Your answers to sexual and reproductive
An initiative of CyberSansar & Health Support Systems for Youth Awareness
Breasts are considered "secondary" sex organs. Although they have no primary function in sexual reproduction, they are sexually sensitive. Breasts develop during puberty. Even though they're not directly responsible for reproduction, they still play a big role in your sexuality.
Breasts not only attract partners, but can also give a lot of sexual pleasure without the risk of pregnancy or infection, AND they make milk to feed and nurture babies!
The main thing about breasts is that they can be as different as any two women are. Almost anything is normal. They come in all sizes, shapes, and colors. And when they are developing, they change all the time. As soon as you get used to them one way, they are likely to become different.
The breasts (mammary glands) are a pair of glandular organs that produce milk in response to the hormonal changes of childbirth. They are mainly made up of fatty tissue, which starts high on the front of the chest and extends down and around into the armpit. They are supported by ligaments and large muscles.
Each breast has 15 to 20 lobes with a number of lobules and ducts surrounded by fatty and supportive tissue. Each lobule has about 30 major ducts that open on to the nipple. The darker area of skin around the nipple is called the areola. At the edge of the areola there are large glands that produce fluid to lubricate the nipple.
In each armpit there are about 20 to 30 lymph nodes (glands), which drain fluid from the breast. These lymph nodes form part of the lymphatic system that helps the body to fight infection.
It's common and perfectly normal for one breast to be larger than the other. The nipples usually point forward, although they may look different on each breast. It's not unusual for one or both nipples to be turned inwards (inverted). This can be present from birth or can happen when the breasts are developing. The nipples themselves are hairless, but some women may have a few hairs around the areola.
A small number of women have an extra breast or pair of breasts. These are usually in the lower armpit and are known as accessory breasts. Some women have an extra nipple or nipples. These are usually below the breast or above the belly button. Accessory breasts and extra nipples aren't usually a problem and don't need to be removed.
The breasts are constantly changing from the time of puberty through adolescence and the childbearing years and into the menopause, affected by changing levels in the female hormone estrogens. Everyone's breasts develop at a different rate. You can start as early as eight years old or as late as 16. Most girls' breasts develop between the age of 9 and 14. They can grow slowly or quickly regardless of when they start to develop.
If you get your period and your breasts and nipples are totally undeveloped, you should see your doctor to just make sure that everything is on track.
For most girls, breasts start to develop around the age of 9 to 11, but it can be earlier or later. It's not unusual for the breasts to grow at different rates. Breast lumps can occur while the breasts are developing. These are always benign and don't usually need any treatment once they have been diagnosed.
Once the breasts have developed, changes linked to the monthly menstrual cycle (cyclical breast changes) are common. Just before a period, your breasts may become larger, tender or feel a bit lumpy. After a period, this lumpiness becomes less obvious or may disappear altogether (although some women may have tender, lumpy breasts all the time). Many women also experience breast pain linked to their menstrual cycle (cyclical breast pain).
During pregnancy, the breasts get much larger as the number of milk-producing cells increases. The nipples become darker and may remain like that even after you have given birth.
Lumps around the menopause are common. These often turn out to be breast cysts (benign fluid-filled sacs).
Breast tissue also changes with age. It begins to lose its firmness and the milk-producing tissue is replaced by fat, making the breasts sag. This is more noticeable after the menopause, when estrogens levels fall. As you grow older, your breasts may change in size too. If you take HRT (hormone replacement therapy) your breasts may feel firmer and sometimes quite tender.
Most people worry about the size of the breasts. Breasts can be tiny or enormous, and it seems that we all waste a lot of energy wishing ours were either larger or smaller. Whether yours are lemons or grapefruits, they're normal.
Small: Some girls worry that having small breasts makes them less feminine. But the tiniest breasts can be really sexy and can work great for sexual pleasure and breast-feeding babies. So if yours are on the small side, try to consider them a well-kept secret.
Large: If girls with small boobs can feel asexual, girls with big boobs often get treated like they are overly sexual. Some girls feel that once their breasts develop, no one notices anything else about them. We say — Be proud of what you've got!
Lopsided: While boobs come in pairs, they are not always a perfect match. Your two breasts can develop at different rates. Sometimes this evens out, and sometimes it doesn't. Either way, it is normal! If you feel self-conscious about it, you can pad one side of your bra. But even after puberty is over, most women's breasts, like the two sides of our faces, differ somewhat from each other.
Color: Nipples come in a whole range of colors, from light pink to brownish black. The color of your nipples usually corresponds to your skin color. Got dark skin? You've probably got darker nipples. As your breasts develop, your nipples and areola (the area around the nipples) also gets darker.
