7 Ways Your Boobs Can Affect Your Health

by Pamela J. Hobart

It's easy to forget that your breasts aren't just there for decoration, though that may be all you do with them on an everyday basis. Mother nature dreamed them up as a way for you and your fellow mammals to feed their babies, and there's more to boobs than meets the eye. After all, in the long run, evolution probably wouldn't have left us with such a showy and potentially heavy endowment if it served no purpose at all. Behind each unique nipple and hunk or mini scoop of flesh is a complicated organ with the capacity to produce milk, respond sexually, and (unfortunately) get sick.

You probably receive a cursory breast examination from your health care provider from time to time, and breast self-examination really does catch cancers every year, but there's more to breast health than just detecting lumps and bumps. With a better understanding of what your boobs are there for and what they can do, you might be better able to take care of yourself while gaining a new appreciation for this very special part of your body. Check out these ways that your boobs can affect your health and make sure that you're giving the girls the royal treatment when you consider your well-being, from head to toe.

Your Boobs Feel Pain

If you're lucky enough not to have felt it yet, your boobs can definitely feel pain, especially "cyclically" (during or before your period each month). Fancily called "mastalgia," breast pain can be treated with over-the-counter pain medications but may keep bothering you for as long as you menstruate. If you're on the pill, you might try switching formulas. If your breast pain is random and not related to your period, it's worth mentioning to your doctor, who might be able to find and treat another cause.

Your Boobs Can Become Infected

Mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue, typically strikes lactating women but can happen to others too. Though usually the nipple is an exit, it occasionally can allow bacteria in, where they can painfully multiply within the breast. You might suspect mastitis if your breast is swollen and engorged, possibly with other flu-like symptoms such as aches, chills, or fever. This condition probably requires antibiotics, so go see your doctor right away.

Nipple Stimulation Releases Oxytocin

Getting felt up doesn't just feel good on the surface — nipple stimulation can also cause a female's body to release oxytocin, a hormone related to care and bonding. This probably helps breastfeeding mothers bond to their babies, but could also have bonding effects in sexual scenarios too. Since oxytocin generally reduces anxiety and promotes attachment, you may want to find a way to work this neat breast effect into your repertoire (though don't expect any miracles, because this chemistry is insanely complicated).

Your Bra Can Aggravate Breast-Area Lymph Nodes

Though it's definitely not true that wearing a bra can literally cause cancer, the tight strap and wire might inhibit drainage of the lymph nodes nestled in your armpits. You can try to alleviate this uncomfortable condition by simply spending more time without a bra on or choosing a looser or wireless bra (don't fall for any "detoxification" products, which aren't evidence-based).

Your Breasts Might Produce Discharge

It's not something you're likely to discuss over brunch with your friends, but nipples commonly produce discharge of various kinds (white, clear, yellow, green, brown?!) If this only happens when your nipple is touched, it's likely normal. But if your nipples are oozing discharge on their own, you should ask your doctor to rule out a thyroid problem or benign or malignant tumor as the cause.

Breastfeeding Has Positive Effects

You might guess that using your breasts wears them (or you) out, but actually breastfeeding has a number of positive health effects, including reduced risk of breast cancer and diabetes. Though these are not dramatic enough to offset the other risks of pregnancy and to make having a child worth it just for that reason, you might keep it in mind if and when you're choosing between the breast and the bottle.

Breast Lumps Are Common, So Don't Stress

Benign (non-cancerous) breast lumps are very common in young women. Though you should tell your doctor as soon as possible and have it examined, try hard not to stress yourself out prematurely if you find one — the stress may be worse for you than the breast lump.

Images: Tatyana Gladskih/Fotolia; Giphy (4)