Health

Here’s How Your Boobs Can Change As You Get Older

Plus, how to know when something’s off.

A woman takes a selfie, wondering if her sudden breast growth in her 20s is a cause for concern.
Galina Zhigalova / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images
Updated: 
Originally Published: 

Even if they’ve been the relatively the same size and shape for years, don’t be surprised if your breasts start to change as you get further into your 20s, 30s, and beyond. It’s common for boobs to look different as you go through the various stages of life. Things like aging, pregnancy, and weight fluctuations can affect their shape and structure. It’s also possible your breasts can develop health problems, which is why keeping an eye on their shape is a good idea.

“Getting to know what your breasts look like and how they feel is important,” Dr. Jodie Horton, MD, a board-certified OB/GYN and chief wellness advisor for Love Wellness, tells Bustle. And that means getting comfy with the self-breast exam. By examining and feeling your breasts on a regular basis, it’ll be easier to spot when normal changes occur versus ones that seem out of the ordinary. “The best time to check your breasts is three to five days after your period,” Horton says. “If there are any changes or concerns, you can address them with your doctor.”

Of course, there will be fluctuations in how your boobs look and feel throughout the month, not just as your body changes as you get older. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, premenstrual swelling and tenderness of both breasts is typical in the second half of your menstrual cycle. You might also experience breast pain on top of other PMS symptoms. But your period is far from the only thing that affects how your boobs might change in your 20s and 30s. Here are 15 potential changes your breasts go through as you get older.

1. They Might Get Lumpy Before Your Period

Helen King/Corbis/Getty Images

When you have PMS, it can do more than affect your mood and cause bloating, says Horton. It can also cause breast swelling and tenderness right before your period, as well as a slight lumpiness under your skin.

Fibrocystic changes are common in women starting in their 20s,” Horton says. “Your breasts may feel lumpy and bumpy and are often influenced by hormonal changes and. The good news is that this often goes away after your period.”

That said, it’s still a good idea to point out lumps, or anything else that seems out of the ordinary, to your doctor. They can explain the best way to tell the difference between PMS lumpiness and bumps that are concerning.

2. You Might Feel A “Rubbery” Mass

Another new thing to look out for in your 20s and 30s are fibroadenomas, which Horton says feel like a “solid, firm, rubbery, well-defined mass” under the skin. She says these non-cancerous growths are common in folks who are between the ages of 15 and 35. They can vary in size and don’t hurt, but you still might choose to do something about them. While doctors will typically monitor them via ultrasound, Horton says you can also have the mass surgically removed if they feel annoying.

3. Your Boobs Could Be Different Sizes

If your boobs have always been different sizes since puberty, chances are they’ll continue to be that way as you get older. Horton says uneven boobs aren’t likely to magically match one day. About 90% of boobs are uneven in some way, according to University of Utah faculty member Dr. Kirtly Jones. And often to a very noticeable degree. That said, if your boob size has always been fairly even, but now one of them suddenly looks larger, let your doctor know.

4. Pregnancy Can Make Your Breasts Bigger

If you ever get pregnant, brace yourself for lots of breast-related changes. As Horton says, your be noticeably bigger early on in your pregnancy and will continue to grow in size throughout. They’ll also become tender.

5. Your Nipples Will Get Darker

ArtMarie/E+/Getty Images

As your boobs get bigger during pregnancy, the area around your nipples will too. They might also get darker. (In fact, darker areolae are often one of the earliest signs of pregnancy.) And it’s all due to those hormonal changes.

“An increase in estrogen and progesterone causes pigmentation changes in the nipples and areolae,” Dr. Sherry Ross, MD, an OB/GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, tells Bustle. “You will begin to see these color changes and see veins under the breasts to become more noticeable as pregnancy progresses.”

6. Post-Pregnancy Boobs Will Be Different

“After delivery, your breasts may not go back to their original size and shape,” Horton says. “They may droop, have stretch marks, and remain larger than they were before pregnancy. This depends on breastfeeding, weight gain, and genetics.” As Ross says, your breast size can also increase if you breastfeed. So if you’re surprised by how different your body looks postpartum, know that you aren’t alone.

7. Coffee Might Lead To Tenderness

If you’re a big fan of all things caffeine, there may come a day when you start to experience breast tenderness as a side effect. “Caffeine stimulates the breast tissue making breasts more sensitive and painful, especially in the days leading up to a period,” Ross says.

So if your boobs hurt after that double shot of espresso, or you feel a slight ache whilst sipping your fourth cold brew of the day, this very well may explain why. “Limiting, or better yet, stopping caffeine drinking will quickly reduce your symptoms of breast pain,” Ross says.

8. Your Boobs Might Appear Less Full

While many boobs appear full when you’re younger, that fullness can start to fade as you go through your 20s and 30s. The reason? “Women in this age group tend to gain and lose weight,” Dr. Emily Hu, MD, FACOG, an OB/GYN and chief medical officer at Evernow, tells Bustle. There are so many factors at play, from pregnancy, to losing weight after college, to gaining it in a relationship — or a mix of all of the above.

