Girl to Girl: Honest Talk About Growing Up and Your Changing Body

CHAPTER THREE
Bust-ed!
Buds, Breasts, and Bras

When I talk to girls about puberty, breasts are one of the main topics that come up. And it makes sense! Breasts are a major part of your body development, and they usually start growing a year or so before you start your period, which makes them one of the first changes you have to deal with.

But you won’t have to adjust to having breasts overnight. It often takes about five years, with many of the big changes happening during the first two years, for your breasts to really start taking shape. It’s in these first few years that you will notice your breast buds starting to grow and you will start to wear a bra.

Breast Buds

When you’re a little girl, your chest is mostly flat. That will change when you start growing “breast buds.” I always thought this was a funny phrase, and I pictured my breasts budding into flowers when my mom told me about it. But don’t worry. You aren’t going to grow roses or daffodils on your chest.

Many girls start growing breast buds between the ages of seven and twelve, although you don’t need to worry if you start earlier or later. Just like the other changes that come with puberty, your breasts will grow at the time that is right for your body.

You’ll know your breast buds are developing when you feel something behind your nipples starting to push your nipples out a little bit, although your nipples themselves will stay mostly flat.

The Five Stages of Breast Development

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Stage 1: Childhood—You haven’t started puberty, so your chest is totally flat.

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Stage 2: Breast Buds—Small lumps of tissue begin to form behind your nipples.

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Stage 3: Growing—For the next six months to a year, your breast buds grow softer and slightly larger. Your nipples and areolae (the colored circle on your breast surrounding the nipple) get darker and larger, too.

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Stage 4: Still Growing!—For the next few years, your breasts will continue growing. You will probably need to get different bras during this time as your breasts get bigger.

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Stage 5: Fully Grown Breasts—The final stage is when you are fully developed. This is usually about three to five years after you first develop breast buds, but it can take longer. It’s different for every girl.

Do You Know . . .

Why You Need Breasts?

Do breasts actually do anything?

The answer is yes! You just don’t need them to do anything yet.

Humans (and all other mammals) have breasts in order to feed their babies. It might sound a little weird to think that someday you might feed a baby from the milk your body creates. But how cool is it that your body knows how to do this? Long before humans had bottles or baby formula, our bodies created everything we needed to have children.

Isn’t that totally amazing?

At the beginning, breast buds usually feel like small, hard lumps. One girl I talked to said her breast buds felt like tiny golf balls behind her nipples. Another said hers felt more like quarters. No matter how yours feel, after about six months or a year, your breast buds will swell and start growing softer and wider. When they extend past your nipples and areolae, your breast buds are becoming breasts!

What Is an Areola?

The circle of skin around the nipple is called the areola (pronounced like airee-oh-la). Your areolae will get darker and larger as your breasts grow, but their size and color will be different from girl to girl. During puberty, some girls start to have hair grow on their areolae.

When you start developing breast buds, you’ll probably notice your nipples more than before. Eventually, your nipples will stick out more than when you were young. Some girls have inverted nipples, which means their nipples retract a little bit into their breasts instead of pointing outward.

During puberty, some girls’ nipples and areolae form a slight second bump on their growing breasts. This is totally normal, and the bumps will even out as you grow—they are nothing to stress about.

Beyond the Buds—Still Growing and Growing!

For the next few years, your breasts will continue growing and becoming softer. Your nipples and areolae will also get larger and darker during this stage. You may not notice big changes day-to-day, because this all happens slowly, just like everything else on your body.

Girl Talk:
How to Handle Being an Early Bird

Dear Sarah,

No one else at school has breasts yet, but mine are huge. Boys tease me, and I feel like everyone notices them. What can I do? Please help!

Mariana

Dear Mariana,

I was just like you. I developed early, and I felt like everyone noticed. But don’t worry—this stage won’t last forever, and chances are, even though you think everyone is focused on you, they are probably more worried about what people are thinking of them!

