How Your Relationship to Your Breasts Changes After a Baby

postpartum breasts
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When you are expecting a baby, it’s common to feel concerns about how the pregnancy and the postpartum period will change your body. After all, gestating and growing a baby is a very big deal, and your body has to go through many profound hormonal and physical changes in order to make it happen.

Many moms are particularly concerned about the changes that will happen to their breasts after birth. Whether you plan to breastfeed or not, during pregnancy, your body prepares your breasts for breastfeeding, which naturally brings a lot of changes.

Some moms welcome the changes (maybe they've always wanted a larger cup size!), while others feel less enthusiastic, and may even get upset about the changes that are happening to their breasts.

Let’s look at exactly what happens to postpartum breasts, how your relationship to your breasts changes, how long these changes last—and most importantly, how to cope, accept, and celebrate it all.

How Pregnancy Changes Your Breasts

Some of the biggest changes that happen to your breasts happen way before your baby is even born. As early as a few weeks into your pregnancy, your body is secreting hormones that are beginning to prepare your breasts for breastfeeding.

Under the direction of estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin, blood flow to your breasts increases, the lobules and ducts that will eventually produce milk start to proliferate, and your breasts begin to enlarge.

By the time you are about 16 weeks pregnant, your body starts to produce colostrum, your baby’s first milk, though it may not be until the third trimester that you can express any of it.

Some mothers even find a yellow crust on their nipples then, due to leaking drops of colostrum that have dried. Some don’t see any colostrum until their babies are born—that’s normal too.

Common Changes You May Experience

  • Fuller, heavier breasts
  • Sore, sensitive breasts and nipples
  • Darkening veins on breasts—some may pop out slightly
  • Darkening nipples
  • Small, raised bumps on your areolas called Montgomery glands, which secrete fluids to lubricate and clean your nipples
  • Stretch marks on your breasts are common and will fade after pregnancy
  • You may experience chafing during pregnancy as your larger breasts rub against your clothing—a larger, more well-fitting bra should help with this
  • Leaking colostrum, which may appear as a yellow or white crust on your nipples

What to Expect Postpartum

After your baby is born, your breasts will prepare for breastfeeding, whether you are planning to breastfeed or not.

The successful delivery of your placenta gives your body the signal to start mature milk production. You will continue to produce colostrum until about 3 or 4 days postpartum. The transition to mature breastmilk happens gradually over the next two weeks.

Many women experience a fuller feeling in their breasts, and some experience engorgement, which can become very uncomfortable if it is not managed by frequent feeding and breast emptying.

If you don’t plan on breastfeeding, however, you should only remove enough milk during engorgement so that you are comfortable. Engorgement should subside naturally within about 24 to 48 hours.

After the initial first week or so postpartum, what happens to your breasts depends on whether you breastfeed your baby or not.

If You Don’t Breastfeed

  • You should expect your breasts to decrease in size within a week or two, as your milk dries up.
  • Other changes, like darkened nipples and veins, may take a few weeks or longer to decrease.
  • Depending on how much weight you gained during pregnancy, your breasts may stay enlarged for quite some time.
  • Stretch marks and breast sagging are largely a genetic thing, so how quickly your breasts “bounce back” varies from woman to woman.

If You Breastfeed

  • Your breasts will be a cup size or two larger for most of the time that you breastfeed your baby.
  • After the first three months or so, as your milk supply adjusts to meet the needs of your baby, you may notice that your breasts don’t feels as full or leaky anymore. That is normal and doesn’t mean you have lost your milk supply.
  • Your nipples will likely remain darker with pronounced Montgomery glands for most of the time you breastfeed, though these may gradually fade after the first few months.
  • As your baby starts to eat more solid food and nurse less, your breasts may return to very close to their normal size, though if you skip breastfeeding sessions, they may become fuller or engorged.

How Your Relationship With Your Breasts May Change

Every woman’s relationship with her postpartum breasts is unique. You may even experience a rollercoaster of emotions—loving the changes your breasts have undergone one minute, and wanting to go back to your pre-pregnancy self the next.

It’s common to have many feelings about the changes you are experiencing—all of your feelings are valid, whether they are positive or not. It’s best to honor your feelings, share how you feel with a trusted loved one, and speak to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns.

Positive Feelings About Postpartum Breasts

Some women, especially small-breasted women, welcome the changes that happen to their breasts during pregnancy and postpartum. They may enjoy having a full, perkier bosom.