According to Dr. Cynthia Krause, MD, the reason why your breasts change as you gain or lose weight has everything to do with their internal structure. “Breasts contain adipose tissue and will enlarge with weight gain,” she tells Bustle. If you lose weight for any reason, that tissue can shrink back down to create a less-full appearance.

9. Stretch Marks Can Appear

If your body size changes, chances are there will be some degree of stretch marks on your boobs, Horton says. They’ll look like little lines on the skin, may feel raised or indented, and will likely be a different color from your usual skin tone.

Stretch marks are a result of the skin quite literally stretching as your breast size fluctuates. While they can happen to anyone, you’re more likely to get them if your weight changes a lot, if if you’re pregnant, or if you have a family history of stretch marks.

10. You Might Start To Feel Comfier In A Bra

kali9/E+/Getty Images

Whether or not you wear a bra while hiking, jogging on a treadmill, or trying out a new HIIT workout is completely up to you, but Ross says it’s not uncommon for 20- or 30-somethings to suddenly feel like they want a little extra support.

If you don’t wear a bra, “the delicate and sensitive breast tissue could bounce and move in such a way where pain can occur,” she says. This is particularly true if your breasts have recently gotten bigger or if you have PMS.

11. Hormonal Birth Control Can Cause Swelling

If you’ve started using a form of hormonal birth control — like a patch, pill, or implant — you might notice that your breasts swell up for the first few months as your body adjusts. It can also cause your to experience tenderness and pain, typically of the variety that radiates up into your armpit area. While most of the side effects will even out over time, let your doctor know the moment they get too annoying.

12. Breast Tissue Is Replaced By Fat

While your hormones fluctuate and change through your entire life, that’s particularly true during the “reproductive years” of your 20s and 30s. “Hormone fluctuations that occur in accordance with the menstrual cycle cause increased water intake leading to breast fullness and tenderness the week preceding the menstrual cycle,” Dr. Nwegbo-Banks, M.D., a board-certified OB/GYN, tells Bustle. But as you get closer to menopause, ovarian estrogen production decreases significantly, causing the breasts to decrease in size. “This then leads to the collagen and breast tissue being replaced by fat,” she adds.

13. There Might Be A Larger Gap Between Your Breasts

Aesthetically speaking, if your boobs were closer together when you were younger, you might notice that they start to sit farther apart as you get older says Dr. Mary Claire Haver, M.D., a board-certified OB/GYN and culinary medicine specialist. Again, any change in size or appearance is often hormone-related. “Over time, your breasts may shrink,” Haver tells Bustle. “When estrogen levels drop, your breast tissue loses elasticity and becomes dehydrated. Your breasts may shrink up to a cup size as a result of this.”

14. You Might Develop Cysts

While it’s common to notice a lumpiness under the skin in the lead up to your period, lumps that persist or grow might indicate a cyst, says gynecologist Dr. Alyssa Dweck, M.D. “A cyst is a fluid-filled sac in the breast, in this case,” she tells Bustle. “Occasionally, breast cysts can be multiple and transient.” Take note of any other changes under or on your skin.

If the skin on your breasts dimples or has a texture or rash that resembles an “orange rind,” go get it checked out. “Rarely, these might indicate a growth, Paget's disease, or inflammatory breast cancer,” Dweck says. “Any bloody nipple discharge warrants evaluation to rule out cancer. In many instances, these findings may very well be nothing to worry about but evaluation is still recommended as well as regular breast imaging for screening.”

15. Your Boobs Will Require More Attention

AlexanderFord/E+/Getty Images

As you get older, it’ll become more and more important to keep an eye on your breast health, which is, again, why it’s good to know how to do a self-breast exam. If you feel something concerning — like a lump — make an appointment with your gynecologist, ASAP.

Regular exams are the key to catching health concerns early. Mammograms aren't really something you’ll need to think about until you're 50, but if you have a family history of breast cancer those scans may need to start earlier. Talk with your doctor so that you’ll know how often to get checked, as well as other ways to keep your breasts healthy.

Studies referenced:

Aguree, S. (2019). Plasma volume expansion across healthy pregnancy: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. https://bmcpregnancychildbirth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12884-019-2619-6

Bayer, C. (2014). Assessment of breast volume changes during human pregnancy using a three-dimensional surface assessment technique in the prospective CGATE study. Eur J Cancer Prev. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24100511/

Massinde, Anthony. (2011). Extensive hyperpigmentation during pregnancy: a case report. Journal of Medical Case Reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3183040/

Rock, C. (1999). Factors associated with weight gain in women after diagnosis of breast cancer. Women's Healthy Eating and Living Study Group. J Am Diet Assoc. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10524383/

Trabert, B. (2020). Progesterone and Breast Cancer. Endocrine reviews. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7156851/

Yaghjyan, L. (2018). Associations of coffee consumption and caffeine intake with mammographic breast density. Breast Cancer Res Treat. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29340883/

Experts:

Dr. Jodie Horton, MD, OB/GYN

Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN

Dr. Emily Hu, MD, FACOG, OB/GYN

Dr. Cynthia Krause, MD, OB/GYN

Dr. Nwegbo-Banks, OB/GYN

Dr. Mary Claire Haver, OB/GYN

Dr. Alyssa Dweck, MS, MD, FACOG, gynecologist

This article was originally published on