We connected with Mary Lynne Biener and Alex Thompson, the team of International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) behind The Breastfeeding Collective to answer all your most frequently asked lactation questions. They offer breastfeeding/chestfeeding support to families in Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area. They also have many years of experience working with families with a variety of infant feeding needs and goals and they are committed to providing inclusive, customized, and non-judgmental care.
Pregnancy and postpartum bring so many changes to your body and your life. It’s common to have many questions about what’s going on and what to expect. We hope you’ll find some of the answers to your lactation-related questions in this FAQ.
When is the right time to buy a nursing bra?
The third trimester is probably your best bet as your breasts will be closer to their postpartum size than prior to this. That said, your breast size will likely fluctuate again once your baby is born and for the duration of your breastfeeding relationship. Milk supply isn’t static, nor is one’s body in general, so plan for likely needing to purchase a different size at some point.
For example, often one’s breasts get quite large and hard during lactogenesis 2, when your “milk comes in”. Rest assured they won’t stay that large and taut because over the next weeks and months, your body will adapt and adjust to the amount of milk your baby needs.
How much are my breasts expected to grow?
It’s impossible to guess how much your breasts will grow, however it seems that those with larger breasts pre-pregnancy don’t increase in size, proportionally, as much as those with smaller breasts. There’s no science involved, just an observation over the years.
How do I know what nursing bra size to get?
Taking proper measurements is key here. If you’re planning on buying a nursing bra prior to giving birth, take measurements near the end of the third trimester. If you have to buy another one, by choice or necessity, measure yourself again. Measure twice, buy once!
If you need help taking your measurements, Knix offers Virtual Fittings.
What should I look for in a maternity/nursing bra?
Look for a bra that is supportive but not restricting. You should be able to breathe comfortably, and also feel that your breasts are well supported. Avoid underwires for the first several months so as to avoid blocked ducts. Nursing bras often have a clasp on the strap so you can pull down the fabric easily when feeding your baby. Find one that isn’t too fussy to deal with, and that you can unclasp with one hand.
As well, find one that YOU like the looks of. While it may not be what you loved pre-pregnancy, at the very least get one that is aesthetically pleasing and looks good under your clothes. It’s not always possible but the selection is getting better and better all the time (because of awesome brands like Knix!).
What other changes to my breasts can I expect postpartum?
You can expect your breasts to be larger and usually firmer. Your areolae (the darker skin around the nipple) might be darker than before pregnancy. You also may find that your nipples are more sensitive than before. You’ll probably have more visible veins if you’re of a lighter complexion.
Why am I leaking? How much am I actually expected to leak?
Not everybody leaks, but it’s certainly a common issue, particularly in the early weeks and months postpartum. Sometimes it’s simply because you’re very full, but it can also be in response to something that causes your pituitary gland to release oxytocin, which is the hormone that causes a “letdown” or “milk ejection reflex”. This can be caused by anything that causes an oxytocin rush, including hearing a baby crying, or even a hug. Sex can also cause you to leak due to the release of oxytocin.
A lot of folks leak in the early months but then don’t, and some leak their whole breastfeeding experience. It’s worth having some breast pads on hand just in case, or you may want to choose a leak-proof bra so you’ll be covered either way.
What are some tips for keeping my lactating breasts comfortable?
First and foremost, feed your baby. Removing milk regularly, whether via your baby directly on the breast or via pump/hand expression, is essential to prevent things like engorgement, blocked ducts, mastitis, and abscesses. Removing milk also tells your body to make more milk, so that can help ensure a robust supply.
When your milk first comes in, you may feel your breasts are larger, heavier, and more tender. This should subside with time and regular milk removal. If your breasts become VERY hard and VERY sore, you may be engorged, which is a sign that milk is not being removed well. If you become engorged, cabbage leaves can help ease the inflammation and pain. You place a cabbage leaf on your breast or in your bra for 15 minutes, then remove and replace with another until you’re less engorged. You may also want to make an appointment with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to ensure breastfeeding and/or pumping is optimized.
Heat can also be helpful, particularly if you’re having trouble getting your milk flowing.
But for everyday, a well-fitting nursing bra can go a long way towards having a comfortable breastfeeding experience.
Some additional tips:
If we’re going to talk about comfort, we need to address the issue of pain with breastfeeding. Pain is NOT NORMAL. Is it common? Without question. But it’s not supposed to hurt. Some sensitivity in the early days can sometimes be expected, however pain and/or trauma in the nipples or breasts is never ok and requires attention. For some folks, using a soothing ointment in the early days is enough. For many others, though, the pain and trauma can be bad enough to quit breastfeeding. If you’re in pain, GET HELP from a skilled IBCLC.
Many people also want to know if their breasts will return to their pre-pregnancy state once they are finished breastfeeding. Again, this is something that is impossible to predict, but it’s unlikely that they will ever look just as they did before pregnancy. This is because breasts are not actually completely developed until pregnancy; so many changes will be permanent.