The journey your gals take over three decades.
By Zahra Barnes
Just like there’s a lot women don’t know about how their vaginas change with age, so much happens to your breasts as you get older. The changes range from their appearance to how they feel, so it’s smart to stay in the know with what’s going on.
Ready to get familiar with your chest? Read on to learn what you can expect as the years go by.
In Your 20s…
Tons of Changes
Your breast size can fluctuate for various reasons in this decade, according to Lisa Jacobs, M.D., associate professor of surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine. First, you may be dropping the freshman 15, your metabolism may slow, or perhaps you’re otherwise settling into your adult weight. “The breasts will change in size as you gain or lose weight,” says Jacobs.
Beyond that, there’s pregnancy. “In their 20s, many women get pregnant, so there’s the breast enlargement that happens with that weight gain and preparing for lactation,” she says. After the lactational changes, your breasts may seem either smaller or larger than they were before pregnancy. Pregnancy can also make your areolas darker and your nipples larger, though those both return to their pre-pregnancy states after delivery.
Common Lumps and Bumps
Fibrocystic change, which is a very common condition characterized by benign lumps in one or both breasts, often emerges when women are in their 20s, says Jacobs. Women at this age might be dealing with changes in their menstrual cycles, which means differences in hormones like estrogen. That can cause breasts to get swollen lumps, which are often totally normal.
If you feel a lump that hurts but also feels a lot like another area in the same breast or the other one, that’s a sign it’s probably fibrocystic change rather than something worrisome (lumps associated with cancer usually aren’t painful, according to Jacobs). Still, be sure to check with your doctor if you notice any major changes.
In Your 30s…
After having a few kids, the skin of your breasts can start to stretch because of the associated weight gain and loss. “That can lead to stretch marks or ptosis, which is a drooping of the breasts," says Jacobs. This is especially true if you’ve had to deal with significant weight changes during and after pregnancies, so don’t be alarmed if stretch marks appear, though they’re still more likely to show up on your stomach.
In Your 40s…
A Little Bit Softer Now
In your 40s, menopause leads to more breast changes as your ovaries start to produce less estrogen. At this point, your breasts go through what’s called involution, which is when the breast tissue is replaced by fat, which is softer, so they don’t feel as firm, says Jacobs.
Involution doesn’t happen uniformly, so one part of the breast may get fatty, leaving the tissue next to it feeling like a lump in relation. If the lumps are soft, like the side of your nose, that’s not a red flag. If they’re a bit firmer like the bridge of your nose, they should be evaluated. Either way, doing frequent self-exams can help you notice any differences you might want to bring up to a doctor. “We encourage women to do them regularly so they can stay on top of how their breasts are changing,” says Jacobs.
Decrease in Density
Although you can experience ptosis after major weight loss or pregnancy, it’s more likely to come on naturally as you age. The elasticity of your breasts can decline because the sag-preventing collagen starts to give way. This is also when your breasts become less dense. That's one of the reasons why mammograms are advised after age 40, because doctors are able to see better due to reduced density, says Jacobs.
This article was originally published at Women's Health. Reprinted with permission from the author.