Breasts – Taking Away the Mystery
October 17, 2013
Breasts are the great, mysterious glands that fascinate and confound us. They are used to sell cars and beer and they are used to feed babies. They can be used to lure lovers. They are mysterious because we idolize them but we know very little about them.
I remember talking with a woman who told me in medical school they were studying cadavers. She said they took a scrotum and dissected it this way and that way. When it came to the female body the breast was lopped off and they never looked at it.
Several years ago I was at the Bodies Exhibit at the South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan. I had my oldest child with me, she was ten years old at the time, and I had my son who was a few months old.
I noticed that the exhibit of the female body showed a breast that was perfectly round. Since I see breasts almost daily in my work as a lactation consultant I knew that breasts are not perfectly round. At the end of the exhibit there was the opportunity to ask questions.
“Was there an aesthetic point of view in making the breast perfectly round?” I inquired. My ten-year-old rolled her eyes (Oh no, there goes mom again talking about breasts to perfect strangers, let me crawl away now.)
“Why don’t you ask him? He knows everything,” responded a woman as she pointed at a studious looking man in a white lab coat.
“Hi, there! Do you know why the breast was carved to look perfectly round?” I asked. The ten-year-old turned beet red.
Mr. Studious pushed his gold wire rimmed glasses higher on the bridge of his nose and said:
“Breasts are round.”
“Yes, I understand but mammary tissue is not perfectly round, it goes up into the arm pit.” I moved my hand across my breast and up into my armpit. My baby drooled and his eyes followed my hands.
“Breasts are round,” insisted Studious.
“Well, they may look round in a bra but they are much more than just round.”
Studious huffed and said, “Would you like me to get out the anatomy book?”
“Yes, please!” I was delighted. “Look up Tail of Spence.”
Studious scanned the book ready to make me a fool and then he slowed down, his face fell as he read. He looked up, pushed those glasses back and said, “You are right.”
“I know! I am a Lactation Consultant!” I was beaming. The ten-year old was beginning to show a bit of respect, pride even, and the baby was beginning to pull at my sweater to get some milk.
I am always talking about breasts and in various conversations it has occurred to me that most people do not know what breasts are like except for the few that they have encountered whether it is their own or a lovers or a quick glimpse in the locker room.
So I wanted to share a little to take the mystery out. You mystery is scary. That means that breasts can be scary, like the unknown, the dark, a new school. All of these unknowns are scary. Let me demystify the breast!
Breasts come in all shapes and sizes. They have a nipple and areola, which also come in all shapes and sizes and many various colors ranging from light pink to dark brown. Some breasts have a little bit of hair on them and some have a lot of hair.
Some breasts have big nipples, some have small nipples some have inverted nipples.
In current culture breasts that are used to sell bear and cars in advertising actually look like breasts that are engorged with milk. Breasts that are engorged with milk are big, round and heavy and are quite uncomfortable.
Most women have some variation in the size and shape of her breasts. Some women have two different sized breasts.
At birth some babies will have milk in their breasts, some call it “Witches milk.” Some babies will even get engorged. This is rare but it happens.
Some people have extra nipples. During lactation sometimes these nipples will drip milk. Some women get engorged in their armpits – this is the Tail of Spence! It is a sort of milk line that goes up into the armpit.
Breasts are perky when they are young and smallish. Many breasts are sloping.
Breasts will sag with age whether or not you have a baby or whether or not you breastfed. Bras contribute more to sagging than lifting. As we age everything kind of moves a bit south.