Leaky Breasts During Pregnancy
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In this article:
- Is It Normal For Your Breasts To Leak During Pregnancy?
- What Exactly Are You Leaking?
- When Do Pregnant Women Usually Start Leaking Milk?
- Why Do Breasts Leak During Pregnancy?
- Is The Presence, Or Lack Of, Colostrum A Cause for Concern?
- Coping With Leaky Breasts
- When To Call A Doctor
Is It Normal For Your Breasts To Leak During Pregnancy?
The somewhat surprising answer is yes! At first, it can be a bit unsettling and you may worry about your body preparing for labor prematurely. However, your breasts may leak at any time during the nine months of gestation.
Though most common in the third trimester, mothers-to-be will occasionally experience this pregnancy side effect in the second or even first trimesters. A variety of factors can cause this normally harmless event.
Some women may notice that if they experience sexual stimulation their breasts will leak. Alternatively, it can be caused by chafing of the nipples or massaging of the breasts. And sometimes it just happens, welcome to the beautiful yet odd journey known as pregnancy!
What Exactly Are You Leaking?
So what is the liquid being expelled? It is what is known as pre-milk, or colostrum. What is colostrum you may ask? Colostrum is the substance your body begins producing before your “actual” milk arrives, and it contains helpful white blood cells and antibodies.
It is a vital source of nutrients for your newborn as well. This pre-milk is considered a superfood for your baby and allows you to immediately breastfeed your little one. Though it generally only lasts for a few days after delivery, it has numerous benefits for your baby. This is especially true for preterm deliveries.
Colostrum plays an essential role in boosting your child’s immune system, digestive system, and even their adrenal system. When babies ingest colostrum it builds up their resistance to germs and illness through antibodies passed from the mother. Additionally, it coats their intestines and stomach forming a protective barrier against germs.
Colostrum also helps to move along meconium, or your baby’s first bowel movement, filter out waste to prevent jaundice, and stabilize blood sugar levels. The occasional drops of colostrum may not seem like much when you are pregnant, but in reality, you are leaking liquid gold!
Colostrum is the norm after delivery and nothing to be concerned about. But you may be wondering...
When Do Pregnant Women Usually Start Leaking Milk?
Many women will have at least one experience with leaky breasts during their pregnancy. Generally, it is in the third trimester as you approach your baby’s birth.
Why Do Breasts Leak During Pregnancy?
All this leaking and your little one isn’t even earthside yet, so why do your breasts leak colostrum during pregnancy? Colostrum starts being produced in the first trimester. In addition to colostrum production, you will also experience many other changes concerning your breasts.
Many women will notice an increase in size, fullness, and tenderness. As you go up a cup size or two, your skin is stretching to accommodate your growing breasts. This can lead to stretch marks as well as itching.
As your breasts prepare for nursing an infant and your due date draws near, these symptoms may become more pronounced. Hence, why leaking colostrum is most common in the third trimester.
During the final months of pregnancy, a hormone known as prolactin increases. Prolactin is the hormone responsible for breastmilk production. However, it doesn’t go unchecked. Progesterone and estrogen are still being produced and help to maintain a delicate hormonal balance.
As previously mentioned, colostrum flow and the arrival of your true breastmilk takes place after the birth of the baby. In order to maintain this timeline your body works hard to maintain an adequate, but not a surplus, level of hormones. Occasionally, if the prolactin hormone surpasses the others you may notice colostrum leaking from your breasts.
Is The Presence, Or Lack Of, Colostrum A Cause for Concern?
How will you be able to tell if you have colostrum? For the majority of women, colostrum will be present in your breasts anywhere from week 16 to week 22 of pregnancy and onward. However, if it is not actively leaking it might be hard to tell if it is even there.
The antenatal expression of colostrum, or the removal of milk prior to birth, is not generally recommended. If the area surrounding the areola is gently squeezed, a few drops of colostrum may be expelled.
It is important to note that expressing milk can release oxytocin which may stimulate the uterus. For this reason, the expression of breastmilk or colostrum before birth is typically not advised.
Once your baby arrives, your breasts will have colostrum ready to feed him or her. Between thirty and forty hours later your true milk should be in the beginning stages of production.
It may take a day or two for it to “come in”, or be readily available for your infant. This new breastmilk will likely be whitish in color, thinner than colostrum, and more prevalent. Some women notice the onset of mature milk happening all at once while others experience a gradual shift.
While you are pregnant, your body is working hard to prepare for birth. You should take comfort in the fact that it is very likely your body is producing colostrum and will have the ability to nourish your baby, even if you can’t see it taking place.
Not leaking colostrum is generally not a cause for concern. Still, it is perfectly normal to feel worried about being able to feed your little one upon their arrival.
Many women deal with feelings of anxiety surrounding breastfeeding, especially when comparing yourself to others. Some mothers-to-be may leak often while others might never experience this pregnancy side-effect.
The good news is, that either experience is almost always normal and should not be worrisome. Many women who have no breast discharge during pregnancy are able to establish and retain a healthy breastfeeding relationship after delivery.
Coping With Leaky Breasts
If you are producing colostrum and it is making its way out of your breasts, here is how you can deal with leaks.
Nursing pads will become your new best friend. Post-delivery moms will be familiar with these absorbent cotton pads that are worn inside your bra.
Most types of breast pads are disposable. These pads are meant for single-use and are kept in individually wrapped packaging to ensure they are hygienic.
They typically feature a cotton interior with a waterproof shell. The shell is also adhesive so that they can adhere to the inside of your bra and not shift around during the day.
Breastpads help to prevent any spontaneous leaks from soaking through your bra and shirt. You will want to change them when they are damp, or at least once a day to minimize bacteria-causing moisture.
It can also be beneficial to wear them during the night to keep your clothes dry. Some ladies find that tossing and turning at night combined with not wearing a bra causes an increase in breast leaks.
Reusable breast pads are also available from some retailers. These pads are usually machine washable and work in the same manner as disposable pads.
No matter which type of pad you choose, be sure to change them whenever you experience a leak. Moisture trapped in warm and dark areas can lead to unwanted bacterial growth.
If you find yourself experiencing a leak and are not wearing breast pads, you may want to change your top. It can be helpful to stash an extra bra and shirt in your purse or diaper bag for those emergency moments.
Typically, leaks during pregnancy will not be as severe as those experienced while nursing. Hopefully, you won’t end up with too many soaked shirts!
When To Call A Doctor
Pregnancy can be a very trying time due to all of the bodily changes a woman experiences. You should never hesitate to call your doctor if you are concerned for any reason.
However, there are a specific few symptoms regarding leaky breasts that may be worrisome to your OB. Any of the following issues likely warrant a call to your doctor.
- If you notice a drastic increase in leakage. Most women will only expel a few drops during pregnancy, if you are leaking a greater amount it could be concerning.
- If there is blood in the fluid. In general, blood in any bodily fluids is a sign that you should contact a medical professional.
Your medical professional will probably want to look further into either of these symptoms in order to rule out any pregnancy complications.
Though they may be somewhat of a nuisance, leaky breasts during pregnancy are considered a normal part of growing another human being. With the proper combination of breast pads and bra wearing, you should be able to easily manage leaks. If you are concerned about leaky breasts or simply have a question, you should mention it to your physician at your next prenatal checkup.
WebMD, Breasts Leaking, July 2018.
American Pregnancy Association, Colostrum – The Superfood For Your Newborn
Office On Women's Health, Body changes and discomforts, January 2019.
Kelly Mom, When will my milk come in?, March 2018.
American Pregnancy Association, What breast changes during pregnancy can I expect?
- Megan Moore