Breast changes during pregnancy

Sore nipples and tender breasts can be one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. Your breasts may feel swollen, sore, or tingly – and your nipples may be extra sensitive and uncomfortable.

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Is breast tenderness a sign of pregnancy?

Yes, breast tenderness can be one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. It usually starts around 4 to 6 weeks and lasts through the first trimester.

Why are my breasts so sore and tender now that I'm pregnant?

Like so many pregnancy symptoms, sore and tender breasts and nipples are due to surging hormones. The hormones estrogen and progesterone, as well as prolactin (the brain hormone associated with lactation) boost blood flow to the breasts and cause changes in breast tissue to prepare for breastfeeding.

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The result? Your breasts may feel swollen, sore, tingly, and unusually sensitive to touch. Some women find the sensation painful. Others say it's like an extreme version of how their breasts feel right before their period.

Are sore nipples a sign of pregnancy?

Yes. Some women find that their nipples feel extremely sensitive and uncomfortable during early pregnancy. You may hate the feeling of any sensation on your nipples – even your shirt brushing up against them. This is a temporary but possibly recurring situation. Many women experience relief from sore nipples after the first trimester, but may have sore nipples again later in pregnancy.


What other breast changes can I expect during pregnancy?

Your breasts go through many changes to prepare for nursing your baby. You may notice:

  • Breast growth. Starting around 6 to 8 weeks, you may notice your breasts getting bigger, and they'll continue to grow throughout your pregnancy. It's common to go up a cup size or two, especially if it's your first baby. Your breasts may feel itchy as the skin stretches, and you may develop stretch marks on them.
  • Veins and pigment changes. You may be able to see veins under the skin of your breasts, and after the first few months, your areolas (the pigmented circles around your nipples) will also get bigger and darker.
  • Bumps on the areola. You may not have noticed the little bumps on your areolas before, but they may become much more pronounced now that you're pregnant. These bumps are a type of oil-producing gland called Montgomery's tubercles.
  • Leaky breasts. During pregnancy your breasts start producing colostrum, the immune-boosting milk your baby will get when you first start nursing. During the last few months of pregnancy, you may leak a small amount of this thick yellowish substance, although some women start to leak earlier, and some never leak at all.
  • Lumpy breasts. Sometimes pregnant women develop lumps and bumps in their breasts. These are usually harmless and could be milk-filled cysts (galactoceles) or benign breast tumors (fibroadenomas). It's unusual for a woman to develop anything serious (like breast cancer) during pregnancy. But let your healthcare provider know about any lumps that are hard, persistent, or otherwise concerning.

What can I do during pregnancy to ease breast pain and discomfort?

Your best bet is to buy a few good, supportive but comfortable bras. If underwire bras and synthetic materials are making your tender breasts and sore nipples worse, buy a few soft, structured cotton bras with no seams near the nipple.

When shopping for comfortable bras to wear during pregnancy, try:

  • Maternity bras. Maternity bras usually have extra hooks (for your expanding rib cage) and often provide support and structure without using underwire.
  • Nursing bras. If you'll be breastfeeding, consider switching to nursing bras midway through pregnancy. These have the comfort of a maternity bra, plus clip-down cups to make it more convenient to feed your baby.
  • Sleep bras. Some women feel better sleeping without a bra, but others prefer some gentle support at night. Sleep bras typically have wider straps and a soft cotton lining.
  • Sports bras. When you exercise during pregnancy, prevent discomfort by wearing a bra that can support your larger, heavier breasts. Some sports bras are made specifically for pregnancy or breastfeeding.
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Be prepared for your bra size to change multiple times during pregnancy. In early pregnancy, your cup size may go up a letter or two. Between 26 and 30 weeks, your band size may grow as your rib cage expands. Your cup size may increase again in later pregnancy.  And after delivery, when your milk comes in for breastfeeding, your breasts will temporarily expand another cup size or two. (After your milk supply evens out, they'll likely go back to the size they were in late pregnancy and stay there as long as you're breastfeeding.)

The best strategy is to buy one or two bras at a time during pregnancy to fit your changing breasts. Then, at the end of pregnancy (around 38 weeks), buy a few stretchy nursing bras that will carry you through the first weeks of breastfeeding and beyond. (The stretch will accommodate the major breast growth when your milk comes in.) 

I haven't noticed any breast changes during my pregnancy. Does that mean something's wrong?

Many pregnant women experience breast changes, but plenty of others don't – and that's normal, too. It's not necessary for your breasts to grow bigger, leak, or feel sore to indicate that you're having a healthy pregnancy or that you're ready to breastfeed. Some women's breasts just don't change much during pregnancy.

Learn more:

The best nursing bras according to moms

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Maternity and nursing bras 101

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BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

Keyser EA et al. 2012. Pregnancy-associated breast cancer. Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology 5(2):94-99. a new window [Accessed March 2021]

Langer A et al. 2015. Breast lumps in pregnant women. Diagnostic and Interventional Imaging. 96(10):1077-1087. a new window [Accessed March 2021]

Karisa Ding

Karisa Ding is a freelance health writer and editor with expertise in preconception, pregnancy, and parenting content. A mother of two, Ding finds great joy in supporting new and expectant parents by providing information they need for the life-changing journey ahead. Ding lives in San Francisco with her family.