The beginning of breast development is one of the earliest signs of puberty in girls. Breast development normally begins about 1 year before the menstrual period begins. Some girls notice breast growth as early as age 7 or 8, while others don’t start until age 13 or so.
Breasts go through five “stages” of growth over the next five to six years, until their full maturity is reached by age 17 or 18.
In the initial stages of breast development, it is the hormone estrogen that drives the development, causing fat to be deposited in the breast, and the milk ducts to grow. This is the time for the biggest growth in size.
After the girl gets her period, the ovaries start producing progesterone, and that changes things. Progesterone causes the milk glands to develop at the ends of the milk ducts. This development causes less visible growth size-wise, but is very important for the job!
The final size of the breasts is determined by heredity factors and varies greatly among women. All sizes and shapes are normal and healthy.
In the first stage the preadolescent breast consists of a small elevated nipple with no significant underlying breast tissue.
This second stage of breast development is the breast bud stage. Here, there is elevation of the breast and nipple as a small mound; the areola begins to enlarge. Milk ducts inside the breast begin to grow.
In stage 3, there is further enlargement and elevation of the breast and areola. The areola begins to darken in color.
In the fourth stage there is projection of the areola and nipple to form a secondary mound.
In the mature adult breast (stage 5), there is projection of the nipple and only breast growth is completed.
Breasts grow in size considerably during pregnancy because of further growth of the milk ducts and milk-producing glands. Also, the areola enlarges and becomes darker.
Breast pain is common and usually caused by hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle. Taking the contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy can also cause breast pain. Some women experience breast pain every day, not just during the menstrual cycle. This pain is commonly associated with shoulder pain and may be worse at the end of the day or after exercise.
For some women, breast pain may be severe enough to need some form of treatment.
If none of these help, you may need to see a gynaecologist or a breast specialist.
Both of these phenomena occur due to rapid skin expansion and stretching. Both these problems usually get resolved within a year. Applying good quality skin moisturizers can help in this regard.
It is completely normal to have one breast be a different size or shape from the other. Many young teens will notice this while their breasts are growing during puberty, and often it will even out with time. But about 25% of adult women will continue to have persistent visible difference in their breast sizes.
Some women have a nipple or nipples that are turned in or ‘inverted’ all their lives. This is quite normal for them. Sometimes an inverted nipple can develop after you have stopped breastfeeding or while you are pregnant.
If your nipple turns in and it hasn’t in the past, it should be checked by your doctor. Occasionally it is a sign of a breast cancer under the nipple.
Performing regular breast self-exams (ideally every month) can help you become familiar with the characteristics of your breasts and notice any changes. Look and feel for any changes in your breasts which are not normal for you, or which you have not seen or felt before.
Although the regular self-breast exams is no more recommended by the medical academies and associations, the practice (ideally every month) can help you become familiar with your body.
Breast enlargement in males is medically referred to as Gynaecomastia. Although, the condition is not physically harmful, it can be a sign of a more serious problem going on in the body. Generally, gynaecomastia can be classified into two broad categories:
Hereditary Gynaecomastia is typically evident by the ages of 12 to 18 in boys. Thirty percent to sixty percent of young boys suffer from large male breasts. As many as thirty percent may live with enlarged male breasts for the rest of their lives, but in other cases the gynaecomastia will recede with age.
This is usually due to some underlying medical condition. 4 to 10% of such cases occur due to certain medications. Other rare causes include those which result in an imbalance of sexual hormones in the body, such as testicular cancer.
Treating the underlying cause of the gynaecomastia may lead to improvement in the condition. Patients should talk with their doctor about revising any medications that are found to be causing gynaecomastia. Medical attention may help during the first 2–3 years. After that window, however, the breast tissue tends to remain and harden, leaving surgery as the only treatment option.
Steps 1-3 involve inspection of the breast with the arms hanging next to the body, behind the head and in the side. Step 4 is palpation of the breast. Step 5 is palpation of the nipple. Step 6 is palpation of the breast while lying down.