THEY first appear as premature little buds popping up during your teenage years, then they grow into perky, supple mounds as you blossom into womanhood. In your fruitful years, they become plump and tender when engorged with liquid love, then they gracefully yield to gravity as they ease into retirement. Your breasts are constantly evolving.
As we continue to observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we take some time below to take a closer look at some of the changes they go through at each stage of our lives.
While the primary purpose of the breasts is to produce milk for feeding babies, the breasts also serve as secondary sex organs. Consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist Dr Jordan Hardie is well versed in the changes that each pair goes through during puberty, at points in the menstrual cycle, and different stages of adulthood into menopause.
“Breast development for a young woman starts during puberty, where initially the nipple area will start to become more prominent,” he said. “As more breast tissue grows, they will start becoming more pronounced and subsequently the area around the nipple (areola) will become darker and eventually raised. This eventually forms what would appear as a second mound.”
Dr Hardie explained that by the end of puberty, the areola will have a similar contour to the breast, signalling that they are fully developed adult breasts.
The turgidity, tenderness, and even size of the breasts change each month as your hormone levels rise and fall, as if hoping that each month will be the one in which you become pregnant.
“During the second half of the menstrual cycle you may notice your breasts become very tender, and just prior to the onset of your menstrual period, you may notice they are a little more 'lumpy' than usual,” Dr Hardie explained. “This lumpiness should resolve with the onset of the menstrual flow. If it does not, or if you detect any constant lump in your breast, you should have it evaluated by your doctor, who will order further screening tests if necessary.”
The breasts are constantly preparing for a possible pregnancy during your childbearing years, and during pregnancy will increase in size, and the areola will become darker in preparation for breastfeeding.
They may begin oozing colostrum during pregnancy as they gear up for D-day, and when the right time comes, nipple stimulation can even help the uterus to contract, speeding up the labour and delivery process.
“After delivery, the breasts start secreting breast milk,” Dr Hardie added.
When breastfeeding, they quickly work out a supply and demand schedule to feed your baby according to its appetite and needs. They speed up or slow down milk production based on the frequency of feeding, until they eventually return to lying in wait of another pregnancy.
As you mellow with age, so will your breasts mellow gracefully.
“Menopause is the end of the female reproductive cycle, and this is usually signified by you not having a period for one-consecutive year,” Dr Hardie said. “It is characterised by a decrease in oestrogen production, and during this time the breast will become less firm and start to relax.”
Dr Hardie prescribed that in these years, especially, you routinely get screened and pay close attention to those resting girls.
“If there are any concerns that you may have about your breasts, it is best to see your physician and have your breasts examined,” he said.
So whether you have bubbies, boobs, titties or tatas, and regardless of whether they look like fresh grapes or raisins, your breasts are beautiful and they help to create and sustain life. While we raise awareness of the things that they can get wrong, let's remember to celebrate the wonderful things that they get right.