Breasts and nipples come in different sizes and shapes. Everyone’s breasts are different and develop in different ways, and no one has breasts that are the same as another person’s.
Breast size and shape
The size and shape of your breasts are determined by the genes inherited from your parents.
There’s nothing you can do to make your breasts grow bigger or smaller, or change their shape. And breasts will constantly change while they’re developing and throughout your life.
Nipples: different shapes, sizes and colours
Nipples come in different shapes, sizes and colours. They can:
- point up or down
- be dark or pale
- be big or small
- look different on each breast.
We can’t change the size, shape or colour of our nipples.
Some girls 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. If you’re uncomfortable or feel embarrassed about having erect nipples, choose a bra that’s padded at the front so they don’t show through, or try using skin-coloured stick-on nipple covers.
Listen to a discussion about breasts, nipples and being breast aware with one of our nurses.
It’s common and perfectly normal for one breast to be larger than the other. Sometimes one breast may grow more quickly than the other one.
It’s not unusual to have breasts that are slightly different sizes, or for one to sit higher or lower than the other.
There’s nothing much you can do about uneven breasts. Most differences will even out as you get older. A good bra will help make any differences between breasts less obvious.
Our booklet Your breasts, your health - throughout your life explains how your breasts develop and age, and the normal changes to the breasts that can occur throughout your life.
Some girls have nipples that are inverted – when one or both nipples are turned inwards instead of outwards. Inverted nipples can be like that from birth or happen as breasts develop.
If you’ve always had inverted nipples, this is normal for you and nothing to worry about. Sometimes inverted nipples will stick out if they’re rubbed, and they may eventually stick out once the breasts have finished growing or after childbirth and breastfeeding.
If you’re bothered by them you could try a niplette – a thimble-like device worn for a while that can help make the nipples stick out.
Hair around the nipples
Some girls have a few hairs growing around their nipple and areola (the darker area of skin around the nipple). This is normal and nothing to worry about.
If you’re bothered by hair around the nipple you can cut it off close to the skin with small scissors. This is better than plucking or shaving the hair as this may cause infection.
Tenderness and pain
You may have tingling and an aching feeling in your chest when your breasts are developing.
After your periods begin, the changing hormones may make the breasts feel tender, painful or sore a week or so just before your period starts. However, this doesn’t happen to everyone.
If you feel tenderness or pain in your breasts that doesn’t go away, talk to someone about it. A parent, school nurse or GP (local doctor) can give you pain relief to help make you feel more comfortable.
Smooth or lumpy breasts
Breasts may feel either smooth or lumpy – both are normal. Your breasts may feel lumpy or different around the time of your period, but they’ll often settle down again when it’s over.
Lumps may develop while breasts are growing, and these are nearly always due to normal changes in the breast tissue.
Very occasionally lumps are a sign of a benign breast condition, which may need to be checked out by a doctor. ‘Benign’ means harmless, and a benign condition will not become a breast cancer. The most common benign lump as the breasts are developing is known as a fibroadenoma.
If you find a lump in your breast that you’re worried about, see your doctor. Although it’s very unlikely that there’s anything wrong, the doctor will check it out and should put your mind at rest. You can ask to see a female doctor or the practice nurse if this will make you feel more comfortable.
Girls whose breasts 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 develop in pregnancy.
Over time these stretch marks usually fade but there are no creams that will make them go away.
Nothing much can be done to stop stretch marks appearing, especially if your body develops quickly. Keeping the skin well moisturised may help.
Nipple discharge (liquid)
Once the breasts have fully developed, usually around the age of 17, you might get some spontaneous discharge (liquid) from the nipple. This is perfectly normal and might happen after exercise or after massaging the breast or nipple.
Nipple discharge is generally white, but can range from yellow to green to a brown/red colour. It generally appears in small amounts.
Unless there’s a large amount of discharge from the nipple, this is nothing to worry about – though of course you can visit your doctor or practice nurse if you have any concerns.
Extra breasts and nipples
A small number of girls have an extra breast or pair of breasts. Known as accessory breasts, they’re usually found in the lower armpit. They’re often present from birth though sometimes appear during puberty.
Some people have an extra nipple or nipples. These are usually below the breast or above the belly button.
Accessory breasts and extra nipples can often cause anxiety and embarrassment, but they are normal. They’re not a health concern and don’t need to be removed.
Girls who have accessory breasts or extra nipples may feel embarrassed and worried about them. When they get their period they may notice normal changes such as a heavy feeling and tenderness in the accessory breast as well as in their natural breasts. If this is upsetting or uncomfortable, they should talk to their doctor or practice nurse for further support.
A small number of girls have 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 about the size of their breasts and it can also cause physical symptoms such as backache.
Dieting and losing weight won’t help reduce the size of the breasts for girls with breast hypertrophy. Surgery is really the only option to reduce the size of the breasts. Those who have any concerns should talk to their GP.