Tips for Healthy Breasts

Patient Expert
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Keeping your breasts in good shape should be an integral part of every woman’s wellness plan. Here are suggestions for how you can do that.

Know your breasts

The American Cancer Society cites “breast awareness” as key to early detection of changes, which can help prevent not just cancer, but serious infections. Perform a monthly BSE (breast self examination) or simply feel your breasts for any changes regularly. Report any changes to your doctor immediately if you’re post-menopausal or after one menstrual cycle if pre-menopausal.

Choosing and using your bra

Avoid contact dermatitis and fungal infections by wearing a bra made of natural, “breathable” fibers, and changing it regularly. Your bra should be supportive, but not so tight it binds or chafes. Hand-wash bras in gentle, natural detergents. Breast skin is sensitive and can be irritated by any harsh chemical residue left in your bra after washing.

Have a regular mammogram

While there’s no evidence that mammograms prevent breast cancer death, having a regular mammogram beginning at age 40 can detect breast cancer early, while it’s more easily treatable. Begin regular mammograms at age 35 if your mother or a sister has been diagnosed with breast cancer and sooner if you have a family history of BRCA gene mutations.

Pregnancy and your breasts

Pregnancy brings on hormonal changes and your breasts might grow by up to two full cup sizes. They might also become painful due to stretched skin, plus muscles and ligaments working harder. Don’t try to “get by” with your current bra. If necessary, be fitted for a new, larger one with sufficient support.


This breast infection is most common in nursing mothers. Characterized by redness, swelling, and pain, it’s treated with antibiotics. To prevent mastitis, keep nipples clean and free of cracks. Empty both breasts fully and regularly and nurse on both sides. Make sure your baby latches on correctly (to prevent wounds). And don’t let a baby continue to suck after he or she is done feeding.

Size counts

Your breast size can change significantly over the course of your lifetime. And the wrong size bra, one that fit you 10 years ago, may actually be the cause of skin irritation, pain and sagging. Consult with a professional bra fitter and spend the money necessary for several top-quality bras--a sports bra when exercising and a supportive yet comfortable bra the rest of the day.

Have regular clinical breast exams

A clinical breast exam by a medical professional is a key supplement to your own regular routine for detecting any breast changes. The American Cancer Society recommends women under 40 have a breast exam at least every three years; while women 40 and older should have an exam every year.

Choose the right sports bra

Wearing a supportive sports bra when exercising can help prevent damage to ligaments, which can lead to pain and sagging. For yoga, Pilates, and other stationary-type classes, wear a bra that supports yet stretches. For more active classes (step, cardio boxing), wear a tighter bra. When running long distances, be wary of bras with seams, clasps or lace that might chafe.

Know your nipples

Understand the difference between cyclical hormonal nipple discharge and discharge that might signal an infection. Are those tiny bumps around your nipple normal or an early sign of infection? What does an inverted nipple mean? Read our posts on nipple issues and nipple discharge.

Don’t ignore lumps

While the vast majority of breast lumps aren’t cancer, they do need to be taken seriously. Report any newly discovered lump to the doctor if it lasts longer than a month (if you’re still having your period) or immediately, if you’re post-menopausal.

Wear sunscreen

Even if you slather yourself with sunscreen at the beach, think beyond the swimsuit. Halter tops and low-cut shirts or dresses can expose your décolletage to damaging sunlight. Breast skin is thinner and more sensitive than your regular skin and burns easily. Sunburn can cause pain, plus wrinkled cleavage. Keep the SPF30 handy!