What's normal, what's not & what you can do about it

It may come as a surprise, but all these things are normal, and nothing to worry about!

Breasts: different shapes and sizes

Breasts come in all different sizes and shapes. If you look around you'll see a huge variety of sizes and shapes of breasts - for example - big, round, flat, pointed, small, pear-shaped and sloping.

Breast size and shape is determined by the genes inherited from our parents. Everyone's breasts are different, and no one has breasts that are exactly the same as another person's; you shouldn't expect your breasts to look the same as anyone else's.

What can you do?

In women, breasts change at various life stages (during puberty, pregnancy, when you're breastfeeding and during menopause). Breasts will constantly change while they are developing, so if you're still growing, your breasts could end up looking quite different to how they do now. One thing that you can do to subtly change how your breasts look is to try different bra styles - this can make them look larger or smaller.

Nipples: different shapes, sizes and colours

Nipples, as well as breasts, come in all shapes, sizes and colours. They can point up or down, be flat, be dark or pale, big or small - and can look different on each breast. Some people have nipples that get hard and stick out (become erect) when they're cold, or when they're rubbed. Others have nipples that stick out all the time.

What can you do?

There's nothing we can do to change the size, shape or colour of our nipples - they are the way they are. If you're embarrassed about having erect nipples, choose a bra that's padded at the front or try using skin coloured stick-on nipple covers.

Uneven breasts

It's not unusual to have breasts that are slightly different sizes, or for one to sit higher or lower than the other - sometimes one breast just grows quicker than the other. This usually evens up over time. And don't worry - while it may be obvious to you, other people generally won't even notice.

What can you do?

There's nothing much you can do about uneven breasts. Most differences will even out as you get older, and a good bra will help make any differences between breasts less obvious, so speak to an expert bra fitter.

Inverted nipples

Some people have nipples that are inverted (turned inwards). These are quite normal, and can be like that from birth or occur as the breasts are developing. If you've always had inverted nipples, that means it's normal for you and nothing to worry about. Sometimes inverted nipples will stick out if they are rubbed, and they may eventually stick out once the breasts have finished growing - or after childbirth and breastfeeding.

What can you do?

While having inverted nipples is quite normal, you could try a niplette if it bothers you. This is a thimble-like device worn for a while that can help train the nipples to stick out.

Hair around the nipples

Some people have a few hairs growing around their nipple and areola. Once again, this is completely normal and nothing to worry about.

What can you do?

If you're bothered by hair around the nipple you can carefully cut it off close with small scissors. This is better than plucking or shaving the hair, which can cause infection.

Stretch marks

Girls who have breasts that develop and grow very quickly may get stretch marks. These are red spoke-like lines that appear on the skin. Lots of girls get them during puberty, and they can also appear during pregnancy. During puberty, stretch marks on the breasts and body are very common, and over time they'll usually fade to match the colour of the rest of the skin.

What can you do?

Nothing much can be done to stop stretch marks appearing, especially if your body develops quickly. Keeping the skin well moisturised may help. The red marks will fade over time to match the natural colour of the skin.

Tenderness and pain

You may experience tingling and an aching feeling in your chest when your breasts are developing. Changing hormones can also make breasts feel tender, painful or sore a week or so just before your period starts, and oral contraceptives can also cause these feelings. Luckily, not everyone experiences breast tenderness.

What can you do?

If you feel tenderness or pain in your breasts that doesn't go away, go and talk to someone about it. Your mum, school nurse or GP (local doctor) will be able to help.

Smooth or lumpy breasts

It's normal for breasts to feel either smooth or lumpy, or to feel different around the time of your period and settle down again when it's over. While breasts are growing, lumps may also develop due to normal changes in the breast tissue. Very occasionally lumps are a sign of a benign (harmless) breast condition, which may need to be checked out by a doctor.

The most common benign lump as the breasts are developing is known as a fibroadenoma. A fibroadenoma is a solid lump of tissue, usually around 1 to 3 cm in size, that feels smooth and moves easily under the skin. They are usually painless, though sometimes they can feel tender or even painful. They're very common and don't usually need any treatment once they've been checked out by a doctor.

What can you do?

If you find a lump in your breast that you are worried about, do go and visit your doctor. Although it's very unlikely that there's anything wrong, the doctor will be able to check it out and should put your mind at rest. Don't forget that you can request a female doctor or the practice nurse if this will make you feel more comfortable. Consultations with doctors are confidential, even if you live in a small country town or see your family doctor.

Cysts

Some girls may develop a cyst or cysts, which are fluid-filled sacs within the breast. They can be round or oval lumps, and feel either firm or like a soft grape or a water-filled balloon.

What can you do?

Cysts can change or remain the same over time, and may increase and decrease during the menstrual cycle. While cysts can be painful, they are normal. If you have a cyst and it is concerning you, have a chat to with your doctor.

Extra breasts and nipples

A small number of people have an extra breast or pair of breasts. These are known as accessory breast tissue and usually occur in the lower armpit. They're often present from birth, though sometimes can appear during puberty. Also, some people have an extra nipple or nipples, which are usually below the breast or above the belly button.

Accessory breast tissue and extra nipples can often cause anxiety and embarrassment, but they are actually quite normal. They are not a health concern and don't need to be removed. However if they bother you later in life you could explore surgical options.

What can you do?

If you have accessory breasts and/or extra nipples you may feel embarrassed and worried about them. You also may notice normal changes (such as a heavy feeling and tenderness) in the accessory breast as well as in your natural breasts when you have your period. If this is upsetting or uncomfortable, talk to your doctor or school nurse to get some advice or support.

Excessive growth

A small number of girls experience excessive growth of breast tissue during development where the breasts grow large and out of proportion to the rest of the body. This is known as breast hypertrophy. It's not known what causes this, but it's thought that it may be due to increased sensitivity to hormones. Girls with breast hypertrophy often feel embarrassed and it can also cause physical symptoms such as backache.

What can you do?

Dieting and losing weight won't help reduce the size of the breasts if you have breast hypertrophy. If you have any concerns at your age do go and talk to your GP. If as an adult your breast is size still concerns you, you could explore surgery.

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