Tending To My Breast Tenderness 

Next year, I will be turning 30, which is undoubtedly a milestone in age and health. Throughout these last few years, I’ve noticed subtle changes happening to my body, like smile lines around my mouth and crow’s feet under my eyes—all of which are signs of a life filled with laughter and joy. But with so much focus on my aging face, there is one part of my body that I haven’t given much notice to: my breasts.

When I began going through puberty, I loved observing my growing breasts. I begged my mom for a bra, and when she finally agreed, I wore it with such pride. For me, my breasts felt like a badge of honor, ushering me into womanhood. Thinking back on this precious time, I am reminded of how beautiful this part of my body is to me. Yet, at the cusp of turning 30, my breast health is still a huge mystery.

My breasts felt like a badge of honor…Yet, at the cusp of turning 30, my breast health is still a huge mystery.

When considering what it means to be conscious of my breast health, a few questions come to mind: What should I look for when giving a self-exam? If I feel something strange, what are the next steps? How often should I be examining my breasts? Does one look smaller than the other?

In seeking answers to some of my questions, I talked with Dr. Shirin Peters, the founder of the Bethany Medical Clinic in New York. 

The Importance of Self-Breast Exams (And How To Do One)

Dr. Peters explains how to give a self-breast examination, as well what to feel for. “Familiarize yourself with your own breast tissue by doing a self-breast exam. Take note of any breast changes such as tenderness or thickening of breast tissue that tends to happen before your period so you can know what days of the month to expect these changes,” she says. 

Familiarize yourself with your own breast tissue.
— Dr. Shirin Peters

According to Dr. Peters, this is the best way to detect any changes or abnormalities. A few days after your period has ended, she recommends using “the pads of your three middle fingers (not fingertips) [to] make circles in the breast tissue, starting on the outside of the breast, and spiraling into smaller circles. Press your finger pads into the breast tissue to feel for any lumps,” she says.

She also notes “early warning signs” to watch for, including “redness in breast skin; swelling or enlargement of the breast; pain or itchiness in the breast; thickening of the skin of the breast: and dimpled skin texture; swelling of the lymph nodes in the armpit or just above or below the collarbone.”

Dr. Peters further adds that these changes will often be asymmetrical, meaning in one breast or in a specific area. “If you feel pain in one particular spot or feel a lump that does not disappear two weeks later (in a different phase of your menstrual cycle), present to your doctor for further testing,” she says. 

Nipple Health Is Important, Too

Outside of recognizing breast tissue changes, it is important to observe our nipples and the changes they go through as well. Nipple tenderness or darkening of the skin, itchiness, or any other pain in the nipple area is common during menstrual cycles due to the fluctuation of hormones. It’s normal for nipples to ache and feel a bit sensitive, too. But if your nipples are causing discomfort for a long period of time, let your gyno know. Similarly, while nipple discharge is normal, you should talk to your doctor if you notice blood or discharge happening in only one breast. 

As we age, nipple health becomes even more important to recognize and care for. Those entering menopause, for instance, might experience a condition called ectasia. This is a completely normal occurrence when the mammary ducts become dilated. However, it can lead to blockage of the ducts and possible infection.

As we age, nipple health becomes even more important to recognize and care for.

Understanding Breast Cancer Risks

Being proactive and aware of any of these changes in overall breast health is not only an important part of wellness, but it can also be vital in detecting early signs of breast cancer. According to Breastcancer.org, “about 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. In 2020, an estimated 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer are expected to be diagnosed in women in the U.S., along with 48,530 new cases of non-invasive (in situ) breast cancer.”

To learn more about cancer warning signs, I spoke to Dr. Stephanie Culver, MD from Pandia Health. She shared about the importance of discussing breast health with family members as one of the key ways we can be proactive in catching breast cancer early.

“The first step is to talk to relatives and immediate family members to establish if there is a familial risk of cancers in the family,” she explains. “Your family history may signal the need for genetic counseling or testing. The screening and recommendations for high-risk women are different from average-risk women. 

Your family history may signal the need for genetic counseling or testing.
— Dr. Stephanie Culver

It’s an empowering reminder to know that by discussing breast cancer concerns with our family, we can take more control over our treatment and breast health. Even though, according to Culver, breast cancer is relatively rare for people in their 20s and 30s, “understanding breast self-awareness is a powerful tool” at a young age.

“Even if you are not considered at high risk for cancer, breast self-awareness is a lifelong routine and should be emphasized,” she says. “Your regular health care provider at some point in your 20s should take a detailed history to ascertain your individual breast cancer risk. If breast cancer risk is deemed high or moderate, breast surveillance and/or intervention may be recommended.”

Another Way to Support Your Breasts? Correctly-Fitted Bras. 

In addition to self-examinations, talking to family members about our genetics, and speaking with your doctor, wearing the correct size bra can also impact breast health. In fact, long-term side effects from wearing an ill-fitting bra can range from discomfort and back pain to even breast skin damage.

Long-term side effects from wearing an ill-fitting bra can range from discomfort to breast skin damage.

Look for signs like pain, itching, or grooves in the skin caused by a bra. Unfortunately, finding the right size can feel daunting, but this guide from Breast Cancer Now is great for understanding how to find your size. For those (like me) who have one breast that’s larger than the other, you’ll want a cup size that fits the larger breast. These sustainable bras come in a wide range of cup sizes.

If you’re ready to ditch the bra altogether, that’s okay too—though it may depend on your cup size. In a recent Elle article, experts weigh in on if and when we need to wear a bra, especially when working from home. The article includes tips for going braless, along with how to find bras that are both comfortable and supportive for breast health. For even more information about the types of bras or the right fit for your breasts, you can try a virtual fitting. Rigby and Peller, a London-based lingerie shop offers online consultations. On the US side, you can book a 20-minute video fitting with CUUP, a New York-based company making bras up to H-cup (read our CUUP review here).

As I enter this new decade, I am committed to integrating my breast health with my everyday health. My body is always changing and my breasts will continue to change with every new chapter of life—especially if I decide to have children one day and as my body continues to age into menopause. We are gifted the beauty that is the complexity of our breasts and we can honor our bodies by being proactive, talking to our doctors, regular self-examinations, and making sure we feel supported and loved with the right clothing and bras.

Wherever you are on your breast health journey, I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments below!


Courtney Jay is a writer at The Good Trade. She is also a yoga instructor, health enthusiast, and sustainable fashion advocate. She believes the most powerful way to nurture the planet is to nurture ourselves. You can find more of her writing and take one of her online yoga classes on her website Coincide.