What to Know about Yourself
When you're pregnant, you spend a lot of time thinking about the relationship you're going to have with your new baby. You might even think about how your new baby will affect how you interact with others—your husband, your parents, your friends, even your dog!
There's another relationship you'll need to think about: the one you have with your breasts.
Chances are, throughout your pregnancy and well into new motherhood, your breasts—and, thus, your relationship with them—will change. You may love them early in your pregnancy when you finally fill out that push-up bra. You may marvel at how they nourish your growing baby. And, about a year postpartum, you may not even recognize the empty coin purses that you have to tuck into a smaller (but industrial-strength) bra.
However you feel about your breasts, you need to take care of them. October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but any month is a good time for new moms, whose bodies and breasts are changing dramatically, to learn more about breast cancer.
Just as you learn what a normal cry is for your baby, you need to re-learn what "normal" is for your breasts.
"While the majority of changes that occur in the breasts of young women—particularly during pregnancy or while breastfeeding—are not going to be breast cancer, there are some signs that should serve as a warning," says Dr. Ann H. Partridge, director of the Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer at the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center in Boston, Massachusetts.
She recommends that you seek medical advice if you notice any of the following in your breasts:
- Lumps that don't go away;
- Lumps that are large and are not clogged ducts or mastitis;
- Skin changes, such as puckering of the skin on your breasts;
- Swollen lymph nodes on one side.
"New mothers need to realize that they have a new normal, and this includes new lumps and bumps in their breasts," says Dr. Partridge.
She encourages all young women to get reacquainted with their breasts: "While breast self exams have never been proven to improve the outcome if you are diagnosed with breast cancer, it is important for you to know the normal contours of your breasts so you can recognize any changes." Any route to early detection is worth taking, and this one is so easy.
In addition to examining yourself regularly, Dr. Partridge encourages all women to talk to their doctors about the optimal timing of other screenings, given their personal context and family history.
This family history is important. The breast cancer risk factors for pre-menopausal women are not as well defined as those for older women. The greatest risks come from having a child after age 30 and family history of breast cancer. If a mother, sister, or other first-degree relative has had breast cancer, you are at greater risk of developing it.