breasts after birth

Having a baby means a lot of new stuff is going on with your breasts, from how they look or feel, to what is coming out of them. Here’s what to expect…

Let’s be honest. Of all of the things that cross our minds about our post-baby bodies, worries about our breasts are high on the list.

Will your breasts be sore? Saggy? Will they get too full with milk? And what is mastitis? Here’s what you need to know about your post-baby breasts…

Sagging

We’ve all wondered it: can our breasts ever be as perky again after having a baby? Well, most women say that the shape and look of their breasts changes after they give birth. The main changes women mention is that their breasts become bigger and less firm (Piscane and Continisio, 2004).

But… breastfeeding doesn’t seem to cause these changes. Women in one study who had formula fed their babies reported similar changes to those who breastfed (Rinker et al, 2008). Being older, weighing more, the number of pregnancies and having a larger pre-pregnancy bra size all affected whether breasts sagged more after birth (Rinker et al, 2008).     

Milky breasts

If you are breastfeeding, three or four days after giving birth your breasts might feel tight and tender as they start to produce milk. (Before that, a different substance called colostrum comes out.)

Once you’re producing milk, you might have breast milk leaking from your nipples. Breast pads can help stop your clothes getting wet and you can change them frequently to lower your risk of infection (NHS Choices, 2015).

Cracked nipples

If you’re breastfeeding, you might also have sore or cracked nipples. This usually happens if your baby isn’t well positioned or attached at the breast. Ask your midwife for help on positioning or check out this handy guide to a good latch (NHS Choices, 2016b).

Another couple of tips are that some women swear by massaging breast milk on their nipples. Others use a thin smear of white soft paraffin like Vaseline (Dennis et al, 2014).

Breast engorgement

Breast engorgement usually happens when your breasts are full of milk and feel hard, tight or painful. This can happen in the early days, or when your baby is older and you are not feeding as frequently (NHS, 2016a).

"More blood flows to your breasts when your milk comes in, adding to the feeling of fullness."

Make sure your baby has a good latch and feeds on demand (when and for how long your baby wants to). If it’s still not eased by doing this, try expressing (Mangesi and Zakarija-Grkovic, 2016).

You could also try soothing your breasts with chilled cabbage leaves (yep, seriously) to reduce pain and swelling, and take paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve pain (NHS Choices, 2016a). If you’re still engorged after 24 to 48 hours of this, ask your midwife for advice. A few things could be at play, like a tongue tie that’s taking its toll on your baby’s feeding.

Blocked milk ducts

If breast engorgement continues, it can lead to a blocked milk duct. If you have this, you might feel a small, tender lump in your breast. Frequent feeding from the affected breast, massaging the lump towards the nipple and warm flannels or showers can help (NHS Choices, 2016a).

Mastitis

If a blocked duct stays for too long, it can turn into mastitis. This is where the breast feels hot and painful and you might feel like you’ve got a horrible dose of the flu (NHS Choices, 2016a).

To help your affected breast, keep feeding from it, use warm flannels to improve milk flow and pump if it still feels full after breastfeeding (NHS Choices, 2016a). If symptoms persist, pop to your GP as you might need antibiotics (Jahanfar et al, 2013). It’s important to treat mastitis if it’s not going away because it can lead to a breast abscess (NHS Choices, 2016a). An abscess is a painful build-up of pus in the breast that might need to be drained (NHS Choices, 2017).

This page was last reviewed in February 2018.

Further information

NCT supports all parents, however they feed their baby. If you have questions, concerns or need support, you can speak to a breastfeeding counsellor by calling our helpline on 0300 330 0700, whether you are exclusively breastfeeding or using formula milk. Breastfeeding counsellors have had extensive training, will listen without judging or criticising and will offer relevant information and suggestions.

You can also find more useful articles here.

Dennis CL, Jackson K, Watson J. (2014) Interventions for treating painful nipples among breastfeeding women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.(12):CD007366. Available from: https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD007366.pub2/full [Accessed 1st February 2018].

Jahanfar S, Ng CJ, Teng CL. (2013) Antibiotics for mastitis in breastfeeding women. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.(2):CD005458. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27355802 [Accessed 1st February 2018].

Mangesi L, Zakarija-Grkovic I. (2016) Treatments for breast engorgement during lactation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.(6):CD006946. Available from: https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD006946.pub3/full [Accessed 1st February 2018].

Mohammadzadeh A, Farhat A, Esmaeily H. (2005) The effect of breast milk and lanolin on sore nipples. Saudi Med J. 26(8):1231-1234. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16127520 [Accessed 1st February 2018].

NHS Choices. (2015) You and your body straight after birth. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/you-after-birth/ [Accessed 1st February 2018]

NHS Choices. (2016a) Breastfeeding problems. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/problems-breastfeeding/ [Accessed 1st February 2018].

NHS Choices. (2016b) Sore or cracked nipples when breastfeeding. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/sore-cracked-nipples-breastfeeding/ [Accessed 1st February 2018].

NHS Choices. (2017) Breast abscess. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/breast-abscess/ [Accessed 1st February 2018].

Pisacane A, Continisio P. (2004) Breastfeeding and perceived changes in appearance of the breasts: a retrospective study. Acta Paediatrica. 93(10):1346-1348. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15499956 [Accessed 1st February 2018].

Rinker B, Veneracion M, Walsh CP. (2008) The effect of breastfeeding on breast aesthetics. Aesthet Surg J. 28(5):534-537. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19083576 [Accessed 1st February 2018].

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2016). Heavy bleeding after birth (postpartum haemorrhage). Available from: https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/patient-information-leaflets/pregnancy/pi-heavy-bleeding-after-birth-postpartum-haemorrhage.pdf [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Further reading

NHS Choices. (2016) Your post-pregnancy body. Available from:  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/your-body-after-childbirth/ [Accessed 1st February 2018]

NHS Choices. (2016) Stretch marks in pregnancy.  Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/stretch-marks-pregnant/ [Accessed 1st February 2018]

NHS Choices. (2016) Sleep and tiredness after having a baby. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/sleep-and-tiredness/ [Accessed 1st February 2018]

Related articles

breasts after birth

Local activities and meetups

NCT Membership
Support NCT Charity by becoming a member

Courses & workshops

Baby First Aid

Find out more

NCT Early Days course

Find out more

NCT Introducing Solid Foods online workshop

Find out more