I understand that you feel self-conscious. When those boys tease you, just ignore them and, if you can, find a friend who will leave the situation with you. It might sound crazy, but the people who pick on you are the people who don’t have any confidence in themselves. Don’t listen to them!

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Girl Talk:
How to Handle Being a Late Bloomer

Dear Sarah,

I’m in eighth grade, and all of my friends have bras, but I don’t have one yet. My mom says I don’t need one, but my sister wore one by the time she was my age. Will my boobs ever grow? When will I finally be able to wear a bra?

Taylor

Dear Taylor,

It sounds like you feel a little left behind. But don’t worry! You WILL develop and need a bra when the time is right for your body. I wish I could tell you exactly when that will be, but every girl is different, and your breasts will grow when your body is ready for them.

If you feel ready for a training bra, you should definitely talk to your mom about it. Together, the two of you can discuss when you need to start wearing one and maybe even look for a bra that is right for you in these beginning stages. In the meantime, you might want to try wearing a camisole or thin tank top underneath your shirts for support.

But don’t worry about keeping up with your friends or sister. Everyone is different. Try to appreciate your body for all of the great things it does for you and remember that your breasts will come, probably sooner than you think!

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Sizing Things Up

Have you ever looked at a garden and noticed that every flower, even from the same plant, is a different size? It’s the same way with women and breasts—even with women who are related. Your mom or sister might have large breasts, and yours might be small. Or you might end up with larger breasts than your mom. You might start out with the same size breasts as your best friend, but hers might grow bigger than yours. Or vice versa! Some girls get caught up with the idea that they want a certain size of breasts. But just like you can’t control your height or shoe size, you can’t change the size of your natural breasts. Part of growing up is becoming comfortable and confident about who you are and appreciating how amazing your body is. Don’t get caught up in the idea that one size of breasts (or one size of anything!) is perfect or better. Your body is just right for you.

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MYTH BUSTER: Sleeping on Your Stomach Won’t Change Your Breast Size

Sleeping on your stomach won’t flatten your breasts or affect your breast size at all. And sleeping on one side or the other won’t make them lopsided. (I’ve heard that rumor, too!) Just go with whatever position is most comfortable, because you definitely need a good night’s sleep to keep your body growing. ZZZzzz . . .

Shape Up!

We tend to think of breasts in pairs, like matching socks, but breasts are individual, which means they come in all different shapes and sizes. Every single girl has a slightly different shape, so there’s no such thing as “normal.”

If one of your breasts seems a little larger or smaller than the other, don’t worry. As your body is growing, you need to give it time to even things out, and even when your breasts are fully developed, chances are they won’t be exactly the same.

If you are really worried about your breast size (or anything else), you can always talk to an adult you trust or a doctor. Remember, they are here to help you. Chances are, everyone else is wondering the exact same thing or has had the same question at some point.

Sensitive Breasts?

Sometimes when your breasts are growing, they might feel a little tender or sore. They also might feel itchy or sensitive, and this can happen because your skin is stretching. These kinds of discomforts are all part of the growing process and really nothing to worry about. Basically, as your breasts swell, the hormones in your system and the nerves in your breasts can make them feel a little achy. You can put lotion on itchy skin, and any tenderness shouldn’t last too long. If you are worried about soreness or pain, it’s a good idea to talk to your mom and your doctor. Your doctor will be able to help you figure out what’s causing the pain and what to do about it.

Girl Talk:
What Are These Lines on My Breasts?

Dear Sarah,

Pinkish purple lines started forming on my breasts in the last few months. Are these veins? What should I do to make them go away?

Emma

Dear Emma,

The lines you’ve noticed are stretch marks and nothing you should worry about. You are basically growing so fast your skin can’t keep up. This happens to a lot of girls, and many girls get stretch marks on their hips, thighs, and bottoms, too. These areas of your body are rounding out during puberty, which is why your skin stretches there. While you can’t do anything to make stretch marks go away, they will fade as you keep growing. You might see lotions and creams at the store that promise to remove stretch marks, but don’t buy that claim. Only Mother Nature and time will help your skin tone even out.

