Your breast is a wonderfully remarkable part of your body, and it is even more remarkable what it can provide to support and sustain life. We all know that all women experience breast changes at some point in their lives. Learning about the normal progression of breast growth will help you recognize any changes and seek medical attention at the appropriate time.
Breasts Changes During a Lifetime.
Every woman’s breast will go through various stages of development over the course of her life. The common belief is that women go through two full cycles of breast development. In reality, you can expect to see four distinct breast changes in your lifetime. These transitions take place during adolescence, pregnancy, birth, nursing, and menopause.
The size and form of a woman’s breasts are highly personal. Although there are more than 5,000 animal species on Earth, only Homo sapiens have permanent breasts. All other mammals develop temporary breasts during ovulation or nursing. The main purpose lies behind lactation. Once the lactating period is over, the breast is gone.
Breasts are basically mammary glands made of three types of tissue. Fatty, fibrous and glandular tissues.
- The fatty tissue gives breasts their size and shape.
- Fibrous tissue provides support and structure.
- Glandular tissue produces and carries milk.
Additionally, there are bands of flexible, supportive connective tissue known as ligaments that extend from the skin to the chest wall to maintain the breast tissue in place. Muscles also play a significant function. The pectoral muscle supports both breasts by attaching to the chest wall beneath them. Blood arteries supply breast tissue with oxygen and remove waste.
In the breast’s fatty and fibrous tissue are 15 to 20 glands called lobes, each of which contains several milk-producing lobules or sacs. Lobules are organized in clusters, similar to grape clusters.
Approximately 51% of women report that one of their breasts is noticeably larger than the other. That slight unevenness here is typical.
Changes in Puberty.
The nipple and milk duct system were created before birth. A female’s breast changes throughout her life, starting from puberty, in girls, breast development is usually the first sign of puberty which begins at the age of 8 to 13 also known as thelarche. It all starts with the growth of a small bump under the nipple called a breast bud.
Breasts are usually developed by the age of 17-18 years but for someone, they can continue to grow for a few more years.
While it’s normal for one breast to develop more quickly than the other, disparities in size and shape typically even out by the time both are fully mature. And as the bud grows, the darker skin around the nipple, also known as the areola, also develops. Once the ovaries produce the hormone estrogen and fats in the breast tissues, start to collect, making the breasts bigger and rounder over time along with milk-producing glands to grow.
Each teenage woman has her own unique pace of breast development. Additionally, it is typical for breast to feel swollen or painful prior to and during menstruation.
The following table also summarizes the changes occurring in teens,
Female breast developmental stages
Preteen. A small portion of the nipple, just the tip, is protruded.
Breasts and nips grow larger and buds’ form. The areola, the black patch of skin that surrounds the nipple, grows in size.
There is glandular breast tissue present and the breasts are slightly larger.
The areola and nipple get elevated and form a secondary hump on top of the remaining breast tissue.
In this position, the breasts level out, and only the nipple is elevated.
From the breast bud stage to stage five, the average time is between three and five years, although for some girls it might take as long as 10.
Once you start menstruating, your breasts will go through monthly changes due to fluctuating levels of the hormone’s estrogen and progesterone throughout your cycle. They will rise, and fall with your cycle causing changes in your breasts’ size, shape, and feel throughout the month.
The ovaries produce the hormone estrogen during the first half of the menstrual cycle. It enhances the development of breast milk ducts. Midway during the menstrual cycle, ovulation occurs because to the increased estrogen level. In the second part of a woman’s menstrual cycle, progesterone takes over. It promotes the development of milk glands. It is believed that these hormones are responsible for the cyclical breast changes that many women experience right before menstruation. This may cause breast swelling, pain, and soreness.
The week before the period is the time when the breast is at its fullest. They may feel lumpy, heavy, and tender. Fortunately, these feelings go away when the period begins, and at the end of the period, the hormones are at their lowest level, so they can be smaller in size. When menstruation begins, the cycle restarts.
During Pregnancy & Lactation.
According to many medical professionals, are not fully developed until after a woman has given birth and started producing milk. Modifications in the breast are an early indicator of pregnancy.
When you’re expecting a baby, your breasts will enlarge because your milk-producing glands have multiplied. Stage wise division is as follows,
- The breasts may become painful and swollen.
