In severe situations, it can even lead to inadvertently starving your baby—a scenario Dr. Castillo-Hegyi knows firsthand. “I found myself with a dehydrated, jaundiced baby, because of my inability to produce milk when he needed it.”Imagine if the nursing staff at the hospital where you gave birth didn’t even give you the option to formula feed. This is the reality at hospitals that adopt the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative—a designation given to hospitals that enforce guidelines and practices that meet strict criteria around breastfeeding. In practice, this can look like a nurse who repeatedly discourages you from using formula or the complete removal of nurseries, which historically have been used to give new parents a few hours to sleep, and can involve supplementing with formula. Again, this adds to the undue pressure on birthing parents to chestfeed exclusively.Perhaps if the message were different, fewer people would find themselves in situations like the one Castillo-Hegyi faced. “Formula has been demonized, weaponized, and moralized, but as far as nutritional content, it’s so expertly developed for absorption, and it contains every macronutrient, micronutrient, vitamin, and mineral that breast milk contains,” Jody Segrave-Daly RN, MS, IBCLC, a former NICU nurse and lactation consultant, and co-founder of the Fed Is Best Foundation, tells SELF.The bottom line is that the benefits of being fully fed far exceed the differences between being breast or formula-fed, she says.It’s time to reframe this messaging so parents feel empowered.The antidote to this exclusive breastfeeding-is-the-only-way messaging, Dr. Castillo-Heygi says, is to start speaking the truth. “The differences between breastfeeding and formula-feeding are not as big as advertised,” she says. “So, if you are struggling to feed your child with breast milk alone, do not despair. The best option for you and your child’s health might be combo feeding with breast milk and formula, and if you can’t do that, or it’s impacting your mental health, exclusive formula feeding is also a healthy option.”Fed is best. Period. “We want your baby to be fed and get the nourishment that it needs to continue to meet these milestones, and give you peace of mind,” Conyers says. “The goal is to have a healthy, thriving baby.”The other big factor to consider is yourself, says Gunyon Meyer. “We want a mom who is mentally and emotionally healthy, too,” she says, for the sake of you and your baby. If chestfeeding is causing a problem with mood, depression, or anxiety, then it’s time to think through other options.There are benefits to formula feeding, too. The big one? Freedom. Since the onus is no longer on one person to shoulder the entire responsibility of nourishing the baby, other caretakers can step in to bottle feed—and bond with—your baby so you can take a shower, go for a walk, have a glass of wine without guilt, sleep, oh, and go to work for eight hours. Of course, pumping and freezing breastmilk is also an option, but that still equals less freedom due to all the pumping that has to take place.
Most body parts grow to a certain size and then stop. When it comes to your breast size? Not so much. Your breast size and shape can change quite a bit throughout your life. (If you’re someone whose boobs get bigger around your period, you know what we’re talking about.)Believe it or not, your boobs started growing in the womb with the development of your milk-duct system. Then, during puberty, they change thanks to increasing estrogen levels. (Estrogen is a hormone that builds fat in your connective tissue.) Your breast size, areola, and nipple size generally grow larger, making changes in breast shape and size more noticeable. Your boobs will likely continue to change throughout your life, which is totally normal.If you’re wondering why your breasts appear a certain way, there is not just one answer. How your boobs look can depend on several factors, from your biology to your age and workout routine.Ahead, everything you need to know about your boobs, including changes you might see over time.Is there such a thing as a normal breast size and shape?Nope. “Boob size and shape vary so much that it’s hard to pin down a certain archetype,” Marco Harmaty, MD, a plastic and cosmetic surgeon and associate professor at Mount Sinai, tells SELF. You may have heard that there are different breast shapes, such as “round,” or “teardrop” but the truth is, there is no authoritative guide to breast shapes, notes Dr. Harmaty. However, there is one characteristic that many breasts share: Being asymmetrical, meaning one boob looks different than the other. For instance, your left breast may look rounder and larger compared to your right breast. So if one of your breasts looks different from the other, know that this is extremely common and you’re not alone.Back to topWhat determines breast size and shape?So many things. Let’s dive in:1. Your family historyJust as your genes help dictate your hair and skin color, how tall you are, and a bunch of other characteristics, they also have some impact on your breast size. That doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to be a C-cup if other people in your immediate family are, but it’s more likely for you than someone who comes from a family with a history of A-cups.