Breasts are fluctuating things. They change during puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy and menopause. But even outside of those windows, breast changes happen as we get older. We may not notice them at first, but they do.
“During your 20s and 30s, that’s the time when you have the best breast tissue and skin integrity,” said Laurie McKechnie, a nurse practitioner at Lynn Women’s Health, a gynecology and obstetrics practice affiliated with Lahey Health.
That’s not to say that it all goes downhill after that, but there are a few things that McKechnie says that women should keep in mind as their breasts change over time.
“Some breast changes are perfectly normal, but for others, I’d prefer that my patients see me for a breast health exam, just in case,” she said.
So what exactly counts as a normal breast change, and what marks an abnormal one? We asked McKechnie to explain.
Normal Breast Changes
If you experience any of these changes, chances are you’re in the clear — but, if at any point you feel concerned, it never hurts to call your doctor.
Sorry to say it, ladies: Sagging’s just par for the course. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to prevent it or minimize the sag once it starts.
“As we age, breasts lose their elasticity, the tissue becomes different, and fat deposits get redistributed differently,” McKechnie said. “That can, unfortunately, often lead to sagging in the breasts.”
So what’s a woman to do?
“I always say to get a very supportive sports bra for exercise and a good supportive bra for everyday wear,” McKechnie said. “Most people don’t wear the correct bra size, so actually going somewhere and having a bra fitting can make a world of difference.”
If the sagging is excessive, surgery might be an option, too.
“There are some people who actually qualify for a breast reduction based on the amount of tissue that needs to be removed,” McKechnie said. “And sometimes, for medical reasons, that’s necessary — like for irritation underneath the breast that has caused problems for a while.”
2. Cup Size Changes and Stretch Marks
Whether we lose or gain weight, our breasts may go up or down in cup size.
“If those changes result in stretch marks, that’s common,” McKechnie said. “But there are some laser therapy treatments that people can do with a dermatologist to minimize the appearance of stretch marks.”
One 2017 study from the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology showed that such treatments worked up to 75 percent of the time — so if you’re saddled with “tiger stripes,” those treatments might be worth exploring.
3. Loss of Fullness
If your breasts start feeling less voluptuous as you get older, blame it on the normal loss of muscle and tissue that comes with age. But sometimes, pregnancy can play a role in that loss, too.
“Your breasts enlarge during breastfeeding because of all the milk ducts,” McKechnie said. “But when you lose the pregnancy weight or stop breastfeeding, you might find that your breasts just don’t have that full look anymore.”
4. Feeling a Ridge
If, as you approach or go through menopause, you feel a ridge along the bottom of your breast, where your breast meets your chest. It’s likely a harmless area of fat called the inframammary fold.
“It runs along the bottom area of the breast, but you might not feel it during premenopausal years because your breasts are fuller,” McKechnie said. “But once you hit menopause and lose that muscle and fat deposits, some women feel a hard ridge underneath their breasts.”
Abnormal Breast Changes
If you experience any of the following changes, it might be a sign of something more serious related to your breast health, so call your doctor to schedule a visit.
- Pain in any area of the breast (outside of normal soreness during the menstrual cycle).
- Nipple discharge (outside of pregnancy).
- Lumps in the breast tissue that don’t go away with your monthly cycle.
- Dimpling or texture changes that make your skin look like a golf ball or orange peel.
- If one breast suddenly starts getting bigger than another. (It’s normal for breasts to be an uneven size, but sudden growth can be cause for concern).
Beyond looking out for the red flags, McKechnie encourages self-awareness.
“I want my patients to get to know their own body and know what their breasts are like so that they can recognize what might look or feel different,” she said. “And sometimes, you might not feel a change at all, but believe it or not, your partner might.”
Is it time to schedule your next breast exam? Find an OB/GYN near you.