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Boobs: What Actually Are They?

Boobs. Those fleshy round looking things that project from women’s chests are a pretty cool part of the female body. With many interesting functions and features, they can be wondrous and exciting things – and for those who have just started developing their own, maybe a little scary.

A lot of girls and women feel self-conscious about their breasts and worry that theirs are abnormal, or that they’re not developing in the right way. The truth is: there’s no right or wrong way for boobs to be or for them to develop. Understanding the changes in your breasts and the many different forms they come in helps you to know what’s healthy and to understand your body.

So, here’s your guide to everything you need to know about boobs and all their magnificence.

Boobs – what actually are they?

Boobs are made up of fatty tissue and milk-producing glands, called mammary glands. The darker area of your breast around the nipple is called the areola, which becomes bigger and darker as the breasts develop. Nipples and areolae vary in colour and can range from light pink to purplish to light or dark grey, depending on your skin colour.

How do they develop?

Breasts start to grow at the beginning of puberty.  During puberty your body experiences changes in hormone levels. This causes your breasts to develop and for you to start having periods (although these things do not always happen at the same time and one might take a lot longer than the other to begin). Genetics (what runs in your family) largely determines when you will begin puberty and start to develop breasts. Nutrition also plays a role in influencing when you will begin puberty.

When your breasts start to grow, small bumps (called buds) will start to grow under your nipples. It’s normal for these buds to feel tender when they’re growing, but this should decrease over time. As they grow, your nipples and the area around them (the areola) might start to change in colour. Over time as they develop, your breast buds will become rounder and fuller and grow into the shape of your breasts.

… when will I get them?

Every girl’s breasts grow and develop in different ways and at different speeds. You might be wondering when yours will start, or be wishing they would slow down! Some girls might not even really notice their breasts are developing. All of these are perfectly normal experiences during puberty.

Breasts usually begin to develop around the ages of 8-13 and can continue to grow into your early twenties. Some boobs develop slowly over time, and others might seem like they grow overnight! The age you start developing breasts and the pace they grow at does not affect the final size of your boobs. So, while some girls might develop breasts a lot faster than others, this doesn’t necessarily mean they will be bigger than girls’ who develop more slowly.

What do normal boobs look like?

One of the many beautiful things about boobs is that they come in all different shapes, sizes and colours. They can be bumpy or smooth, a little uneven or anywhere in between. There is no ‘normal’ mould of what breasts should be: they simply come in too many designs and with too much individuality to be broken down into a single image!

Size

Sometimes one breast might be bigger than the other, which is totally normal. The size of your breasts can sometimes equal out after you’ve finished puberty, but it’s completely fine if they don’t.

Girls whose breasts are very large can experience back pain and soreness in the breasts when they exercise. This might make you feel like your boobs are too big and make you feel self-conscious about them or anxious about the difficulties caused by your breast size. If your breasts are very large, the first thing you can do to help reduce physical pain and anxiety about your appearance is to find yourself a well-fitted bra that will support your boobs. Check out our post on buying a bra for info on how to find the right bra for you.

For women who suffer acute pain and discomfort due to their breast size, a final option is breast reduction surgery. This is a serious decision and a surgical operation which should be made with your primary care provider and consultations with medical specialists in order to make an informed and safe choice.

Nipples

Nipples come in all shapes and sizes. Some nipples point inward instead of sticking outward; these are called “inverted nipples” and are totally normal. It’s also normal for girls to have hair around their nipples. If you’re bothered by the hair, it’s best to cut it with small scissors. Never try plucking or shaving the hair because this type of hair removal can cause infections.

For some women, nipples remain erect (stick out) all the time, and can be easily seen through clothing. This is normal and nothing to be worried about. Nipples can also change during different temperatures. Hardened nipples are a normal reaction to coldness as well as to irritation or stimulation. The area around the nipple might also appear to have goosebumps or to be wrinkled as well.

Stretch marks

Stretch marks are red or purplish, vein-looking lines that appear on the skin during times of rapid physical growth (like puberty and pregnancy). A lot of girls develop stretch marks on their breasts and it is also common for stretch marks to appear on your hips and thighs during puberty. Many girls feel self-conscious about stretch marks, and while this is completely normal, it’s important to remember that stretch marks are pretty common and your body is no less beautiful with a few extra lines.

It might be a relief to know that stretch marks often turn lighter and fade over time on their own. While it’s normal to want to get rid of stretch marks immediately, there isn’t really any way of reducing or eliminating stretch marks, aside from letting them fade naturally with time. There are heaps of creams are gels that say they’ll get rid of stretch marks, but there’s no evidence that they really work. Some people cover up their stretch marks by using fake-tanning moisturiser or wearing clothing styles that cover the affected areas, but if you’re comfortable showing them off then go for it!

Bumps and lumps

Breasts can be smooth or lumpy. Most of the time lumps in the breasts are due to changes in breast tissue that occur as they are developing. Your breasts might also feel different or lumpy around the time of your period, and might feel more tender and swollen.

Montgomery Glands

You know those funny little bumps on the area around your nipples? Yep, they’re supposed to be there. They usually look like pimple-like bumps or goosebumps on the areola. They’re called Montgomery Glands, and are modified sweat glands that produce a lubricant which helps keep the nipple protected. They also help keep the nipple moisturized during breastfeeding.

Acne

Just as like the skin on the rest of your body, breasts are susceptible to acne and dry skin, this is pretty normal during puberty. It’s not something to be worried about, but if you are  you can talk to your doctor about ways to help manage it.

Rashes and irritation

Usually, a rash around the nipple area on the breasts is a sign of infection, especially if accompanied by swollen breasts, tenderness or discharge. Rashes that appear under the breasts are usually a sign of heat rash or yeast infection. If you notice these symptoms, talk to your primary care provider or GP who can help figure out if you’ve got an infection.

Discharge

Sometimes breasts can produce a kind of white-ish discharge. This can mean a few different things including: an infection of the breasts; that the breast duct has widened; or that you have a hormonal imbalance. You should talk to your GP if you have any kind of discharge from your nipples to work out what’s causing it and what your treatment options are.

Changes –what’s normal and what’s not?

Dealing with changes in your body can be stressful and frustrating. Whether you’ve just started developing breasts or you’re well and truly formed, your boobs may keep changing throughout your life. This can be the cause of wonder, and sometimes worry, which is why it’s important to understand why changes occur and what they might mean.

The main reason breasts change is because of changes in your hormones during and after your period or during pregnancy. At both these times, your breasts may feel more swollen, tender, heavier and sensitive. This can also cause your breasts to look or feel different. Weight loss or gain can also cause changes in your breast size.

While most changes and lumps you find in your breasts are normal, it’s important to regularly feel and check your breasts yourself to notice any changes that might seem abnormal. If your breast feels lumpy, check it again after your next period, because your boobs can often feel different to touch at the time before and during your period.

If you notice the lump doesn’t disappear after you finish your period, talk to your doctor who can help confirm what kind of lump you have. If you are worried about a lump on your breast and whether it might be abnormal, have a look at our post on breast health for more information.