Breasts can be both a blessing and a curse. And regardless of their size or shape, breasts can change in your 20s and 30s to the point where you may be left stunned, annoyed, or even worried.
Of course, there are the usual monthly changes that many of us endure. "Premenstrual swelling and tenderness of both breasts occurs during the second half of the menstrual cycle," according to an article from the U.S. National Library of Medicine. This means you might have that oh-so-familiar boob pain, on top of all your other PMS symptoms. You might even feel dense, bumpy areas on the outside of your breasts. These changes are likely due to varying levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, and often go away once your period arrives.
Again, this is all to be expected. But if you think back to the history of your breasts, you may notice there have been some other, more lasting, changes over the years. Maybe they've grown, or maybe they've shrunk. Maybe they have stretch marks, or maybe your nipples don't look the same. It's fascinating to watch all these changes take place, and yet it can leave you wondering if you're the only one. (You probably aren't.) Read on to find out other ways your boobs can change over the years, and remember — if anything is different, or worries you, definitely get yourself checked out by a doctor.
1. Your Areolae May Get Darker
It sounds kind of peculiar — an area of your body changing color. But it is definitely something that can happen to the area around your nipples over time. "It doesn't necessarily happen to everyone, but ... your areolae can start looking larger and darker than it did before, which is totally normal," said Lane Moore, in an interview with Karen Boyle, M.D., on Cosmopolitan. It's not cause for concern, but it can be pretty strange.
2. They Will Probably Fluctuate In Size
Breasts can fluctuate in size for a seemingly unending list of reasons. (Think about how they feel huge when you're on your period, due to that influx of hormones I mentioned.) But another culprit affecting the size of your breasts is weight gain. "Your breasts are made up of breast tissue (including lobules and ducts that are called into action while breastfeeding) and fat tissue," said Paige Fowler on SHAPE. "So when you gain weight, your breasts increase in size." And the opposite is true for weight loss.
3. They Can Get Stretch Marks
As your breast size changes — due to weight gain, weight loss, or pregnancy — you may notice little lines starting to appear on your skin. These are stretch marks, and they can show up regardless of your age or skin color. "If you have gained weight recently, your breast stretch marks were likely caused by this," said Richard Kalinowski on the health website Livestrong.com. "Even after losing excess weight, some evidence of the stretch marks will always remain, but they will become fainter and less noticeable."
4. You May Find Lumps & Bumps
You should know how to do a breast cancer check, and you should do it regularly. This is a great way to catch cancer early on. But it's also a great way to scare yourself with other, totally harmless, lumps and bumps. If you feel anything lurking under the surface of your skin, don't panic — it's likely nothing more than a benign cyst. "Fibrocystic change, which is a very common condition characterized by benign lumps in one or both breasts, often emerges when women are in their 20s," said Zahra Barnes, in an interview with Lisa Jacobs, M.D., on Women's Health. You should get them checked out, but they are usually nothing to worry about.
5. They'll Be Less Full After Pregnancy
Your 20s and 30s are obviously prime baby making time, so changes brought on by pregnancy are worth noting. Of course you can expect to gain weight during pregnancy, and this will mean fuller breasts. You also may have lactation and breastfeeding to contend with, which can also affect the size of your boobs. But once that's all over and done with, you may notice that things don't necessarily go back to normal. "Breasts shrink, the fullness is gone, there is laxity in the skin and less tension on the suspensory ligaments," said gynecologist Kevin M. Audlin, MD, in an interview with Aviva Patz on Prevention. This may mean droopier boobs, but hey — at least you got a baby out of the deal.
6. Your Nipples May Protrude
Another post-pregnancy milestone to expect is larger nipples, as well as darker areolas. And these changes can end up being permanent. Unlike your fuller pregnancy boobs, the darker areola color and protruding nipples may stick around, according to Patz. If you're used to your nipples looking a certain way, it can be disconcerting. But I'm sure, with a new baby, that you have more important things on your mind.
7. They May Start To Droop
OK, "droop" is kind of a upsetting term, as it makes your boobs sound like a dying flower. So let's say your boobs will start to "settle" in your 20s and 30s. "Having a baby, breastfeeding, and racking up more birthdays all contribute to a loss of elasticity of collagen, the connective tissue under the skin," said Esther Crain on Women's Health. "Sag can also be a matter of genetics." So if your mom's boobs "settled" early on, then your pair may do the same.
8. They May Be Worse For Wear After Exercise
Of course you should always get a healthy amount of exercise, regardless of how it affects your breasts. But so many 20- and 30-somethings hit the gym, that possible post-workout boob settling is worth mentioning. "The research is scant right now, but some experts say that the back-and-forth repetitive motions that happen when you run or do a similar workout can lead to a breakdown of breast collagen," said Crain. It doesn't mean you should quit the gym, but it may mean switching up your routine or wearing a better bra, if sagging is something you worry about.
9. Your Birth Control May Make Them Bigger
Birth control pills are obviously a miraculous invention. And yet they can cause all sorts of side effects, especially until you find the right one. These effects may include weight gain, mood swings, and nausea, according to WebMD, as well as changes to your breasts. As Fowler said, "... it’s completely normal if you experience a little boost in breast size when you start birth control." It's all due to the increased estrogen, which can lead to fluid retention.
10. One May Be Larger Than The Other
Most breasts aren't the same size. The causes are numerous, from misaligned posture, to hormones, to pregnancy. Other times, it may be due to those underlying fibroids, according to Arpana M. Naik, MD, on HealthyWomen.org. It's totally normal, and nothing to be embarrassed about.
11. Your Boobs Become Something To Look After
The moment you get boobs, they become something to look after. As I said above, every lady should know how to do a self breast exam. If you find something concerning, make an appointment with your gynecologist, ASAP. But other than that, women in their 20s and 30s kind of get off easy when it comes to caring for their breasts. Mammograms aren't really something you need to think about until you're 50, according to Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D. and Anna E. Mazzucco, Ph.D. on StopCancerFund.org. If you have a family history of breast cancer, however, those scans may need to start earlier. Talk with your doctor about what's right for you.
For the most part, being in your 20s and 30s means having healthy, happy boobs. But if any of the above changes occur, do bring it up with your doctor. It's better to get things checked out, then to assume everything is a-OK.
Images: Pexels (12); Isla Murray/Bustle