“Women often are born with their breast size, but it can change in their lifetime,” Nazanin Khakpour, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at Moffitt Cancer Center, tells SELF. In short, family history is one indicator of many, and there are other factors that contribute to the fluctuations that can happen over time.2. Your weightYour breasts are a complex part of your anatomy, made up of supportive or connective tissue, milk glands and ducts, and fatty tissue. How much of each tissue type you have is unique to you. Some people have more supportive tissue than fat and vice-versa. If your breasts contain a higher concentration of fatty tissue, you could see a difference in your boob size when you gain or lose weight, Sheryl Ross, MD, FACOG, ob-gyn at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SELF. Keep in mind that weight loss can look different for everyone. Some people may notice their boobs are smaller or shaped differently after losing weight, while others may not. But in general, losing large amounts of weight (think: over a hundred pounds) can lead to smaller breast size and possibly drooping1.3. Your workout routine If you started lifting recently and noticed your boobs seem a little perkier, there could be a connection there. Doing pectoral exercises, such as the chest press, can strengthen your pecs, which are four major muscles that sit behind your breast tissue and facilitate deep breathing and arm movement. If your pecs muscles grow, this may cause your boobs to push out a tiny bit more than usual, Albert Matheny, RD, CSCS, of SoHo Strength Lab, tells SELF. Keep in mind that these exercises won’t actually increase your breast size—but they might grow the muscles behind your breasts. If those muscles become larger and push your breast tissue out further than before, then your boobs may appear a little larger.4. Your periodEver wonder why your boobs get bigger around your period? Your menstrual cycle can bring pretty distinct changes to your breast size, texture, and shape. During the first half of your cycle, your body produces estrogen, a hormone that stimulates ovulation and the milk ducts in the breasts, Hopkins Medicine explains. But in the second half of the cycle (as you get closer to your period), progesterone stimulates the formation of milk glands, which can make your breasts swell, according to Hopkins Medicine. So your boobs may temporarily feel a little bigger because of the swelling. While you’re on your period, your breasts might also feel a bit lumpier than usual, but this isn’t a cause for concern—your glands are simply enlarging to prepare for a possible pregnancy. Ultimately, your breasts will return to their normal size and texture. 5. Your birth control Your birth control can do more than prevent unintended pregnancy and help regulate your period: Hormonal birth control methods like the pill, the shot, and the hormonal IUD can actually impact your breast size, Jennifer Wider, MD, tells SELF. This is because the estrogen and progesterone in hormonal birth control can cause water retention, she says—but it’s unlikely to last. “It’s usually most noticeable when someone starts birth control,” Dr. Wider adds.
If you’re wearing the same bras and shirts you always have, this probably isn’t the reason behind your itchy boobs or nipples. But if you recently started wearing a new top, started going braless completely, or switched up your workout routine to something that causes more bounce—and breast or nipple itchiness followed—friction is definitely a cause to consider.4. Your skin is irritated from a sunburn.If you’ve been topless outdoors recently, whether it was on a beach or in your backyard, this could be your problem. Your breast skin is sensitive and can easily get burned, especially since it’s not typically exposed to sunlight. Along with delightful side effects like peeling, sunburns can cause intense itching thanks to skin irritation.5. You have a heat rash.Along those same lines, getting a heat rash on your chest can also cause itchy breasts, Sherry A. Ross, M.D., a women’s health expert and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period, tells SELF. “When breasts get overheated and start to perspire, the skin of the breasts can become irritated, red, and itchy,” she explains. Indeed, heat rash typically happens when sweat gets trapped under your skin, blocking your pores, according to the Mayo Clinic.6. You had an allergic reaction to perfume, soap, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, or something else.Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction or irritation that can happen when your skin is exposed to something it doesn’t like, and itchiness is one of its major giveaways, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). If you wash your bras with regular detergent or dry them with dryer sheets, it’s possible your boobs will riot and become itchy. (Same goes for towels, sheets if you sleep in the nude, and basically anything else that can come into contact with your chest, including your body wash.) Fragrance in particular is often a culprit behind allergic contact dermatitis, especially if you have sensitive skin.7. You simply have dry skin.We’d be remiss not to mention this one. Good old-fashioned dry skin could be the reason you have itchy boobs or nipples. “Dry skin anywhere on the body can cause itching,” notes Dr. Ross.This can be particularly problematic in the wintertime, Dr. Rodney says. That’s because the air outside tends to be cold and dry, which is like a double whammy when it comes to retaining moisture in your skin. Unfortunately, the warm air inside probably isn’t doing you any favors either, as indoor heating tends to zap humidity and leave dry air in its wake.So, be extra diligent about applying lotion to your boobs (including your nipples) when the temps drop, as it’s an area that many people with breasts tend to neglect when moisturizing in general, Dr. Rodney says.8. You have full-blown eczema.Eczema is a chronic skin condition that causes dry, itchy inflammation that can show up as a scaly rash, per the AAD. While it typically affects areas like the backs of the knees and crooks of the elbows, it can affect just about any of your body, including your breasts. If you’ve had itchy breasts for a while and you can’t pinpoint why, eczema could be the cause, especially if you have dry, itchy, or cracked skin around the nipple area specifically, Dr. Rodney says.9. You have psoriasis.There are many different types of psoriasis, but plaque psoriasis is most common, the Mayo Clinic says. With this condition, your immune system mistakenly causes skin cells to build up and form dry, scaly, itchy patches called plaques, typically on areas like the elbows, knees, lower back, and scalp. Unfortunately, much like eczema, psoriasis can also show up on or under your boobs. (On top of both being frustrating, that can make psoriasis and eczema easy to confuse. To dig a bit deeper, check out SELF’s article on how to tell the difference between the two conditions.)10. You have a yeast infection under your boobs.You probably associate yeast infections with your vagina. And you wouldn’t be wrong, since they can certainly afflict vaginas and cause all sorts of symptoms like wonky discharge and swelling. But yeast infections are also pretty common under the breasts, Dr. Goldenberg says. Moisture can get trapped under there as the area can get especially sweaty, creating an environment that’s perfect for yeast to grow, which can result in itchy boobs. However, you’ll probably deal with other symptoms too, like a red rash, pimple-like bumps, burning, or skin patches that ooze clear fluid, per Johns Hopkins Medicine.11. You are pregnant, recently gave birth, or are breastfeeding.Pregnancy, having a baby, and breastfeeding can all set off a pretty major breast change that can contribute to itchy boobs and itchy nipples: Your breasts can go way up in size, says Dr. Ross. Which, you knew that already, but it bears repeating here because that change can lead to stretch marks, which Dr. Ross notes can cause itching in some people as they form. The breastfeeding process specifically may cause your nipples to become dry and irritated from all that contact.12. Your boobs grew very quickly for other reasons.There are other reasons why your boobs can get bigger in size rapidly, including puberty and weight gain. Again, when the skin has to stretch faster than it normally grows, it can lead to stretch marks that cause inflammation and itchiness, Dr. Rodney says.13. You have hypothyroidism.Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is when your thyroid gland doesn’t make enough hormones to keep your body running smoothly, according to the Mayo Clinic. Your thyroid is a small gland in your neck with a huge job: It essentially governs your body’s metabolism, meaning that thyroid issues can manifest in myriad ways. An underactive thyroid can cause dry skin that can lead to itchy breasts, in addition to many other symptoms like fatigue, constipation, thinning hair, and a slower heart rate, the Mayo Clinic says.14. You’re taking a medication that causes itchy skin.So many medications come with a long list of side effects, and itchy skin can be one of them. These can include things like blood pressure medications, says Dr. Ross, or even aspirin, according to the AAD. If you suspect a new medication could be the culprit, check in with your doctor, who may prescribe a lower dosage to try and mitigate side effects or prescribe a similar medication to try instead.15. You’re going through menopause.Changes in hormones that you experience in menopause (namely, a drop in estrogen and progesterone) can cause the skin on your boobs to become thinner. That, in turn, can make the area more susceptible to itchiness, Dr. Rodney says.16. In rare cases, itchy boobs may be a symptom of breast cancer.If you have breast itchiness, it’s much more likely that it’s due to one of the above reasons and not breast cancer. With that said, there’s a small chance it could be inflammatory breast cancer, a rare but aggressive form of the disease that invades your skin’s dermis (the layer of skin that lies beneath your epidermis, the outer layer of skin), creating an inflammatory response, Jack Jacoub, M.D., a medical oncologist and medical director of MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SELF.