How Your Breasts Change
In form and function, our breasts do so much to define us as women, and just like the rest of our bodies, they evolve over time. Whether they’re giving us our feminine shape, providing our babies with milk, or becoming a possible cancer risk, changes in our breasts are something women think about throughout life.
The Younger Years
What we call “perky” breasts in younger or premenopausal women owe their appearance to denser and more functioning breast tissue, explains Virtua breast surgeon, Michele Fantazzio, MD. Pregnant women and new mothers often welcome fuller breasts as a marker of motherhood. “Breastfeeding can have a variety of effects on the breasts,” says Dr. Fantazzio. “During pregnancy the breasts increase in density due to hormones, and then after breastfeeding, the breasts become less dense as the hormones decrease, and the breast appears fatty.”
The In-Between Years
In our mid-30s, doctors recommend women start keeping a more vigilant lookout for any signs of breast cancer and get regular screenings. “Women without a significant family history should get baseline mammograms at age 35,” Dr. Fantazzio recommends. “If there are no issues, most recommend an annual mammogram from age 40 on. If there is a family history, mammograms should start 10 years earlier than the age of the relative who developed breast cancer, or age 35, whichever is earlier.” So, for example if your mother had cancer age 34, then you should begin mammograms at age 24.
Perimenopause and Beyond
“Breasts start to change with age, such as during perimenopause in our 40s and 50s,” adds Dr. Fantazzio. “During that time the breasts start to get fatty, and that’s why they sometimes sag.” Lumps – benign or malignant – can change the contour or texture of your breasts, as well as the appearance of the nipples, as some tumors behind the nipple can make it retract. If anything looks or feels different you should visit your doctor.”
The inevitable effects of gravity over time are unavoidable, but as with most things, we can abide by the laws of physical upkeep to help maintain the health and appearance of our breasts, explains Dr. Fantazzio. “Nothing can alter or slow the aging process of the breasts, but like all natural phases of aging, a nutritious diet, exercise, and not smoking can help ease the effects.”
Updated June 6, 2016