A note on terms:
Everyone has breast tissue and people of all genders can get breast cancer. To be clear and consistent, we use the word ‘breasts’ in our health information, rather than boobs, pecs or chest. When we say breasts, we mean the tissue from your rib cage up to your collarbone and armpits, including your nipples.
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Your Pregnancy Breasts
It is normal for your breasts to change during pregnancy. Both pregnancy and breastfeeding cause breast changes because your breasts respond to pregnancy hormones. During pregnancy and breastfeeding you might notice the following changes to your breasts:
- Changes in size or shape
- Changes in skin colour
- Increased sensitivity
- Visible veins
It is important that you keep checking your breasts throughout pregnancy, to help you get to know the natural fluctuations that occur.
Here are some common changes that happen to your breasts during pregnancy:
Pain or discomfort – Mild discomfort in your breasts is normal during pregnancy or breastfeeding, but anything more could be a sign of another change. Pain on its own is not a sign of breast cancer, but if your breasts hurt it is important that you discuss it with your doctor or midwife. Conditions such as mastitis or blocked ducts must be formally diagnosed by a doctor. If you wear a bra, make sure you get measured by a trained bra-fitter so you’re not wearing the wrong size. Our friends at the National Childbirth Trust have more information about bras for you, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Breast lumps – Any unusual breast lumps should always be checked out by a doctor. Talk to your doctor or midwife if you are concerned about a breast lump, whether you are pregnant or not. Some benign (not cancer) breast lumps are more common in pregnancy. These are:
- Fibroadenomas. These are not cancer but they are a common cause of breast lumps. If you had one in the past, it might come back or get bigger if you get pregnant.
- Cysts (Fluid-filled sacs).
- Galactoceles (Milk-filled cysts).
These are benign (not cancer) lumps, but they should all be diagnosed by a doctor. Do not ignore breast lumps, get them checked out!
Whether you choose to breastfeed or not, you should be informed about what to expect.
If you are breastfeeding, you will notice that your breasts naturally change. You should keep checking your breasts monthly – that will help you get to know the natural fluctuations that occur during breastfeeding. Having ‘pregnancy boobs’ is no reason to ignore or overlook signs or symptoms of breast cancer. If in doubt, get checked out.
Does breastfeeding lower breast cancer risk?
Breastfeeding reduces your lifetime risk of breast cancer by roughly 2%. The longer you breastfeed for, the more you lower your risk. It is not fully known why breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer. It might be because pregnancy and breastfeeding stop the ovaries from producing eggs (ovulation). Stopping ovulation reduces oestrogen, and that might be why breastfeeding reduces breast cancer risk.
Breast Cancer in Pregnancy
It is rare to get breast cancer while you are pregnant, but it can happen. Pregnancy-Associated Breast Cancer is breast cancer that is diagnosed during pregnancy or up to a year after giving birth. 1 in 3,000 pregnant women will be diagnosed with breast cancer every year. That means around 200 women a year in the UK. If you are diagnosed with breast cancer while you are pregnant, you are also more likely to be diagnosed at a late stage.
We know it can be scary when your breasts change, but we want to empower you to get to know your ‘new normal’. You know your breasts better than anyone else! Get checking, and always talk to your doctor if you have any unusual changes.
Signs & Symptoms of Breast Cancer
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This information was published in April 2021. It will be revised in April 2024.