Engorged Boobs, Nipple Pain, Breastfeeding and More
I thought it was as easy as choosing whether I wanted to breastfeed or not. I considered things like how long I had off of work and if I would be comfortable breastfeeding in public. We considered the financial tradeoff, my family’s history, my friends opinion. What I didn’t know the factors could include so many boob problems like mastitis, thrush, insufficient glandular tissue, D-MER, nipple pain, engorgement and more. My breasts after pregnancy came with a number of surprises.
We talk a lot about how you choose to feed a baby. Nursing, formula, pumping, combination. But, we don’t talk much about all the issues that can be part of that decision. The breast issues that can occur after birth can be painful and isolating and they are often still taboo. This post is meant to introduce topics, not go deeply into each.
Breasts After Pregnancy are Not One Size Fits All
By being aware of these, the goal is that we are more understanding of our bodies (boobs primarily), understand the complexity of feeding choices for ourselves and for others, and speak more openly about a part of our bodies that is often taboo.
Disclaimer: This is not intended to be medical advice, please talk with your providers about any issues or questions you may have. Also, this post contains affiliate links which means, at no extra cost to you Postpartum Together may receive a commission for items purchased from this page.
When Boobs Aren’t Sexy
Chances are, your breasts have been seen by yourself, your partner and/or others at some point in your life as a sex appeal. Breasts are part of the dominant sex narrative of our culture and are often deduced to an object of attraction. With the complicated meaning given to our breasts as we first form them in adolescence and all through our lives, the changes and function of breasts after pregnancy can feel confusing. For many women, it is unsettling to discuss difficulties related to boobs because of two narratives: 1. The sex appeal of breasts and 2. The “Natural” language surrounding breastfeeding.
Body Image and Breasts After Pregnancy
It is okay for you to explore how the changing function of your breasts after pregnancy impacts you as your consider body image and emotional response. It may take time for you to decide how you want your breasts to factor into your motherhood experience and how that impacts both you and your partner.
When we take into account how celebrated a bikini model picture is and how shamed a breastfeeding in public picture is, we can see that there is a general societal discomfort with the functionality of breasts. Whether or not you choose not to breastfeed, you still face the changes your breasts experience in form, shape and size.
RELATED: Sex After Baby, Am I Ready?
Some Boobs Can’t Produce Enough Milk for Feeding
An uncommon, but real and unspoken breast issue is Insufficient Glandular Tissue. This occurs when the mammary tissue doesn’t develop properly in adolescence. The lack of tissue results in the breasts no producing any milk or producing a very small amount. This is an uncommon issue, but very real and important for us to know as professionals, friends, and mothers. You can learn more about IGT on KellyMom
Some health problems impacting the endocrine system may have an impact on the hormonal release necessary for milk production. Health problems like PCOS, thyroid (high or low), diabetes, hypertension may factor into the body’s ability to produce milk.
Boobs Can be Physically Painful
Regardless of your choices around breastfeeding (if you do, how you do, how long you do), the body producing milk in reaction to birth can be difficult. From planning to breastfeed to planning to dry up milk supply, there are things to consider as your boobs physically change. Your boobs after pregnancy can create painful situations you want to be aware of.
Engorgement is the fullness of the breasts that can make the breasts hard and painful. This often happens when milk starts to come in (around day 3-5) and can happen throughout a feeding or weaning journey.
Engorgement can be tricky because you want to relieve the fullness and possible pain without stimulating the body to produce more milk. If you are choosing to not breastfeed or to stop breastfeeding, engorgement can be a painful part of telling your body to stop making milk. Engorged breasts after pregnancy can also lead to plugged/clogged ducts which can be uncomfortable or painful. This article from The Bump provides good information on engorgement.
Mastitis feels like the flu on steroids. An inflammation of tissue, mastitis can also turn into an infection. Bacteria entering a cracked nipple or clogged milk ducts can lead to mastitis. This is one of the issues that can require medication to heal. It can happen as your milk is coming in and your milk supply is not regulated, when baby goes through a nursing strike, when you begin wearing tight-fitting tops again, or any other point in a feeding or weaning journey (when weaning or choosing not to breastfeed, work with a professional to decrease milk supply and avoid clogged ducts). You can learn all about Mastitis in this Healthline Article.
Thrush can happen in different areas of the body throughout life- it is not exclusive to boobs after baby. However, thrush can come along with milk and feeding choices. This is another issue that can require medication and special treatment. You often can feel thrush on/in/around your nipples and with a stinging pain throughout the breast. This is from candida yeast and can be passed between you and baby (if you are nursing) or you and the pump (if you are pumping). Learn the signs and treatment of Thrush here.
Breasts after Pregnancy Can Cause Emotional Reactions
With D-MER, we are not talking about the kind of emotional reaction you felt when you walked by a frat house in that sexy top you bought in college. We are talking about DMER- Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex. DMER is the onset of negative emotions, sometimes describes as depression, anxiety, anger, annoyance, upon a let down. DMER is physiological, not psychological. This is not an indication of a direct feeling towards feeding, but a hormonal reflex (quick drop of dopamine). Some women say it feels like a pit that hits the stomach and a wave of sadness. This usually only lasts a few moments at and following a letdown. You can learn more about DMER here.
RELATED: What is Maternal Ambivalence?
Making Boobs Less Taboo
On the quest to make boob issues less taboo, it takes a group effort. It takes professional who prepare women for birth and postpartum bringing up these topics and potential struggles. It takes professionals, such as lactation consultant, postpartum nurses, etc., being educated in and openly discussing the issues that may arise during the choice of breastfeeding or not breastfeeding. This requires us, as women and the collective of mothers, sharing our experiences and stories without the fear that our boobs are “broken” or a “failure.”
Can we commit to normalizing the conversation around breasts way beyond swimsuit magazines, push up bras and sexual desirability? What if instead we made room for the conversation around the many changes that happen to and within the boobs and how that impacts us mentally, physically, and emotionally? This is the way we make breasts and specifically breasts after pregnancy less taboo and a more natural part of our lives.
Resources for Breastfeeding
If you are choosing to breastfeed and are looking for resources, you can find some of my favorites here:
Pumping/Back to Work Class