There are a number of other breast changes that you should expect during your pregnancy:
- Sore Breasts
One of the first and foremost signs of pregnancy are sore breasts. Many women describe this soreness as an exaggerated version of the discomfort they experience usually before their period starts. Many might mistake this tenderness with the ache mentioned above, and not realize for a while that they are pregnant. The good news is that the soreness lessens or it disappears altogether, once you enter the second trimester of your pregnancy.
- Bigger Breast
Starting the 6th and 8th weeks of pregnancy the breasts start to grow, and they will continue to grow during the whole period of your pregnancy. It is not unusual to go up one or two cup sizes during this time. You should also note that the breasts might feel itchy as they grow or even develop stretch marks as a result of their growth over a short period of time.
- Visible Veins
The veins on the breasts become more visible, due to increased blood supply to the breasts. By the end of the pregnancy you will have up to 50% more blood in your body to meet the baby’s needs. The increase in blood volume makes the veins on your breasts and abdomen become more visible, but they will fade after giving birth and after you stop feeding the baby and the vein appearance will return to how it was before.
- Nipple Change
The nipple darkens and the areola grows in size. This change is due to the hormones that affect pigmentation in the skin. The size of the nipple will increase as you approach the end of your pregnancy to prepare for breastfeeding.
Around the third month of pregnancy the breast starts producing colostrums, a yellowish, thick substance, the special milk the baby will get when she starts nursing for the first time. In the last few months of pregnancy, this substance might start leaking, although some women never experience leaking at all.
- Lumps and Bumps
Some women notice lumps in their breasts. A common cause of these are cysts, fibroadenomas and galactoceles (cysts filled with milk). It is common to find lumps in the breast during pregnancy, these are clogged milk ducts, warm compress and massage clears the duct in a few days. These are usually nothing to worry about, but it is always is better to check with your doctor if you feel discomfort.
- Montgomery’s Tubercules
During your pregnancy, little bumps will appear on your areola. These are the Montgomery’s tubercules; a type of oil producing gland. The oil produced in these glands keeps the skin supple and discourages bacteria. Also, this oil has a unique smell, which helps the baby to recognize you and it triggers her instinct to feed.
- Breast Exam
Continuing with self-breast exams during pregnancy is very important, although it is more complicated due to all the changes the breasts undergoes. Nevertheless, it is important to continue with the examination every 4-5 weeks. In ages below 35, breast cancer is very rare, so there is no need to worry too much. However, if you are above 35, you might want to consider asking your health care provider for a mammogram, before you get pregnant.
How to Diagnose Breast Cancer during Pregnancy?
You shouldn’t worry unnecessarily, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. It is difficult to diagnose breast cancer during pregnancy, because of all the changes that happen to the breasts throughout this period. For this reason, breast cancer diagnosed in pregnant women is usually more developed and the tumors are larger at the time of detection. As we said, it is best to be safe, and not to let your pregnancy distract you from keeping an eye put for your health. Beside doing regular examinations of your breast at home, you should also visit your health care provider regularly if you are above 35, or in case any suspicion arises. If your doctor finds anything suspicious, you would be advised to have a biopsy of the lump.
During a biopsy a small tissue sample is taken from the suspicious lump, which is thoroughly examined for cancer cells. Unfortunately mammograms are not helpful for diagnosis during pregnancy, because the increased density of breast tissues. In the worst case scenario, if breast cancer is diagnosed, fortunately your baby will come to no harm. Cancer in early stages will be treated with surgery to remove either the lump or the whole breast. Again, these are just important precautions to keep in mind to be certain this special time in your life ends happily and with no unwanted surprises.