- The nipples may be more prominent than usual. Some
- Some women may experience breast enlargement during this time.
- The breasts will increase in size and weight requiring a larger, more supportive bra.
- One may likely have reduced breast soreness as pregnancy progresses.
- Under the skin, the veins in the breasts grow more visible. Some women experience breast stretch marks.
- The nipples and surrounding area (areola) get darker and more prominent. There may be little lumps on the areola. These bumps will disappear after giving birth.
- As early as the 16th to 19th week, women may observe a yellowish discharge known as colostrum from the nipples. This just indicates that the breasts are preparing for breastfeeding. Colostrum is the “pre-milk” that aids in disease prevention during the initial days of nursing.
- The breasts may become lumpier and heavier.
- Colostrum may start to leak if it did not happen in the previous trimester. There are, however, women who never experience leaks.
The majority of the breast is composed of fat; hence the size of the breasts can fluctuate as the body’s fat distribution shifts.
Lactation. After women give birth and discard the placenta, the breasts will go through the next phase of their transformation. Prolactin, the hormone responsible for lactation, is released to the brain at the time of placental delivery, where it triggers the production of the hormone oxytocin. When oxytocin levels rise, your milk glands “let down,” and the body’s milk production assembly line starts.
When women initially begin to produce milk, the breasts will be larger and firmer. As milk flows through the ducts, the breasts appear larger. Once the infant has stopped breastfeeding, their texture and appearance return to normal. This is how the human body is supposed to operate, therefore there is no need for concern.
One could develop a condition called mastitis. This happens when a milk duct becomes blocked. Due to mastitis, the breast appears red and feels lumpy, hot, and sensitive. It may be caused by an infection, for which antibiotics are usually administered.
Even if a mother chooses not to breastfeed her newborn, changes to her breasts will occur after giving birth.
Weaning. The second-to-last alteration that breast will experience is when the child stops breastfeeding. Also referred to as the weaning phase. Once all milk-producing hormones are no longer activated and estrogen is once again circulating in the body, the breasts will shrink. The breasts may not return to their pre-pregnancy size, yet they will shrink from their post-lactation size.
You should keep in mind that your body is unique from those of your acquaintances, relatives, etc. Breast enlargement, leakage, or noticeable color changes do not reflect poorly on the body’s ability to support the growth of the baby or to nurse. Prior to giving birth, it is important that one should discuss the changes you’ve noticed in your breasts with your doctor and a Lactation Counselor/Consultant.
Changes in Menopause.
Changes to the breasts are just one of the many hormonally induced changes that occur throughout menopause. Perimenopause begins or is well under way by the time a woman reaches her late 40s or early 50s. Changes in estrogen and progesterone levels start around this time which changes in the size and contour of the breasts may become apparent.
Reduced endocrine activity leads to a loss of glandular tissue and an increase in fatty tissue in the breasts, as well as a loss of moisture and elasticity in the connective tissue. As a result of these changes, the breast could droop or sag instead of maintaining its natural round form. However, these changes might cause breast pain, such as dull soreness, heaviness, tightness, or burning sensation. Because of natural breast size fluctuations, most women over 40 will need to switch cup sizes. One might recognize:
- Nipples pointing to the side rather than forward.
- Stretch marks.
- Drooping and flattening.
- An increase of the distance between the breasts
Once a woman reaches full menopause and no longer experiences menstruation, she should no longer experience breast pain. Hormone therapy during menopause, however, may increase the likelihood of persistent breast pain.
The bigger cause for concern is the increased risk of cysts, fibroids, and other abnormal growths in the breast tissue according to Cancer.org. Abnormal growths in women are possible at any age, although postmenopausal women have an increased risk.
Most women will develop a breast condition at some point in their lives, regardless of pregnancy or breastfeeding. Most changes are harmless, but some may be cancerous (breast cancer) but it is still wise to have a doctor take a look just in case. The best thing is having detailed information about all these changes that can occur and how to detect these changes. We have a whole article about it and related changes. Have a look here.
Preserving Breast Health & Shape.
It’s bad enough that ageing works against you, but when gravity joins the fray, it’s exceptionally cruel. Moreover, these are not the only factors working against your breasts. Damage can also be caused by the lack of care or attention one gives oneself, or by harmful habits like smoking or being exposed to the sun. Some measures can be taken to preserve the youthful appearance of the breasts.