Inverted: A lot of girls and women have nipples that are inverted. They're like slits instead of buttons. Guess what? This is also normal. Sometimes only one nipple is inverted. Sometimes they invert or correct themselves during development. Inverted nipples work just fine and don't mean you can't breast-feed later if you choose to.
Hair: As you've probably noticed, puberty means hair starts cropping up in unexpected places, including your breasts. It is totally normal to have some hair growing around the outside of your areola. You can leave it alone or if it really bothers you, you can remove it with tweezers.
Erections: Breasts like the penis and the clitoris, nipples get erect. Cold, friction, sexual excitement, and even nerves can cause your nipples to become hard and sort of pop out. If this embarrasses you, sometimes rubbing your nipples can make the erection go away. If you're really self-conscious, wear a bra that has a lining or pads.
Soreness: It's normal for breasts to feel sore or tender as they develop. This discomfort will go away as growth slows down.
Stretch Marks: Many girls get stretch marks on their breasts. This is because our skin cannot always keep up with the growth happening beneath it. Stretch marks may start out pink or red and raised, but will eventually fade or be much less noticeable.
Breasts can give you a lot of sexual pleasure. They are basically "freebies," since you cannot get pregnant or catch sexually transmitted infection by going to "second base." Most girls' breasts and nipples are sensitive to stroking, touching, and kissing. Looking at the breasts, kissing the breasts or feeling them, turns on a lot of people. Some partners are clumsy in the way they handle breasts and need to be told or shown how to do it in a pleasing way. Some women, of course, aren't crazy about having their breasts touched, and this is normal, too.
Breast self-examination (BSE)
BSE is an easy but unreliable method for finding possible Breast cancer. BSE is a useful screening tool, particularly in women who have a family history of breast cancer. If performed appropriately and regularly, it can help in early detection of some types of breast cancers. The method involves trying to feel Breasts for possible distortions or swelling.
How to perform BSE
The steps involved in self exam are:
•Stand in front of a mirror with top exposed.
•Place hands on hips.
•Look for signs of dimpling, swelling, soreness or redness in all parts of your breasts in the mirror.
•Repeat with arms raised above your head.
•While still standing, palpate your breasts with your fingers, feeling for lumps. Try to use a larger area of your fingers rather than prodding. Feel both the area just beneath the skin and the tissue deeper within.
•Go over the entire breast while examining - a useful method is to divide the breast into quadrants and go through each quadrant carefully. Also examine the "axillary tail" of each breast that points towards the axilla (armpit).
•Repeat palpation while lying down.
•Check the nipple and the area just beneath them. Gently squeeze each nipple to check for any discharge.
The 7 P's Method
A similar method of self-examination is known as the 7 P's of BSE:
1. Position: Inspect breasts visually and palpate in the mirror with arms at various positions. Then perform the Examination lying down, first with a pillow under one shoulder, then with a pillow under the other shoulder, and finally lying flat.
2. Perimeter: Remember to examine the entire breast, including the nipple, the axillary tail that extends into the axilla, and nearby lymph nodes.
3. Palpation: Palpate with the pads of the fingers, without lifting the fingers as they move across the breast.
4. Pressure: First palpate with light pressure, then palpate with moderate pressure, and finally palpate with firm pressure.
5 Pattern: There are several examination patterns, and each woman should choose the one which is most comfortable for her. The vertical strip pattern involves moving the fingers up and down over the breast, the pie-wedge pattern involves starting at the nipple and moving outward, and the circular pattern involves moving the fingers in concentric circles from the nipple outward. Don't forget to palpate up into the axils.
6. Practice: Practice the breast self-exam, and become familiar with the feel of the breast tissue, so you can recognize changes. A health care practitioner can provide feedback on your method.
7. Plan: Know what to do if you suspect a change in your breast tissue. Know your family history of breast cancer. Have mammography done as often as your health care provider recommends.
For menopause women, BSE is best done at the same stage of their menstrual cycle every month to minimize changes due to the menstrual cycle - the recommended time is just following the end of the last period when the breasts are least likely to be swollen and tender. Older, menopausal women should do BSE once a month, perhaps on the first or last day of every month.
About 8 in 10 lumps discovered during BSE are harmless. Nevertheless, any abnormality thus detected should immediately be reported to a physician .Though most breast cancers are detected by women, BSE should be combined with an annual examination by a doctor for better chances of detection. Women can easily miss a breast lump that an expert can find. For the same reasons it is better to learn BSE from an expert. It is not a replacement for more trustworthy techniques like mammography.
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