Menarche (the onset of the menstrual cycle) marks the beginning of puberty in girls. Various physical and emotional changes occur during this transitional period from childhood to womanhood. The typical signs of puberty include physical changes (breast development, growth of pubic hair, body odor, etc.) as well as behavioral changes. Minds of young girls are filled with mixed feelings of fear, sometimes spurred on by myths, hope and the wonderment of becoming a woman. Since changes in breasts is a very prominent bodily change, girls around this age often ask themselves and others questions like – How big will my breasts be? Will mine look like mom’s or big sister’s or will mine be different.
Breast Development Stages
The development of breast has been divided into five stages. After the onset of puberty, it may take eight to ten years for breast development to be complete. As it is true with the rest of our bodies, breasts take several years before they’re fully mature. While several changes take place during puberty, full growth can be seen during pregnancy, after which breasts are fully mature and are able to produce milk.
Stage 1 (The child less than 10 years old)
In this time period the child is growing in all areas, however development of breasts is not yet seen. Areolas are only brownish spots where there will one day be full breasts and fully developed nipples.
Stage 2 (Beginning development age 8-13)
There are some differing viewpoints as to the age at which this stage begins. There are those that say that it begins at nine years, but it is well proven that there are factors (such as obesity, which increases Leptin, the hormone required to begin puberty and breast development) that can bring about early onset of this stage. In this stage small breast buds develop in preparation for growth of the ducts. Menarche will begin approximately four years after this stage.
Stage 3 (Ages 12-14 years)
In this stage the breasts buds are beginning to enlarge. There may be some pain or discomfort.
Stage 4 (Ages 12-15)
At this stage of development the breasts form mounds and are gradually enlarging. There may be some additional discomfort and pink lines may appear on the breasts, these are only stretch marks and will fade in time. In addition there might be noticeable pain. This is only due to the growing breasts and the skin growing to accommodate the enlarging mound beneath it. This discomfort will pass in about a year or so.
Note: This is a good time to purchase a bra to prevent injury. The child needs to understand that a brassiere is more than underwear. A bra is meant to protect the breasts both during and after growth. Breast injury is quite painful and breasts need to be protected while jogging and other sports. There are some who claim that it is very good for a person to wear a bra to bed. It is at this stage of life that a young girl should be taught and makes it a habit to do breast self exams. This is definitely not because cancer is a worry at this point in life. However, it is because cancer is a possibility later in life and that it is important for the teenager to get into the habit of doing these exams shortly after each menstrual cycle.
Stage 5 (ages 14-18)
This is the last stage and the breasts mature and become full and rounded. This is about the time a woman has realized the approximate breast and bra size that she will most likely retain for most of the rest of her life. There will be factors that will change this; breast size will increase with both pregnancy and weight gain. In addition if the young woman is overweight at this point in her life, then dramatic weight loss will of course decrease the amount of fat in the breasts and her bra size will decrease.
It is also during this last stage of development that the ducts within the breast will be growing and this can produce small lumps. These are nothing to be concerned about; these usually go away within several menstrual cycles. Doctors generally are not concerned about this unless they last longer than three menstrual cycles.
Most women experience cyclical breast tenderness every month because of the fluctuations in hormones like estrogen and progesterone. While the hormone estrogen rises around mid-cycle and causes the enlargement of milk ducts, the hormone progesterone rises in the latter half of the menstrual cycle and stimulates the growth of milk glands. This makes the breasts more susceptible to pain and fullness before the periods. However, this should not be a cause of concern since it is a completely physiological phenomenon.
While breast growth and development is a normal thing that happens to a young girl, it can also be a scary time. There are many changes taking place and some of these associated with the breasts are not taking place at the same time. There may be a period where one breast is slightly larger than the other. This is just a minor and very normal thing that happens during any growth period. After about 18 years old the breasts should be very close to the same size.