Breasts are made of fatty tissue, blood vessels, and milk ducts. The biological reason they get bigger is so that a woman can feed a baby, if or when she has one later in her life. Most girls develop breasts between the ages of 8 and 13 years old.
In this guide, we address common questions about breast development. We will also explore the signs and stages of this process, and how to look after breasts once they have grown.
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Body changes may be daunting, and having questions about these changes is perfectly normal.
It is normal for girls and teenagers to have lots of questions about their breasts as they start to develop.
Seeing the body change can be daunting, and it is perfectly normal to worry about what to expect.
Here are some common questions and answers about breast development to help guide teenagers through the process.
Should breasts hurt when they grow?
Many young women experience pain as their breasts grow and this is nothing to worry about.
These hormones make the breast tissue grow. As it does, the surrounding skin may stretch, which is one reason breasts can hurt when they grow.
The hormones that stimulate breast growth are another reason they may hurt. Hormones change the levels of fluid in the breast tissue, which can make the breasts more sensitive and even hurt.
If a young woman has started her period, her breasts may also hurt around her menstrual cycle. These aches are due to hormonal changes and are a normal part of the menstrual cycle.
Why do red marks appear on breasts?
As breast tissue grows, the surrounding skin has to stretch to accommodate the increasing size.
Sometimes the skin does not stretch fast enough and the middle layer tears slightly, causing red stretch marks to appear. This happens to many, if not most, teenagers and should not be a cause of embarrassment.
There are lots of creams available in the pharmacy to help reduce the appearance of these marks. Over time, the lines fade to white on their own and are not especially noticeable.
Is it normal for breasts to be different sizes?
It is perfectly normal for each of a woman's two breasts to grow at different rates. Even when fully developed, they may be different sizes. Having breasts of unequal size is rarely a health concern, even if they are a whole cup size different.
Unevenly sized breasts are not normally something that anyone else would notice, but young women can sometimes be self-conscious of this difference. Using padding on one side of a bra can help young women feel more confident.
Could a breast lump mean there is cancer?
A breast lump found while breasts are growing may be harmless. However, a doctor should be consulted if there are concerns.
When breasts begin to grow, they appear as a lump underneath the nipple. This is a normal part of the development process.
Most lumps are fibroadenomas or an overgrowth of connective tissue in the breast. Teenage lumps are cancerous in very few cases.
While it is likely that a breast lump that is found while breasts are growing is harmless, women of all ages are advised to be familiar with their breasts. This will allow them to spot any changes that occur.
When breasts are fully developed, women should self-examine them regularly. If they find lumps that are not normally there once their breasts have stopped growing, it is a good idea to speak to a doctor. Usually, the doctor can quickly rule out cancer.
Can young men develop breast tissue?
While it does not happen to everyone, it is not unusual for young men to develop some breast tissue on their chests as they go through puberty.
This is called gynecomastia. It is due to hormonal changes, and any breast tissue that grows is normally temporary.
Despite not being uncommon, gynecomastia can be upsetting for young men if they do not understand why it is happening. If a young man is concerned about this, they should speak to their doctor for advice.
Signs that breasts are developing
When a young woman starts to develop breasts, she may spot the following signs:
- firm lumps, called breast buds, felt underneath the nipple
- the chest feeling tender around each nipple
- itchiness around the nipples and chest area
Stages of breast development
There are five stages of breast development. These stages start from birth and progress as a young woman goes through puberty.
- The tip of the nipple is raised from birth, but the rest of the chest is flat.
- Breast buds form as firm lumps under each nipple, raised from the chest. As this happens, the area of darker skin around the nipple called the areola may get bigger.
- The breasts get slightly larger as breast tissue develops.
- The areola and nipple raise up, forming a second mound above the breast tissue.
- The breast becomes rounded with only the nipple raised. This is the final stage of development.
Breasts may continue to change and develop over a person's lifetime. Hormonal cycles, pregnancy, breast-feeding, and menopause all affect the breasts.
Caring for breasts once they are developed
Once the breasts have developed, choosing a correctly fitted bra is recommended.
Once a young woman has developed her breasts, it is important that she looks after them, as with any other part of her body.
Making sure bras or tops fit well, if she decides to wear them for support, is important. It is also recommended to have some time without wearing a bra, so that the skin can breathe.
How to relieve breast ache
Breast pains and aches often pass quickly. However, if they do not go away on their own, there are treatments that can help. These include over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen, and pain-relieving gels.
Wearing a supportive bra top or sports bra when exercising can also minimize pain.
When to see a doctor
If a teenager finds that pain when their breasts are growing is difficult to control, they should speak to a doctor. A doctor may prescribe medication to help control hormone levels if the pain is particularly bad.
Rarely, a young woman may find a lump in her breast that is not explained by the normal stages of breast development. If this happens, it is always best to speak to a doctor to rule out any health concerns.