PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Puberty: The Breast Years of Your Life

They're in movies and magazines, on TV and billboards…doesn't it seem like there are breasts just everywhere? How can two bumps on a person's body be such a huge deal?

Maybe you can't wait to have something "on top," and fill out bras, tank tops, and bathing suits. After all, breasts are a sign to the world that you're not a little kid anymore, right? Or maybe they're the last thing you want, because they'll get in the way of sports and make the boys just stare. Many girls who are "developed" wish they weren't, and many girls who haven't started yet hope like anything that they will soon.

Why do we even need breasts, anyway?
Growing breasts are a major part of puberty because it means your reproductive system is starting to work. Just like getting your period is meant to allow you to someday have a baby, a girl's breasts are meant to make milk that the baby will need to survive.

When (oh, when) will my breasts start to grow?
On average, most girls start to develop between the ages of 8 and 13. This can be really tough because if you're 11, you may be totally developed while your best friend is still flat as a pancake. Remember that everyone grows at different times and even at different rates. You might "sprout" later than your friends, but end up with a bigger chest when you're done. And a girl's breasts can keep growing throughout her teens and beyond. Breast size can depend on heredity, so if your mother and grandmother are large-chested, you might be too. Breast size is also affected by body fat; if you are overweight, this can cause your breasts to be bigger.

So what exactly is happening here?
Well, all that estrogen (the female hormone, remember?) that's building in your body will cause the area underneath your nipples to start "budding" (yup, just like a flower before it blooms). You'll probably notice a small raised bump, a.k.a. the "breast bud." Soon, your nipple and areola (the dark skin surrounding your nipple) will grow larger and deepen in color, eventually growing into a breast. Remember that like with other parts of growing, it's a process and doesn't happen overnight…and there are no exercises, vitamins, herbal teas, or creams that will make your breasts develop faster (or bigger)!

Here are some other things you might notice as your breasts continue to grow:

  • One may grow faster than the other, but they'll probably even out in the long run. Even if you end up with one breast slightly larger than the other -- that's pretty common for women -- you'll most likely be the only one who notices.

  • Your breasts may get pointy before filling out into a rounder, fuller shape.

  • Your breasts may feel a little tender or sore before and during your period.

  • You might see or feel lumps and other changes in your breasts. That's usually normal, but if you're concerned, don't hesitate to talk to a parent, doctor, or school nurse about it.

Does size matter?
No...at least not when it comes to someday being able to nurse a baby. But modern society seems to put a lot of emphasis on large breasts -- just look at all the glossy magazine photos of celebs and their cleavage! It can be hard to tune out messages from the media and your peers. If you're feeling like what you have (or don't have) in the chest area is making you feel bad about yourself, try to keep these things in mind:

  • Physical beauty comes in all sizes and shapes, and that applies to breasts too.

  • The grass is always greener on another bra size. Girls with bigger chests often hate the unwanted attention they get from guys, or that they have to wear a bra all the time…while girls with smaller ones may feel somehow "less feminine." Truth is, no matter what size they end up with, most women find something they don't like about their breasts. Keep in mind that you and your breasts will be together for the rest of your lives…and the sooner you can "make friends" with them regardless of their size or shape, the better you'll feel about yourself. Try to find something -- anything -- you do like about your chest.

  • Often, your breasts are a certain size or shape because that's what fits your body best. Just like your height, your features, and your hair, they are a part of who you are (and who you were meant to be).

Bra La La!
So we can't talk about breasts without mentioning that good old "over the shoulder boulder holder" -- the bra! (Short for "brassiere," an age-old French word for "an undergarment that supports the breasts.")

Why wear a bra?
Yeah, they come in pretty colors, patterns, and designs, but what's the reason for them in the first place? There's certainly no law that requires bras, but the right one can help you feel:

  • Protected and supported. Without support, daily activities like walking or climbing stairs can put stress on breast tissue; running and sports can even make it hurt.

  • Less exposed. A bra can help cover up your breasts and nipples under a tight or light-colored shirt (and prevent unwelcome looks from other people).

  • Shaped. A bra can help your breasts make a "silhouette" that looks nice with your body shape, or even make a larger chest seem smaller.

The downsides
A bra can be a pain, too, like when:

  • Those darn straps keep slipping down.

  • You can't get the clasp fastened or the straps the right length.

  • You feel like you're going to pull a muscle just getting it off.

  • It won't stay in the right place or sags in certain spots.

  • Other people can see it through or popping out of your clothing.

  • It keeps riding up or digging in to your skin.

  • People think it's funny to snap it. Ouch!

Bra-wearing definitely takes some getting used to, but that's much easier when you find the size and style of bra that's best for you. So how do you do that? Read on!

Size me up!
Shopping for a bra is something you should probably not do alone. That's not just because a family member may want the special experience of buying you your first bra, but because it's important to get fitted correctly for your body and needs. Consider visiting a specialty shop or department store lingerie department where a female employee can make all the proper measurements; if that's not possible, you can also have someone do it for you at home with some measuring tape.

You may already know that bra sizes are made up of two parts, a number followed by a letter (or letters):

  • Chest size: This is the length of the bottom edge of the bra, usually an elastic band. The person fitting you will run a measuring tape across your chest right below your breasts and around your back. It will be a number like 32, 34, 36, etc.

  • Cup size: This is the part of the bra that actually holds (or "cups") your breasts and will be something like AA, A, B, C, etc. It's determined by running the measuring tape across the middle of your breasts and around your back.

So your first bra size may be something like 34A. Some special types of bras, like sports bras, may just come in sizes like small, medium, and large; "training" bras or bras especially made for developing girls may even come in half sizes.

What kind of bra is best for me?
If you ask around, you might find that many girls start off wearing a sports bra, a type of bra that was designed to be worn during lots of physical activity. Sports bras don't have traditional cups and are made to be extra-comfy, so they're a great way to have some protection and support while you get used to the bra experience. Here are some other types of bras that you might check out right away or later on, as you grow:

  • Soft-cup bras: These can be found in tons of different fabrics, weights, and thicknesses. Some even have "underwire," which is actual wire that runs under the breasts to give them extra lift.

  • Padded bras: These have padding or extra-thick material on the cups, and may be designed to "maximize" your chest or give it a specific shape.

  • Strapless: If you want to wear a dress or top that has no straps, or just anything where you don't want to worry about peek-a-boo bras, then it's great to have at least one strapless bra in your drawer. These bras are usually padded and have extra underwire to help them "stand up" on their own!

  • The built-in-bra trend: Fortunately, these days a lot of tops and dresses are made with "shelf bras" and extra lining, providing a certain amount of support and protection. You may find that wearing this type of clothing, instead of a bra, is a more comfortable option.

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