Pregnancy and childbirth are incredible accomplishments by your body, and once bub is in your arms, it’s time for your next trick – breastfeeding! Your breasts have been preparing for this and they undergo a magical transformation after birth – changing from something you measure in a cup size, to something that will nourish and nurture your newborn.
Here’s what to expect from your breasts after childbirth and some ways your boobs will (and may) change in the early days of motherhood.
In your first couple of days as a mum, your nipples will probably feel a bit sensitive (along with other parts) and your breasts will feel soft.
You might notice colostrum (a yellowish fluid) leaking from your nipples when pregnant, but once baby arrives, this ‘first milk’ really comes into play. Colostrum is nutrient-rich and boosts bub’s immune-system, and your boobs will produce a small dose of this magical elixir at each feed.
After about three days of serving up colostrum, your breasts will start to feel fuller, firmer and warmer. This is a sign that you’re producing more breast milk and that the colostrum is changing to mother’s milk.
Your milk ‘comes in’ when your boobs are filling up with milk and not colostrum. Expect your breasts after childbirth to feel heavy and swollen as they get used to supplying milk on tap.
The ‘let-down’ reflex
Its name might sound a little disappointed, but the ‘let-down’ reflex is actually a positive thing.
When your newborn sucks at your breast, nerves send a message to your brain that milk is needed pronto. This causes hormones to make more milk and push out the milk that’s already in your milk ducts. Your boobs will feel tingly and full, and when milk spurts from your nipple, it’s called the ‘let-down’ reflex. Hooray!
With a new bub, your breasts are on high alert for the merest whiff of ‘hungry baby‘ and just seeing, hearing or thinking about your baby can set off the reflex. This means your breasts will leak lots of milk in the first few days or weeks – or even months if you have a ready supply – so it’s a good idea to put breast pads in your bra to soak up any spills.
In the early days of breastfeeding you might feel a twinge in your uterus on let-down, especially if you’ve had a baby before. Don’t worry, though, you’re not going into labour again! These afterpains are how your uterus gets back to its pre-pregnancy size and they usually stop after a few days.
Too much, too soon
Once your milk comes in, there can be a settling in period where your boobs and bub work out the whole supply and demand relationship.
It’s quite common for new mums to make more milk than their baby can drink. ‘Engorgement‘ can occur when your breasts are overfull or not completely emptied during feeding; and the end result is that they feel hard, hot and sore.
To help your boobs feel happy again, try feeding on demand (whenever baby wants milk), massaging your breast while feeding, changing your breastfeeding position so all the milk is emptied or expressing excess milk. Ice packs or a cold cabbage leaf in your bra can help too. Yep, lots of mums swear by the cabbage leaf!
Milk ducts transport milk from your breast to nipple, and if they get blocked, you can end up with a sore lump. The best way to avoid a blockage is to feed often and avoid tight bras and tops.
If you do get a block milk duct, then breastfeed from the painful boob first and try different feeding positions (to empty all that milk). It can also help to massage the lump towards the nipple and rest up (as much as a new mum can!). If you still have the lump after 12 hours or are feeling unwell, then see a doctor.
Hot and cold
For some mums, a blocked milk duct can lead to an inflammation called mastitis (or ‘milk fever’). Your doctor will treat the flu-like symptoms, and it’s important to keep up regular breastfeeds (don’t worry, it’s safe for bub).
Breastfeeding is a natural thing, but that doesn’t mean it always comes naturally. Your nipples might feel bitten, cracked and miserable if bub isn’t latched on properly, so it’s worth seeing a lactation consultant if you need some help. Your nipples will thank you!
Every woman is different and if you don’t breastfeed, your body will get the hint and dry up your milk. Your midwife will be able to answer any questions.
The National Breastfeeding Helpline provides free breastfeeding counselling and is just a phone call away.
The early days with your newborn are exciting, enlightening and, yes, exhausting. Your boobs will be with you every step of the way, so get ready for their amazing transformation into milk machines, and enjoy this beautiful time with your newborn. So little, so sweet and so, so hungry!