Taking Care of Your Breasts During Different Life Stages

Our breasts undergo many changes over our lifetime. Recognizing these changes and being aware of what are normal changes and what changes indicate a problem is important to taking good care of your breasts from puberty to menopause and every stage in between.

Key takeaways:
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    Breast development begins in the womb.
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    Breast buds are often the first sign of puberty.
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    Menstruation causes breast changes.
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    Pregnancy results in more breast changes.
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    Consult your PCP for any concerns with your breasts.

Breast development

Breast development starts in the womb. Men and women both have nipples. But only women can produce milk.

Breast buds

Often the first sign of puberty is the appearance of breast buds. The hormones that are released in puberty cause the area under and around the nipple to swell, causing a little bump. This is often when a girl gets her first bra.

The breasts continue to develop during puberty, and they usually stop growing around the age of 18 years. As the breasts grow, the skin can feel itchy as it stretches due to the growing breast.

Moisturizer can help relieve the itching and prevent scratching. Be careful not to damage the skin on the breasts by scratching or vigorous massage when applying moisturizer.


Monthly changes to the breasts during menstruation include tenderness and lumps in the breasts. The tenderness can be relieved with a supportive, well-fitting bra. You can also wear the bra at night to provide support to tender breasts.

Pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help with the tenderness. The tenderness and lumps during your period are due to the breasts preparing for pregnancy. If you don’t get pregnant your breasts to return to normal.

It is recommended that you see your primary care provider if you have pain or discomfort in your breasts that is not related to your period. If the pain is just in one breast it could be something that needs to be assessed as soon as possible.


If you do get pregnant your breasts will continue to prepare for breastfeeding. Tender breasts are often the first sign that you are pregnant. Your breasts will get larger in preparation for milk production. How much larger your breasts will get during pregnancy depends on the individual.

Most women experience an increase of one to two cup sizes during pregnancy. Moisturizing your breasts can help relieve the itching you might feel as your breasts grow.

A good-fitting bra can help support your breasts during pregnancy and may be used during sleep.


You might feel some tingling in your breasts as you get ready to feed your baby. This is completely normal and is called the let-down reflex. This is when the milk moves to right behind the nipple to be ready when your baby starts to nurse.

Be sure to empty your breasts to avoid plugged ducts. If you do get a plugged duct offer the baby that breast first to get the milk flowing again.

Cracked nipple care

Recent research has found that cracked nipples can be helped by expressing and applying some breastmilk to the nipples to help them heal. You can also use a lanolin moisturizer made especially for breasts.

If you are using nursing pads, make sure to change them often to minimize the amount of time the nipples are in contact with a moist nursing pad. You can also leave your nipples open to the air after feeding, to avoid trapping moisture next to your nipples.


When you enter menopause, you are no longer able to get pregnant. As your childbearing years are behind you, your breasts will no longer feed a baby. Your body responds to these changes by decreasing the fat in your breasts leading to less fullness and often your nipples will point down.

Fibrocystic breast

Fibrocystic breasts are often quite lumpy. Sometimes these lumps appear during your menstrual cycle, or your breasts can be lumpy all the time. You can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the pain. A supportive, well-fitting bra can help to relieve discomfort and can be worn for sleeping.


After breast cancer surgery, your skin will be very tender, and it will take quite some time to heal. Avoid anything around the incision that contains any perfumes or dyes or anything that might irritate your skin. After the incision has started to heal and all the stitches or staples have been removed you can apply some gentle moisturizer if your surgeon agrees.

General care of your breasts includes a moisturizer. It is recommended to use a moisturizer with SPF or sunscreen to protect your breasts when they are exposed to the sun.

It is important to know how your breasts look and feel throughout all phases of life to identify any changes. Any new lumps should be assessed by your primary care provider (PCP). This is especially important if you have fibrocystic breasts.

Cancer screening

It is important to follow the cancer screening recommendations for your age group and your risk factors.

It is important to know how your breasts look and feel at all stages of your life so that you can identify any changes. If you have fibrocystic breasts, you should consult your primary care provider (PCP) if you notice any new lumps.

Breasts go through many changes over a woman’s life. Breasts begin to develop during puberty. Often the first sign of puberty is the development of breast buds. Pregnancy and breastfeeding produce additional changes.

Then menopause reduces the amount of fatty tissue in the breasts and causes the breasts to be less full and become saggy. Always reach out to your PCP with any concerns about breast changes. For most women applying moisturizer and sunscreen to their breasts is the only skincare needed.


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