General Health - Thanks for the Mammaries

Information out there for lesbian and bi women is sparse, and often involves little or no celebration about who we are, particularly when it comes to our bodies.

In order to redress this, LGBT Foundation have produced these pages to explore and celebrate all things breast related!

You’ve got them yourself and you’re probably attracted to others, so we thought an informative celebration of breasts would be a good starting place! There's also some all important health information in it too.

This page look at a range of things such as information on what breast actually are; sizes; age changes; bras; breast and sex; pregnancy. To read about breast cancer please click here. It’s important to know what they’re about and what could go wrong or right with them.

So what's up there?

Getting to know yours, and her breasts can be fun and also very important and knowing how your breasts look and feel can help in the early detection of breast cancer.

A diagram of a breast - external

A diagram of a breast - internal


Nipples are small projections of the skin which are surrounded by an area of pigmented skin known as the areola.

The primary, physical reason we have nipples is to breast feed. However, being surrounded by nerve endings and blood vessels they are also a place of pleasure, which we’re sure you’re all aware of!

Erect or inverted

When stimulated by touch, friction, temperature, or through sexual arousal, blood flowing through the vessels often causes the nipples to become erect and more sensitive. Nipples that are tucked into the breast are called inverted nipples.

If your nipple has been inverted for as long as you can remember, it’s probably nothing to worry about; it’s just the way you are. However, if your nipple suddenly becomes inverted, it could be a sign of something more serious so get it checked out.

For women who don’t have the natural tweaked effect of erected nipples, yet would like them, there are a few tricks you could try.

You could place an ice cube wrapped in a flannel on your areola, a breast pump or try stroking the areola with warm hands to bring the nipple out. Alternatively you could wear breast shields. If this doesn’t work, it is possible to have a small operation.

This may however cause difficulty if you want to breastfeed in the future and is costly, so discuss this further with a health professional.

Hairy nipples

Hairs around the nipple are quite common and nothing to be concerned by. However, if you’d rather be hair free, you can pull them out with tweezers, but this can cause irritation, alternatively you could cut them off close to the skin.


Nipple discharge is fairly common and it is usually harmless. In fact, most women can squeeze some discharge out of their nipples, though we don’t advise that you try!

Discharge may be whitish, yellow-green or almost black.

Nipple discharge can however be a symptom of breast cancer, particularly if it’s bloodstained, so it is advised to visit your doctor if you experience any discharge.


Many women choose to pierce their nipples because they like the way it looks.

Nipple piercings are also said to provide constant stimulation, and of course they will give your partner something extra to play with during sex! However, it can be a painful piercing to have, and like any open wound, there is risk of infection so be careful!

If you have any concerns about your nipples then contact a health professional to put your mind at ease – but the likelihood is that they’ll be perfectly normal, so enjoy them!

(Interestingly it’s considered that the Milky Way is so named, because the ancient Greeks thought it was made from drops of milk from the breasts of the Greek goddess Hera.)

Age changes

The appearance and function of the breasts are controlled by changes in hormones.

The breasts are constantly changing from puberty, adolescence, the childbearing years and into the menopause. Changes are a normal part of getting older.

Breasts begin to form during fetal development, with a thickening in the chest area called the mammary ridge or milk line. By the time a female infant is born, a nipple and the beginnings of the milk-duct system have formed.

One of the first signs of puberty is when the breasts start developing. Many girls start to get “breast buds” (mounds or bumps around or under the nipple) at an average age of 11, although it can start at a younger or older age.

Shortly after the development of “breast buds” the entire breast will start to get larger. The nipple and areola (the area around the nipple) will get darker and form a separate, small mound. This whole process, from “flat” to “finish” takes from 2 to 3 years. Some girls develop more quickly than others and the majority of adult women have one breast that’s bigger than the other.

Once the breasts have developed, changes linked to the monthly menstrual cycle are common.

Just before a period, breasts may become larger, tender or feel a bit lumpy. After a period, this lumpiness becomes less obvious or may disappear altogether although some women may have tender, lumpy breasts all the time.

During pregnancy, the breasts get much larger as the number of milk-producing cells increases.

Around the menopause lumps and tenderness are common. The lumps often turn out to be breast cysts (benign fluid-filled sacs, which are not dangerous).

Breast tissue also changes with age and begins to lose its firmness when the milk-producing tissue is replaced by fat, making the breasts sag. This is more noticeable after the menopause, when oestrogen levels fall.

As you grow older, your breasts may change size too. If you take HRT (hormone replacement therapy) your breasts may feel firmer and sometimes quite tender. The breasts naturally head southwards through aging, as the ligaments become elongated.

Like any body part, breasts change as you get older, but it is perfectly normal and all part of being human.

Breast during pregnancy

Many women can start to realise they are pregnant through the breast changes they experience; you may first notice an increase in size and possibly tenderness, very early on before the pregnancy is confirmed.

During pregnancy, breasts grow larger under the influence of hormones. This growth is a positive sign that the breasts are preparing for breastfeeding.

The progesterone hormone increases the size of the alveoli (the milk producing units of the breast). The lobes, which are sections of the alveoli and connecting ducts inside the breast, allow the milk to flow from the alveoli where the milk is made, to the openings in the nipple.

Picture the structure of the alveoli and the connecting ducts as mini bunches of grapes. The alveoli would take the place of the grapes and the ducts take the place of the stems. The lobes would be one complete bunch of grapes with the top of the stem ending at the nipple.

Also, women may notice the areola (the dark, circular part around the nipple), increase in diameter and get deeper in colour. It is said that the dark colour of the areola acts as a way of helping the newborn easily identify the nipple.

The Montgomery glands, the small pimple-like glands on the areola, excrete a substance which prevents the areola from becoming infected. So women should avoid using soap, or doing any preparation such as “toughening” the nipples, since this may interfere with the effectiveness of the Montgomery glands.

The best thing a mother can do to prepare for breastfeeding is to become well informed.

Attend a breastfeeding class or even a mother’s breastfeeding support group and make sure you become familiar with the local breastfeeding related services.