Some women feel proud about the changes that are happening to their breasts—they may be excited that their body is going to be able to feed their baby, and they experience wonder and awe at the fact that biology has created such a miraculous system to accomplish this.

Women who had trouble conceiving or waited a long time to have children may feel many positive emotions about seeing the changes that their breasts go through in order to welcome their child.

Negative Feelings About Postpartum Breasts

If your breasts were large before having a baby, you may find the increased size uncomfortable, cumbersome, and disruptive. Some women really don’t like how their breasts look postpartum—between the large size, stretch marks, popping veins, and leaking milk, they may wish for their old breasts back.

Many women complain about feeling like a “milk factory,” and don’t like feeling like their breasts seem to belong to their baby now. Some women experience an intensification of body insecurity and body dysmorphia in reaction to the changes that happen to their breasts during pregnancy and postpartum.

Sex and Postpartum Breasts

Many women feel concerns about what will happen to their sex lives after all the many changes that happen to their breasts after having a baby.

Particularly if they are breastfeeding, some women wonder how they can share their breasts with their baby and their partner. They wonder how their breasts can be both a baby feeder and a source of sexual pleasure.

There is so much variation for how this plays out for couples, and there is no right way to handle these complex questions and changes.

However, for the most part, it is quite possible for breasts to have more than one function, and most couples are able to navigate this well—it just takes an open mind and open lines of communication.

You can time your lovemaking for after your baby has breastfed (and is asleep or with a babysitter, of course!). This minimizes the chances that your breasts will leak during sex. One the other hand, a little leakage is normal, and a healthy sense of humor goes a long way here.

Your feelings about your breasts and sex will likely change as time goes on. Many women don’t want as much sex after having a baby—not just because of breastfeeding. They may feel exhausted, “touched out,” and uninterested. Other women enjoy the fullness and extra sensitivity in their breasts and want more sex.

This may change from day to day and week to week—again, that’s why honest and communication is key here. Most women get their sex drive back within a few weeks or months postpartum. If you have any concerns about this, talk to your healthcare provider or a trusted therapist.

Will Your Breasts Be This Way Forever?

This is the million dollar question, isn’t it? Most moms expect their breasts to go through many changes during pregnancy and postpartum, but they wonder how long these changes will last and if their breasts will ever full go back to their pre-pregnancy state.

The answer is that what happens to your breasts after baby and once you are done breastfeeding really depends. A study from the University of Kentucky College of Medicine about breast sagging found that whether or not a woman breastfed was not a factor in the permanent sagging of breasts after childbearing. The most important determining factors included:

  • Increased age
  • Higher BMI
  • Greater number of pregnancies
  • Larger breast size before pregnancy
  • Smoking

Genetics are also a major factor here, too. So if your mother and grandmothers had sagging breasts or breasts that never returned to their former size and shape, you might find yourself in that same camp.

The truth is, though, that even for some of the “luckier” ones out there who experience minimal permanent changes to their postpartum breasts, a woman’s breasts don’t ever fully return to what they looked like before kids.

Between stretch marks, stretched skin, and the natural consequences of aging, some of the changes our breasts undergo postpartum are here to stay—and that's OK!

A Word from Verywell

For most of us, it's best try to make peace with the changes that happen to our breasts postpartum. TV, celebrity culture, and the media may feed images to us of what a perfect body is supposed to look like—or of women “bouncing back” right after having babies. But these images are generally unrealistic, unhealthy models for us.

With some self-reflection, self-love, support (and yes, a good, supportive bra!) most of us can learn to accept that extra drag, budge, or pull in our breasts. Surrounding yourself with body-positive role models and sympathetic friends and family member can be so helpful here, too.

If you are finding it difficult to cope with these changes or are experiencing depression, anxiety, body hatred, body dysmorphia, or an uptick in disordered eating, please contact your healthcare provider, a psychology, or psychiatrist for help and support. It’s OK not to feel OK and help is out there for you to feel better.

Having a baby changes us forever—mostly in the best ways imaginable. And there is a way to own and celebrate that, sagging breasts and all.

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  1. Rinker B, Veneracion M, Walsh CP. The effect of breastfeeding on breast aesthetics. Aesthetic Surgery Journal. 2008;28(5):534-7. doi:10.1016/j.asj.2008.07.004

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