Know your body, know your breasts

Second B of breast health encourages familiarity

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Monday, September 30, 2013

Pay attention to your breasts.

Research suggests that knowing what your breasts look and feel like is a key component of breast health, says Tania D'Amato, Director of the Breast Health Centre.

The challenge is that many women are uncomfortable with their bodies at some point in their lives, and they may avoid thinking, looking, touching or talking about their breasts. Not wanting to do this could be putting their health at risk.

"Current evidence suggests that women knowing what their breasts look and feel like so they know what their normal is, is an important part of breast health," says D'Amato. "We want women to look at their breasts, touch them and know what the differences are for them at different points during their menstrual cycle and recognize changes."

Normal breasts may have:

  • stretch marks
  • hair around the nipples
  • swelling
  • tenderness
  • inverted nipples
  • discharge
  • be different sizes

What isn't normal? Here is a list of things that you may want to talk to your health care provider about:

  • a lump in the breast that is not normal for you, new and/or doesn't go away
  • a change in the size, shape or colour of your breast (keep in mind many women have one breast larger than the other)
  • a change in the way one or both of your nipples looks (it may be normal for your  nipple to be flat or inverted)
  • an eczema-type rash on the nipple (this may be normal if you have eczema on other parts of your body)
  • any discharge from the nipple that is spontaneous, new or bloody (a milky or creamy discharge is normal for many females), or is only from one nipple
  • puckering or dimpling of the skin
  • skin that looks like an orange peel or feels very thick

A woman's menstrual cycle - as well as being premenopausal or menopausal - can also impact how her breasts look and feel.  "Check your breasts throughout your cycle," says Brandy Pantel, Health Educator with BreastCheck, CancerCare Manitoba. "Know what's normal for you throughout the month. You can only recognize there is something new or a change if you know what's normal for you and your body."

Dr. Ethel MacIntosh, Medical Director for the Breast Health Centre says, "It should be noted that non-cyclical breast discomfort and tenderness is also very common, and generally not something to worry about. This can happen any time and is not related to the menstrual cycle."

"If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of the people in your life," says Pantel. "Becoming aware of your breasts needs to be a routine part of your self care practice."

Becoming more familiar with your breasts can be built into your everyday routine. Here are some suggestions:

  • in the bath or shower
  • when putting on lotion
  • when getting dressed or undressed
  • when lying down in bed
  • when standing up
  • when you're in front of a mirror

Bodies change. Even if your body's shape is similar to the way it was when you were in your late teens or early twenties, your body has changed. Stress levels, emotional health, level of physical activity, hormones and nutrition all play a factor in your body's changes over time.

That's the good news, because positive health changes - such as getting active, choosing healthier foods and reducing your stress - made repeatedly over time can also help improve our overall health, boost our energy and generally make us feel better about ourselves and our lives.

Knowing your body

If the idea of looking at your naked body in the mirror after a shower makes you uncomfortable, some self-compassion and gentle attention may be just what's needed.

Moreover, many of us are so busy, that knowing our bodies may feel like an overwhelming task. But it's important to tune in to what's normal for you.

Here is a list of guided meditations that help you do a body scan. This can help you be more present in your body and more accepting of it.

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