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Anatomy of the female Breast

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The breasts are often an object of much adoration, scrutiny and obsession. Some will argue that we should be comfortable with our breasts as they are. In a perfect world all of us would have the size and shape of breasts that we desire, but for many women this isn't the case.

We have provided the information below that describes the anatomy of the breasts. The purpose of the breasts is milk-production or lactation used to provide sustenance to a baby.

Breasts begin to develop around 6-7 weeks post conception. They begin as a ridge of breast tissue running from under the arms to the groin, this is called the milk ridge. Around the 8th or 9th week, the milk ridge subsides in all areas (usually) except above the pectoral muscle. Around 16 weeks, the cells begin grouping for the lactation glands of the breasts (called lobules). Although they are not yet formed they are at the beginning stage of organizing into the intricate ductwork that will one day perhaps feed the embryo's own, future child. The underlying muscle structure of the areola complex (nipple and its surrounding disc of pigmented skin) will begin to form as well. Over the next several months the inner workings of the fetal breast will develop and define.

Up until pre-pubescence, both gender's breasts are the same. At this time, the female body produces estrogen and then progesterone which stimulates the sexual maturation process. While the ovaries are maturing, the breasts undergo significant changes themselves. The breasts will enlarge and develop more fully for a time period anywhere from 4 to 6 years. Menstruation usually begins within 2 years of breast development. After functional maturation the teen is able to produce a milk supply in the event of a pregnancy and subsequent childbirth.

Even though during this time the breasts are still not truly developed in size, they are able to sustain life if need be. The breasts continue to further develop and reach their adult size anywhere from ages 18-21. Further breast changes develop as the years go by and estrogen/progesterone levels increase. This can happen quite naturally or with the interference of synthetic and natural supplemental hormones. Such outside hormonal influences may include birth control pills, shots, human growth hormone (HGH), and herbal remedies that increase breast growth.

During the last 2 months of pregnancy the lobules (lactation glands) will begin to produce and fill with a yellowish-clear or sometimes oily, milky substance called colostrum. This is a result of the mother's hormones crossing the placenta during the last trimester of the pregnancy. The mother's breasts will also produce this colostrum for the first week or so after the baby is born, which is usually yellowish in color and is considered very beneficial for the baby to consume soon after birth. The colostrum contains antibodies which destroy potentially dangerous organisms in the newborn child and hinders disease. It also has a laxative effect which helps the newborn pass the meconium, which is often a thick and tarry first bowel movement.

The breasts have lobules which group further into lobes, adipose (fatty tissue), milk ducts, connective tissue and the nipple/areola complex, as well as the underlying pectoralis major and ribs. The chest wall itself is covered by muscle and muscle fascia which is sometimes dissected to make way for a sub-pectoral or full sub-muscular implant placement. There may be as many as 20 lobes in each breast, plus a collection of about about 5 to 10 larger milk ducts called collecting ducts. This is where a surplus of milk is emptied into awaiting removal by the nursing infant. There is also glandular tissue. Glandular tissue usually resides in the outer upper quadrant of the breast and feels like lumps or nodules of tissue. Many women who are not familiar with their breasts during a self-breast exam may believe this to be a cyst or tumor. Many times it is only a gland, although if you ever have any doubt or suspicion, please alert your gynecologist or primary care physician. You may also notice breast tenderness in this area if you are prone to such during both ovulation and menstruation. More often you will notice this right before menstruation.

It is best to do self-breast exams after your menstruation cycle has ended. You should do a self-breast exam once a month. This will help you will become very familiar with how your breasts feel normally, so you will more easily notice when something is different.

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