"To know, know, know her, is to love, love, love her."
The Beatles, To Know Her is to Love Her
Most of us never learned breast anatomy or physiology in school, or university for that matter. So when my mentor, Cheryl Chapman, RN, Breast Health Advocate and Pioneer in Breast Massage, showed us what our breasts looked like inside, how they functioned, and what they needed to stay healthy, I was floored, and wondered, "Why aren't all women taught this?"
To begin with, breasts have a beautiful, amazing and complex network of lymphatic vessels. This lymphatic network is so crucial to breast health, we'll begin our breast anatomy lesson here.
Every "Girl" is Different
Anatomy of the breast is different for each woman (and each breast!)
depending on weight, age, presence or absence of surgical scars, implants, hormone levels, as well as the amount of fatty tissue in breasts.
The female breast is mostly made up of a collection of fat cells called adipose tissue. This tissue extends from the collarbone down to the underarm and across to the middle of the ribcage.
In addition to this fat is glandular tissue containing milk ducts, blood vessels, connective tissue, nerves and lymph vessels. Each breast has 15-20 milk-producing sections, called lobes, that are arranged like the petals of a daisy. They don't look purple, or exactly like this, but, it illustrates why Groovy Booby uses the daisy as a symbol of the breast!
Lymph is Latin for “Water Goddess”
Gotta love that. Lymph fluid inside each lymph capillary and lymph vessel transports proteins, fats from the digestive system, infection-fighting white blood cells, bacteria, cell debris, enzymes and hormones to and from the breast tissue as needed.
The uninhibited flow of lymph fluid protects and nourishes breast tissue, bathing each cell, keeping breasts clean and healthy on the inside. When overwhelmed, your "water goddess" will package up toxins via the spleen, forming cysts.
Normal, healthy movement of lymph fluid is essential to breast health! Sluggish lymph is like a stagnant swamp, encouraging parasites, yeasts and bacteria to live and thrive in our lymphatic ocean.
All types of illnesses spread by feeding on the garbage clogging our inner waterways, including cancer.
Lymph drainage areas for the breasts are located precisely were brassieres wrap around the rib cage. Lymph moves through the mammary space, from nipple toward rib cage. Therefore, anything that compresses the breast, such as tight or poorly fitting bras, snug elastic clothing and popular shape wear garments inhibit lymph drainage from the breasts. This results in stagnation of lymph fluid.
Stagnant lymph fluid is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, parasites, viruses and a build up of toxic wastes. This helps create an unhealthy breast tissue environment. The result is breast swelling, pain and discomfort, or worse…
Lymph fluid normally moves through muscular movements, respirations, and through varied pressure on the skin, such as the movement of clothing, touch and massage. Breasts do not have muscles to help pump lymph fluid. Since breasts are too often confined to a bra, sometimes 24/7 (not healthy), make it a health care practice remove your bra as often as possible, or at the very least, at bedtime.
Breasts require movement to be healthy. They should be allowed to lightly bounce while walking. Movement assists normal drainage of our wonderful, protective lymph fluids. Daily self-breast massage is not only a fabulous way to keep lymph fluid moving, it feels great too!
“When your girls are compressed in a bra, including padded bra’s, for long periods of time, there is little or no opportunity for the lymph and killer T-cells to do their job. We think that cancer cells love to hide and hang out in dark untouched stagnant places. It’s all about congestion. No matter what style bra you are wearing, it is important to move us around frequently throughout the day in order to move the lymph fluid and relieve congestion.”
Cheryl Chapman, RN
The American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen Foundation no longer recommend breast exams, either from a medical provider or self-exams, because research shows they do not provide a clear benefit.
It's been 14 years since a
definitive study found that breast self-exams did more harm than good and six years since a government task force agreed, telling women to stop the once-mandated monthly shower sessions, circular motions and all.
Up to 33% of early breast tumors have no potential to kill. Because doctors can't be certain which tumors will prove deadly, they tend to treat all of them, which subjects some many women to unneeded therapies.
However, both organizations agree (and so do we): all women should know how their breasts normally look and feel.
No More SBE!?
Each of these lobes is made up of many smaller lobules, the gland that produces milk in nursing women. Both the lobes and lobules are connected by milk ducts, which act as stems or tubes to carry the milk to the nipple.
The tiny duct openings at the nipple are numerous, arranged like a shower head.
The connective tissue in breasts is often referred to as Cooper's ligaments. They suspend the breast from the collar bone and the deep underlying connective tissue, or fascia, of the upper chest.
Breast Development & Changes
Breasts change throughout life; our breasts undergo many phases, not just during the month, but over the course of our lifetime. Because of these changes, you will want to see our page on Bra's. Part of a healthy breast lifestyle includes keeping up with your changing breasts, even when you don't think they're changing.
By the 8th month, whether male of female, the fetus has a well defined nipple. Fetal mammary glands are extremely responsive to the hormonal environment. In the presence of testosterone they will shrink, in the absence of testosterone, they grow. Mammary duct development in male humans does not differ from that in female humans until puberty. Even then, a rudimentary duct system remains, which is why men can develop gynecomastia or breast cancer in later life.
After you are born, female mammary gland tissue is also highly responsive to its hormonal environment. The simple mammary duct system that was laid down in the embryo remains until puberty. At that time, increasing levels of circulating estrogens, acting on a base of growth hormones and growth factors, stimulate the mammary ducts to increase in number and the pad of fatty tissue that underlie it to grow.
