Amazing facts about your breasts
From the moment you conceive, your breasts are ready for action. Helen Foster reveals all the fascinating facts you never knew about breasts.
1. Your breasts can shoot milk several feet at the sound of a baby's cry
'Milk sacs have a contractile unit that responds when your body releases the hormone oxytocin – and that can happen when you hear your baby cry, or even when hanging out their washing if that triggers an emotional response,' says breastfeeding specialist Geraldine Miskin from Breastfeeding Experience. 'In some cases the milk can spray five feet or more – smaller-breasted mums seem to have a stronger milk ejection reflex, maybe because the distance from the glandular tissue to the nipple is shorter than in larger-breasted mums.'
2. They might start to leak from around 18 weeks
The fluid that's coming out is colostrum. 'I describe this as Red Bull for babies,' says Sioned Hilton, lactation consultant at Medela UK. 'It's what they feed on for the first few days and it is packed with energy, antibodies and antiviral substances. Drinking colostrum is like their first vaccination.' While some early leaking of a little colostrum is very normal, if you're leaking enough to soak through a breast pad at this point, it's best to mention it to your doctor.
3. Tender breasts can be the first sign of pregnancy
This is because your hormones surge the moment you get pregnant and this triggers increased sensitivity.
4. Breast milk testing is becoming a trend
In the US tests are available that check whether alcohol has left your system before you breastfeed (something experts say might not be hugely reliable). Here in the UK, a new test has launched which checks the levels of vital omega 3 and 6 in the milk, and is no less controversial. Despite being created by a respected team of scientists at Scotland's Stirling University, some experts say it's an unnecessary worry and we don't need to focus on exact numbers.
5. In theory, men can breastfeed
In fact it's been done by a widower in Sri Lanka who breastfed his baby after his wife died – although admittedly, he did have a hormone imbalance that experts believe might have been behind the phenomenon. But all men have the ducts and glandular structure to produce milk.
6. If you're running pre- or post-pregnancy, wear a good sports bra
Wearing a good sports bra when exercising prevents further drooping and may reduce injury risk. A study at the University of Portsmouth found that if breasts are unsupported your gait changes and you land more heavily.
7. It's not just breast size that changes during pregnancy
'A lot of the increased volume is due to a much higher blood flow to the breasts – and this will leave them feeling warmer than normal,' says Miles Berry, co author of The Good Boob Bible (£7.99, John Blake Publishing).
8. It's possible to develop more nipples
'Humans are mammals and as such we can have nipples anywhere in a line down to the stomach – a lot of women think these are just moles, but in pregnancy they can grow darker and even lactate,' says Sue McDonald, breast support expert and co-inventor of the Optifit bra.
9. It's just been discovered that there are 415 different proteins in breast milk
Over half of these had never been found in human milk before the team from the Hartmann Human Lactation Research Group at the University of Western Australia subjected samples to their million-dollar measuring device. Also, milk produced by mothers of premature babies differed slightly in its protein content to that of mums who carried to term.
10. Breast size is no indication of how much milk you'll produce
All women produce about the same amount (found in one study to be roughly 435ml over 24 hours). 'However, size can determine how often you should feed,' says Geraldine. 'Typically there are lower levels of glandular tissue in smaller breasts. As milk is produced on demand, mums with smaller breasts – while producing the same overall – may produce smaller amounts at each feed. I recommend they offer both breasts at each feed.'
11. Underwired bras were once considered a big no-no during pregnancy and breastfeeding
This was in case they compressed all the 'plumbing' and raised the risk of problems such as mastitis.
But there's no evidence of this and as long as the bra fits well you should be fine.
12. Right breast produce more milk than the left
University of Western Australia Research has found that right breasts tend to produce more milk. 'no one knows why – it's not related to whether you're right- or left-handed,' says Sioned.
13. Boobs have a 'tail' of breast tissue
This extends towards or even into the armpit – and this can also grow during pregnancy. 'It's referred to as the axillary tail – and can cause some surprise if it enlarges,' says Miles.
14. Dropping or ptosis, does not appear to be caused by breastfeeding
'It's a frequently cited reason why women don't breastfeed so I wanted to study it,' says University of Kentucky professor Dr Brian Rinker. 'There was no increased rate of ptosis in women we interviewed who had breastfed. Drooping was associated with age, smoking and the size of the breasts before pregnancy (larger breasts sag more), not breastfeeding.'
15. For women whose breasts are causing them serious mental distress the surgical route could be a last resort
Plastic surgeon Paul Banwell from the McIndoe Surgical Centre in East Grinstead explains the three options as: 'An implant, a breast lift or a combination of the two.' And newer 'anatomical' implants (aka 'teardrops') might give more natural results in post-pregnancy breasts. This is because the nipple often points downward after pregnancy, and these implants lift it up and forward.
16. Adults drinking breast milk is now a trend in China
The South China Morning Post has reported that adults in high-pressure jobs are hiring wet nurses, thinking that breast milk boosts their immunity. It costs, on average, £1,600 a month.
17. Learning the cheek-boob rule could prevent mastitis (breast inflammation).
Geraldine says that in order to drain the breast fully, ensure that both your baby's cheeks are touching the breast as you feed them. 'This might mean moving the baby slightly from the normally recommended "tummy to mummy" position, which doesn't always work so well if your nipples are pointed downwards,' says Geraldine. If your baby's nose is too squashed against the breast you might need to scoot their bottom closer to you to change their angle.
18. Bigger breasts might mean you're having a girl
A study by Professor Andrzej Galbarczyk from Poland's Jagiellonian University Medical College has found that women having girls had an 8cm increase in cup size, compared with a 6.3cm increase in those having boys. 'One reason could be that the level of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) which controls the mammary gland growth is higher in the presence of a female foetus,' he told us.
19. The little bumps on your nipples emit a scent that stops babies feeling pain
It also lowers their levels of stress hormones, say researchers in Japan.
20. It's not just your breasts that kick into action during breastfeeding
You have hair-like growths called villi inside the intestine that absorb nutrients and when you start breastfeeding they actually expand, helping you absorb more goodness from food. On top of this, a study from the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland showed that bones strengthen if you breastfeed.
21. There's no hard and fast rule as to what happens to the size of boobs after the birth of your baby
'About a third of the women we studied said their breasts had remained the same size,' says Dr Rinker. 'Another third said they were larger and the final third said they had got smaller. Most did notice an increase in drooping though.'
22. A lactating breast utilises more energy than the brain
30 per cent of total energy levels compared with 20-25 per cent used by the brain. This is why breastfeeding burns so many calories.
23. Breasts have a homing system
The bumps on the nipples send out a scent so a newborn baby can find their way to the nipple. 'This is also the reason why the areola darkens,' says Sioned. 'Babies can only see light and dark so creating a greater difference in colour between breast and nipple helps them find their way.'
24. A newborn nappy may be your new 'breast' friend
Cooled white cabbage leaves are often cited as a home remedy to soothe sore breasts, 'but just as good is soaking a clean newborn-size nappy in cold water and placing that round the breast. It's just the right size to stay put,' says Sioned.
25. Once you have a baby, your breasts are mature
'The breast is the only organ in the body that fully matures only at pregnancy. Women who have not been pregnant are therefore referred to as having immature breasts,' says Geraldine.
Read Helen's blog here.