- Maintain Weight: It is essential for women to keep their weight consistent because gaining weight might cause their breast skin to lose suppleness. When we put on weight, our skin stretches to accommodate the additional volume. After menopause, a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer is 30-60% greater if she is overweight or obese compared to if she is a healthy weight.
- Stay Supported: Overstretching and sagging of the ligaments, which are bands of connective tissue in the breasts, can occur if the breasts are not correctly supported. In order to prevent overstretching and drooping, it is important to select the proper bra. A recent study revealed that a surprising percentage of women (76%) are wearing the incorrect size bra, and among those, 29% were wearing the wrong size completely. So, it’s important to wear a well-fitting, high-quality bra. Use a sleep bra when you go to bed. These sleep bras are more lightweight than regular bras, yet they’ll still keep your bust in place. Again, cotton may be more comfortable. Women’s health experts advocate a bra that moulds the breasts, presses them on the chest wall, and has properly positioned cups, especially for larger breasts.
- Practice Health Awareness: Monthly breast self-exams will help you become more comfortable with the look and feel of your breasts, making it simpler to spot any abnormalities even though you look at and touch them every day. You can self-examine your breasts in the following method mentioned in this article.
- Screening Recommendations: Starting at age 40, it is recommended that all women undergo an annual screening mammogram, with higher-risk women discussing additional screening options with their doctors. The goal of this test is to detect breast cancer when it is still easily curable.
- Practice Good Skincare: The skin on and around the breasts is some of the most delicate in the body that is why, taking care of your breast skin is just as vital as taking care of your face skin or any other part of your body’s skin. Breast health organizations recommend daily use of a thick moisturizer on breast skin, sunblock with an SPF of 15 or higher. Also, use of moisturizers is also a good way to keep breasts supple. Specialized creams, lotions, and oils containing collagen and cocoa butter have been demonstrated to lessen the appearance of stretch marks and maintain supple skin.
- Breast Massage: Once a week, a massage will help you keep your breasts in form and boost their perkiness. It improves blood flow and prevents breast drooping. Researchers have shown that stimulating the nipples through massage can help lower the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Staying Active & Healthy: The American Cancer Society has developed nutrition and physical exercise guidelines for cancer prevention that also relate to breast health. These suggestions consist of:
- Maintaining a healthy weight requires frequent physical activity and minimizing the consumption of high-calorie meals and beverages.
- Consuming more fresh produce and healthy grains
- Reduce your consumption of processed meals and red meat.
- Consuming no more than one alcoholic beverage every day.
7. Stop Smoking. Breast sagging is largely attributable to cigarette smoking. There is also a risk of premature ageing since it generates substances that accelerate the ageing process and decrease blood flow.
8. Hydrotherapy: Increased blood flow to the breasts can also be achieved through hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy has been said based on evidence to increase blood flow and stimulate nerves, both of which may contribute to breast firmness.
9. Targeted Exercises: Doing exercises that focus on your upper body, such as bench pressing, cobra, pushups will help strengthen your chest muscles and improve your posture, ultimately leading to perkier breasts.
10. Postural Correction:
Good posture not only helps you keep the body in shape, but it may also make the bust look firmer and more prominent. To maintain correct posture, you should:
- When seated, keep your feet on the floor or a footstool.
- Prevent excessive sitting or standing in the same position.
- Stand upright with your shoulders moved back and knees slightly bent.
To learn more about how posture can help and prevent other health related complications. Refer here.
11. To Relieve tenderness Associated Pain: Follwing researched methods can be utilized to sooth the tenderness associated with any developmental changes going on,
- OTC pain relievers like ibuprofen are a good option for alleviating breast discomfort.
- Up to 60% of postmenopausal women reported relief from relaxation techniques or massaging sore breasts with over-the-counter pain treatments.
- Using hot/cold compression has helped to reduce the tenderness associated with breasts.
The breasts of every woman are different. Sizes might range from very large to quite small. Round and bell-shaped or any other. No matter what they look like or feel like, knowing them and understanding normal changes through different phases of life can help you keep them healthy and at their best. The best method to keep your breasts healthy is to perform self-exams once a month, get a clinical breast exam once a year, and obtain yearly mammograms (frequency depends on your age; ask your health care professional).