During the menstrual cycle, glandular tissue in both the breasts and uterus continue to fluctuate due to the effect of hormones. Breasts increase in size, tenderness, firmness and blood supply. Ducts enlarge with the number of cell lining of the ducts increasing, and the breasts retain more fluid. For many women, and especially women with fibrocystic breasts, this can create discomfort, even pain. Self-breast massage during PMS eases breast swelling, congestion and discomfort (especially when using an anti-inflammatory breast massage oil).
The next major change in the cycle of mammary tissue development occurs during pregnancy. During pregnancy, increased amounts of progesterone and other hormones stimulate the development of milk-making alveoli at the ends of the branched ducts. Cysts, fibroadenomas and other benign breast changes can develop or may be enlarged during pregnancy. This is a very important time to make sure you don't wear a bra that is too tight, and keep massaging your breasts. This will greatly help your breasts remain healthy, and counteract any discomfort from these rapid changes.
Lactation, or breast feeding, involves numerous reciprocal influences between the mammary glands and the brain. Stimulated by prolactin from the pituitary, the breasts begin to synthesize milk proteins and fats in the alveoli. In a rapid response to the suckling stimulus from the baby, the ejection of milk is triggered by the release of oxytocin, the love homrone! Yes, breast feeding is meant to feel good, although it can also create a great deal of discomfort when there is mastitis, and inflammation of the breast, often times from blocked milk ducts. Susun Weed, Native American Herbalist, notes that a breast feeding mother who experiences a breast infection from blocked ducts is most often simply not getting enough rest.
Breast massage is great for keeping milk ducts open, treating mastitis, and keeping the milk flowing. So is soaking breasts in warm water, or warm wet compresses to the breast, with continued breast feeding to keep the milk flowing. Breast massage also creates more oxytocin, which makes a woman feel loved, relaxed, nurtured and intimate.
With cessation of nursing, reduced prolactin and nonejected milk result in the cessation of milk production. The mammary alveoli regress, and the duct system of the mammary gland returns to the nonpregnant state.
A. The "milk line" (blue) develops at 6 weeks in a generalized mammalian embryo. Mammary glands form along these lines. B. These lead to common formation sites for extra nipples, which, although rare, do develop in males and females.
During pregnancy and lactation, breasts increase in size, tenderness and firmness. Lactation is a perfect time for breast massage, to ease and support milk flow and reduce discomfort.
Around menopause, breasts initially become more fatty, then become less glandular. It is before and after menopause that most breast cancers occur. After menopause, as the glandular tissues atrophy, the connective tissue becomes less celluar, and collagen decreases.
Breast massage as a daily health practice during peri-menopause will protect you by keeping breast immunity at its peak. While breast massage is good for women at any age, women start to think more about breast cancer as they get older as breast cancer risk tends to go up as we age. After menopause, breasts decrease in fatty tissue. Breast massage after menopause, in addition to healthy lifestyle practices, keeps breast lymph fluids moving during a time when we typically become a bit more dehydrated and less physically active. Our lymph flow can generally benefit from more assistance at this time in life.
Some women have more dense breasts than others. Dense, lumpy breasts can make self-breast exam confusing. Estrogen supplements after menopause can cause continued lumpiness. The most common cause of breast lumps in women ages 35-50 is Fibrocystic Breast Disease. More of a condition rather than disease, it is caused by the mammary glands, ducts and connective tissues reacting to abnormal hormone levels in the body.
Fibrocystic breast disease usually disappears after menopause, and generally does not progress to a cancer level. Symptoms are lumpy, hard, sore, tender and painful breasts.
Abnormal hormone levels causing this condition can often be traced to the quantity of hormone mimicking chemicals in our environment. These chemicals come in our food, food packaging, fire retardant treatments and plastics in clothing and furniture, household cleaning products, and many beauty and personal care products.
Hormone imbalances can be complicated by the fact that many 21st century women avoid eating fats, ironically for the sake of good health. High quality fats like organic butter, sour cream, coconut oil, flax oil, avocados, egg yolks and the like are necessary to women’s health. Our hormones are made from fats and cholesterol in the liver.
For hormone balancing, eat foods grown without pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers. Buy vintage and resale clothing and furniture, which doesn’t outgas endocrine disrupting chemicals like brand new items. Stick to cotton, wool and silk, instead of polyester (plastic) clothing. Minimize or elimate the use of plastic cooking utensils, dishes, food and beverage containers. Think plant-based soaps and lotions instead of petroleum based, and favor those packaged in glass or paper containers.
Like breast cancer, fibrocystic breasts are highly correlated to inadequate iodine intake and thyroid functioning. This is a relatively little known risk factor due to the fact that iodine is a mineral supplement, and there is no money to be made in recommending dietary support in the treatment of fibrocystic breasts or breast cancer. Eating seaweed, seafood and using Redmond brand sea salt, mined in Utah, USA, can greatly benefit breast health due to the high iodine content. Taking high dose iodine supplementation is not recommeneded, especially for women with Hashimoto's thyroiditis. (For more see The Amazing Breast-Thryoid Connection).
Breast massage is ideal for women with fibrocystic breasts.
Massage helps soften breasts, stimulate lymph flow, and reduce pain and discomfort. Going bra-less when possible also helps.
We invite you to take Cheryl Chapman’s breast massage challenge: massage your breasts twice a day for three months (especially with a nourishing herbal breast care oil). Women who have taken her challenge have reported nearly complete softening of their breasts and relief from pain and discomfort.