Breasts is made up of skin, glandular tissue, connective tissue, ductal lobule units, ligaments, and fat. While breasts are always changing, they are not completely mature until pregnancy or lactation occurs. “The ductal lobule units don’t get mature until they get the signal of lactation, or sometimes they just tired and fully mature about two years after we start our menstrual period,” says Amanda Wheeler, MD, breast surgeon at Stanford Health Care and clinical assistant professor of surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California.
Once a woman enter the perimenopausal years — usually in their forties — changes that lead to sagging begins. “The ductal lobule units are no longer supported by hormones, because we’re not getting our menstrual period anymore. When that happens, they shrivel up and shrink. Then you get fatty replacement of the breast,” Dr. Wheeler explains. “Plus, as we age, connective tissue, which suspends the breasts up and acts as our natural underwire of the breast, gets stretched. The breast skin begins to lose elasticity, too, and both contribute to sagging.”
Breast Lumps Usually Aren’t Cancer
If you discover a lump in your breast, definitely contact your doctor. Then take a deep breath and consider this: Most breast lumps are not cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Rather, the most common types of lumps are fibrosis, cysts (fluid-filled sacs), and other non-cancerous or benign breast tumors.
“Fibrosis is a mass of connective tissue. I tell patients it’s like a pearl inside an oyster, and the breast forms a layer of tissue around it. When we take them out, they’re white and soft and rubbery,” says Wheeler.
A swollen, painful lump may be a breast abscess, or collection of pus caused by an infection. Smoking can increase your risk of breast abscesses. “Many patients are surprised by this, but the nicotine gets stuck in the blood vessels and causes clogging of the ducts, which can cause an abscess,” Wheeler says.
Your Left Breast Is Bigger Than Your Right
No two breasts are alike, even on the same person, says Wheeler. “While a woman’s nipples and areolas tend to be consistent on both breasts, the left breast itself is usually larger than the right.” Other differences may include one being higher or rounder than the other.
With regard to overall size, the specialty bra store Intimacy reported that its customers’ bra sizes grew from an average of a 34B to a 34DD or 34E at their stores over the past 20 years or so. The retailer gathered information by interviewing more than 60,000 customers across the United States in 2013, and then compared the results to a study it conducted in 1992.
Areolas Change Color During Sexual Arousal
You’re probably aware that your nipples perk up during sexual arousal, but did you know that your areolas get in on the action, too? “They tend to get darker,” says Wheeler.
On the inside of your breasts, swelling occurs. “Women will sometimes say ‘my breasts become really perky or swollen during sex,’ and that’s because of increased blood flow that occurs during arousal,” Wheeler notes.
While breasts ignite pleasure for women during sex, it’s obvious that men enjoy them, too. If your partner tends to gravitate toward sucking on your nipples, Wheeler says to take caution. “We have openings around our nipples, and if saliva that isn’t clean gets in those openings, it can cause an infection that’s transferred through the nipple.” A simple solution is to wipe off your nipples or jump in the shower after sex, says Wheeler.
Breasts Move in a Figure 8 During Exercise
For large-breasted women, exercise (especially running) can pose a problem. Nethero says research out of the United Kingdom shows that unsupported breasts move up and down 4 to 15 inches in a figure-eight pattern when a woman is exercising. “It’s possible for ligaments to get damaged because of this,” she says. “Rather than wearing a traditional sports bra that pushes the breasts against the chest wall, a well-fitting sports bra that’s sized according to your cup size is much more effective.”
Wheeler acknowledges that it’s logical for your breasts to move during exercise, but has never seen trauma in a woman’s breast due to exercise. “Remember, if you are large breasted, you’re likely to be overweight, and the fat in your breast is usually directly proportionate to the rest of the fat in your body,” she says.
Some People Have More Than Two Lactating Nipples
Cats, pigs, and cows all have numerous nipples. Humans can, too. “We can have nipples anywhere along the milk duct line, from the armpit down to the groin,” says Wheeler. Called accessory nipples, these can even produce milk. “Most aren’t fully functional, but women who have them can lactate from them during pregnancy and breastfeeding.”
Accessory nipples are actually more common in men than in women. “The literature says 1 in 18 men, and 1 in 50 women, are diagnosed with accessory nipples,” says Wheeler. “One of the reasons more are diagnosed in men may be that women see them and know what they are, so they don’t bring it to their doctor’s attention, where men may have no idea what they are, so they are more likely to bring it up.”
Breastmilk Can Sustain a Baby for 6 Months
Humans are designed to be exclusively breastfed for about 6 months, and then we’re supposed to eat some food in addition to breast milk, says Katharine Giancola, RN, a lactation consultant at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. “If you’re in a poor area or war zone and can’t give a baby any food, breast milk can sustain a child longer,” says Giancola.
When it comes to the amount of breast milk a baby should get, Giancola says it’s up to the baby. “It’s not a supply and demand system. It’s a demand and supply system, meaning the more request that the baby makes, the more your body will respond by making the milk.”
On average, babies between 1 and 6 months require about 25 to 35 ounces of milk every 24 hours, according to Breastfeeding USA. Women who are breastfeeding multiple babies can produce more milk. “Some women will feed twins, or an older child and a younger child, at the same time, and the breasts will accommodate that. We can even breastfeed while pregnant,” Giancola notes.
We Want Bigger, Perkier Boobs
For the past decade, breast augmentation has been the most sought-after form of plastic surgery, with the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) reporting that 286,000 were performed in 2014. But people are trending toward the perky — rather than large — side of things. Breast lifts increased by 75 percent from 2000 to 2014, according to the ASPS.
Chances Are You’re Wearing the Wrong Size Bra
Intimacy founder Susan Nethero says that even though women’s breast shape, size, and perkiness or sagginess change about six times throughout their lives, women don’t get fitted often enough to ensure that their bras are properly evolving with their breasts.
The most common problem stylists at Intimacy see is bras that are too big around, and too small in the cup. “You want the bra to be firm around the back so that the breasts get lifted up, making you look more proportionate,” Nethero says. “When the back of the bra gets larger, so does the cup, so you’ll most likely want to go down a cup size. For instance, if you’ve been wearing a 34C, your size is probably more accurately a 32D.”