The female breasts are one of the most dynamic organs that the human species possesses; in the sense that their shape and even size keeps on changing quite continuously. Normally it is thought that the change sets in during and after pregnancy, but in reality, the change is taking place even in the teenage years. Once puberty sets in, the changes in breasts continue until the end of life.
Why Do Breast Shapes Change?
Breasts are nothing but a mass of fatty tissues that are held in place by a system called as Cooper's ligaments. Cooper's ligaments are responsible for the firmness of the breasts. After puberty, the Cooper's ligaments begin developing. This development is triggered by secondary female sex hormones such as estrogen. This is the period of marked changes in the breasts. Breasts start growing larger, and the nipples and the areolas get well-developed. However, they will not attain any final shape; breast change is a continuous process.
Lobules in the breasts are responsible for the production of milk. During childbirth and immediately after that, the breasts are filled with milk. This causes the breasts to change their shape during lactation. Some women have problems with accumulation of unfed milk in their breasts. This is called as engorgement. Engorged breasts will appear larger and will also be hard to the touch. Unused milk must be disgorged from the breasts either by squeezing or by sing a breast pump.
There are definite changes in breasts during pregnancy; but the intriguing fact is that the breasts look different during each pregnancy. That means, the breasts of the same woman will look different each time she has a pregnancy. This is due to hormonal factors, whose concentrations change during each pregnancy.
As old age sets in, they lose their firmness and the Cooper's ligaments may lose their entire rigidity. This causes the breasts to droop down, known as sagging of breasts. Sagging may also occur in younger women, especially those who do not wear any support to their breasts like bras.
Having said all this, it is important to add that every woman has differently shaped breasts. No two women will have identical breasts. Hence, a study in breast dynamics and variation is an apparently unending study.
What are the Factors Inducing Breast Changes?
Though all the factors that bring about breast changes can never be studied, the following are some of the obvious and well-studied factors:-
(i) Age – Age is the most important factor affecting the size and shape of breasts. As age advances from puberty to womanhood, the breasts become fuller and firmer and get a definitive shape. Further age advancement from womanhood to old age makes the breasts softer and lose their firmness. Thus, breasts undergo a whole cycle from small breasts to firm breasts and finally to sagging breasts.
(ii) Hormones – All breast changes are brought about by secondary sex hormones in the female such as the estrogen. Estrogen activity begins after puberty, which stimulates the development of the breasts.
(iii) Pregnancy – No other period in the life of the woman shows as many changes in the breasts as pregnancy does. This is the time when the breasts receive several hormonal triggers, most notably the Lactogenic Hormone and Oxytocin from the pituitary gland, which stimulate the mammary glands for milk production. During pregnancy most women have firm breasts, which become firmer when the actual milk production begins after childbirth. During this time, the nipple and the areolas also grow in size and become darker.
(iv) Bras – Bras are very important in providing a shape to the breasts. Bras provide breasts with a support that help them develop. There are different kinds of bras for different ages and occasions. Bras must be used while outdoors, but at home these can be removed as they can cause a restricting effect on the breasts. Then there is also the factor that a good bra can show a better shape to the breasts and hence make the woman more alluring.
(v) Menstrual Cycle – Notable changes occur in a woman's breasts during the menstrual cycle. During the menstrual cycle, water retention or edema can occur which can cause the breasts to have an engorged effect. However, these changes are not permanent, but they may be repetitive in some women.
(vi) Contraceptive Pills – Women who use contraceptive pills will also find changes in their breast sizes. Normally, contraceptive pills cause breasts to grow larger.
The above is only a small list of the factors that bring about changes in breasts in women. There are several other factors such as diet, exercise, lifestyle, addictions, etc. that can bring about either an increase or a decrease in the shape of breasts. Yet, it must be remembered that whatever the shape of breasts, their primary function, i.e. breastfeeding can be carried out just as well.
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