Pregnancy and breastfeeding lead to a lot of changes to a Mom’s breasts, and sometimes these new developments may cause you to worry about what the painful lumps, swelling, and soreness mean. Most of the time, these are signs of breastfeeding issues that are easily treated with the guidance of your doctor. If that’s the case, what then is the purpose of a breast self-exam and why is it important for breastfeeding moms?
October is breast cancer awareness month and through the years many organizations worldwide have initiated various efforts to spread proper information about breast cancer treatment and prevention. Such efforts exist in order to protect the health of every woman. So, let’s talk about how breastfeeding Moms can take charge of their breast health through self-exams. Keep reading!
A breast self-exam can help you get to know the changes in your breasts and notice any issue that causes you discomfort or what could be out of the ordinary. But don’t worry, Mom! Lumps and bumps really do develop when you are breastfeeding and they are usually harmless. However, it is worth examining yourself because it will help you take note of any odd development that may be worth mentioning to your doctor. Asking questions and familiarizing yourself with issues regarding your breasts, with the help of a medical professional, will also give you more peace of mind rather than researching symptoms on the internet!
It’s also important to remember that breast self-examinations do not detect cancer. Mammograms, other types of screenings, and a proper diagnosis from a doctor are the only ways to catch cancer. What self-exams help you do is become familiar with how your breasts look and feel especially now that you are lactating and nursing. Breast self-exams also help you keep an eye on the size and texture of lumps so you can observe if there is any reason for concern that you should talk to your doctor about.
Some lumps go away on their own, usually after expressing milk, while some may require medical attention.
Most of the time, lumps indicate breastfeeding-related issues such as a plugged milk duct. If redness, soreness, and fever accompany the lump, then it could be mastitis, which is an infection in the breast tissue. Painful lumps that feel like multiple hard nodules all over the breast could also indicate fibrocystic breasts which are usually benign, but this condition must be monitored by a doctor for proper screening and diagnosis.
In some instances, you might notice a cyst. They can feel either hard or soft and can easily be moved around in the breast. For breastfeeding Moms, cysts are often filled with milk from a plugged milk duct. These types of cysts are normally considered harmless but they must always be examined by a doctor to properly diagnose if it’s a breastfeeding-related issue or not.
Lumps that occur during breastfeeding must be monitored to know whether they are indications of a more serious condition or not.
Experts recommend conducting a breast self-exam at least once a month, one week after your menstrual cycle. If your period hasn’t started yet after pregnancy, you can do a breast self-exam as regularly as you can. Be sure to conduct a breast self-exam after expressing milk or after nursing so that the milk ducts are drained. This will make it easier for you to detect lumps, if there are any.
Do a breast self-exam while lying down to prevent milk from leaking. It’s also a good idea to have a cloth or towel near you if leaking does occur as you examine your breasts. As you are lying down, place your right hand under your head, then use the pads of the three middle fingers on your left hand to check your right breast. You can use a circular, spiral, or up and down motion to feel your breasts. Make sure to check the entirety of the breast up to the armpit. Repeat the same steps on the left side using your right hand.
Take notice of any lumps, pain, swelling, or other issues you’d want to bring up with your doctor, especially if there are developments that may seem unusual to you.
If you notice abnormalities or symptoms, always seek the opinion of your doctor immediately. Ask questions and be open to information so you can keep protecting your health, Mom!
For more resources, check out our other breastfeeding articles.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Breast Cancer?
Ameda. Do I Need to Do Breast Self-Exams While Breastfeeding?
Murray, Donna. If You Find a Breast Lump While Breastfeeding.
Shannon-Karasik, Caroline. How To Do A Breast Self-Exam If You’re Breastfeeding, According to Experts.
National Breast Cancer Foundation Inc. Breast Self-Exam.
University of Michigan Health. Breast Self-Examination.