Conversations with Our Daughters About Breast Health

As girls begin to develop they ask themselves “what are normal breasts supposed to look and feel like?”

As women age, they continue to ask themselves the same question, and wonder what is normal and what is healthy.

The best time to answer these questions is in the beginning. Good breast health should be addressed as soon as possible.  A conversation with your daughter will create awareness, encourage preventative care and inspire a healthy body image.

Knowing her body and practicing good breast health can reduce her risk of developing breast cancer.  Awareness and early detection leads to better outcomes in the event of developing breast cancer.

“Pubertal changes can prompt lots of adolescent concerns, including related to breast changes, so having a safe place to find out information is key. The American Doll Library, The Care and Keeping of You book series provides helpful information for younger girls to learn about the upcoming changes to their body, and can help serve as a starting point for good parent child communication about puberty,” said Dr. Diane Straub, of USF Health Pediatrics, specializing in adolescent medicine.

When in Development

Puberty commonly sets in around the ages 8 to 13 and the most obvious sign of puberty is breast development, followed by the menstrual cycle.

As the hormones estrogen and progesterone are released, the breasts begin to develop, they are referred to as breast “buds”. In the beginning stages of development soreness and uneven growth are common.

Hormone changes which fuel breast growth cause fluctuations in the amount of fluid in the breast tissue producing sensitivity.

At the onset of her menstrual cycle, your daughter may experience achiness or swelling of the breasts. This is normal due to the hormonal changes that occur during her period.

Year to year, and even month to month, sensation and size of a woman’s breasts can vary.

“Monitoring breast development is an important way for pediatricians to ensure that girls and female adolescents are experiencing normal pubertal development, so expect and ask for this examination as part of a normal annual health visit.  Many young women have concerns about their breast development, so be sure to ask your pediatrician any questions you may have,” Dr. Straub said.

What Are Breasts Made Of

It is important to know the structure and function of breasts in order to understand what is healthy and what is not.

The breasts are made of fatty tissue, glandular tissue, muscles (pectoral muscle), connective tissue and ligaments. There are lymph nodes and vessels, as well as blood vessels contained within the breast. The sensation in the breast is provided by nerves. The fatty tissue, glands, and ligaments determine the size and shape of breasts.

“Many people are surprised to learn that breasts are not fully developed until they go through pregnancy and lactation,” said Dr. Jessica Brumley of Obstetrics and Gynecology at USF Health.

The part of the breast that produces milk is called lobes.  The lobes are comprised of smaller structures known as the lobules; this is where breast milk is produced.  A system of minuscule-sized ducts connects to form a larger duct system that carries the milk to the exit point, the nipple. The darker area surrounding the nipple is the areola.

Why My Breasts Are the Way They Are

Genetics play a factor in determining breast size, shape, skin, hormone levels, and density.

Genetics are inherited from both sides of the family, meaning that women will not necessarily inherit their mother’s breasts, and a father’s genetics may also have influence.

Lifestyle will also determine the shape and size. Weight, exercise, age and breastfeeding impact the size and shape.

“Many variations of healthy breast exist including having one breast slightly larger than the other,” Dr. Brumley said.

Empower Your Daughter to Be a Well Woman

Knowledge is power, and knowing how to practice self-care can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer. There are also lifestyle choices and healthy habits women can adopt to lower the risk of developing breast cancer such as:
• Being physically fit and enjoying an active lifestyle
• Maintaining a healthy weight after menopause
• Avoiding tobacco use
• Alcohol consumption can raise the risk
• Talking with your doctor about hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives before beginning any hormone therapy, as this can raise risk
• Knowing the impact of reproductive history, as the age of pregnancy can play a role
• Knowing how to perform self-exams, and when the time is appropriate get a mammogram

“Most breast lumps are found by the individual or their partner.  It is important to be evaluated by a professional if you feel something different,” Dr. Brumley said.

Investing time in our daughters to share preventative health measures and resources will lead to good health practices and being a well woman.

 

To book an appointment with a USF Health Pediatrician, please call 813 259-8700, or for a USF Health Gynecologist or Nurse-Midwife, please call 813 259-8500.

USF Health Making Life Better

Written by Ercilia Colón

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