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Bra Basics

Most girls start wearing a bra around the time they enter into stage three, the growing stage, of breast development. In addition to giving your growing breasts some support, the soft fabric of a bra can help protect your tender skin and nipples as your breasts grow. A bra can also give you some coverage as your nipples start to become noticeable through your shirts.

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Sarah’s Tip: Get the Hang of Hooking Your Bra!

If you can’t get the hooks to connect in the back, try this: Slide the elastic band around to the front of your body and clasp the hooks where you can see them. Then just spin the bra back around and into position, and slide the straps up over your arms.

Shopping for Your First Bra

When I asked Norah Alberto, the senior style director at Maidenform (a major bra company), for tips on shopping for a first bra, she suggested that you make it a “special and memorable experience.” It’s an important day when you get your first bra! And why not enjoy it a little? My mom and I went out for a girls-only lunch after we bought my first bra. I didn’t want to make a big deal out if it, but the lunch was super fun and something I will never forget. You can also do something yourself to remember the day, such as write in your diary or treat yourself to a bubble bath. Whatever feels fun for you!

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Do You Know . . .

When Bras Were Invented?

Girls have been wearing bras for centuries! Historians say that the first bra dates way back to the Minoan civilization in 2500 BC. But it wasn’t until the 1930s that adjustable bands were invented.

It’s All About the Fit:
Finding Your Bra Size

Even though there are a lot of websites that sell bras for teens, it’s best to buy your first bra in person, so you can try on a few for fit and feel. Most stores have a good selection of bras made especially for teens and girls who are just starting to develop. Norah Alberto suggests experimenting with some of the cute prints and patterns and fun colors that are out there. (I love cotton bras because they let your skin breathe and they wash and wear well.)

A Professional Fitting

Unlike pants or T-shirts, which usually come in small, medium, and large, bra sizes are designated by a combination of the distance around your rib cage and your bust size (the circumference of your chest measured around the widest part of your breasts). The combo sizing makes things a bit complicated, which is why it can be helpful to get a professional bra fitting. Any department store should have a bra-fitting specialist—an expert in finding the right size for you.

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But, as if shopping for a bra isn’t embarrassing enough (even if you want one!), the fitting process can be a little awkward if you don’t know what to expect. So here’s what will happen:

Usually, the bra-fitting specialist will go with you to the dressing room, so you have a little privacy. You can keep your shirt on (although if you’re wearing a bulky sweater, you might want to have a T-shirt or cami underneath for the measuring). The fitting specialist will wrap a measuring tape around your rib cage and then around your breasts to get the two different measurements— for the band size and the cup size. You need both to get a bra that fits well.

Chances are, a parent or someone you’re close to will go with you to get a bra fitted. There’s no need to be embarrassed about the fitting process. If your mom or stepmom is with you, she’s been through it, too. And the woman working at the department store has done tons of fittings! She just wants to help you find the most comfortable bra for your body.

Fitting Yourself

Even though a professional fitting is helpful, you can also measure yourself. All you need is a measuring tape with inches on it. (Bra sizes differ depending on where you live! This information applies to American sizes, though U.K. sizes are very similar—they’re even in inches. If you’re wondering exactly what size bra you’d wear in the United Kingdom, or in Japan, for example, just reference one of the many international bra size converters online!)

All bra sizes are made up of an even number for the band size (like 30, 32, 34, 36, and so on) and a letter for the cup size (A, B, C, D, and then into double letters for larger breasts).

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Bra Sizing 101

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1) Measure Your Bust Line: Lift your arms away from your body and wrap a measuring tape with inch markings around the point where your breasts are largest. You should be able to get a finger between the measuring tape and your skin without a problem. Look at the number where the measuring tape meets. This is your bust measure.

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2) Measure Your Band Size: Lift your arms away from your body and wrap the measuring tape around your torso just below your breasts. Look at the number where the measuring tape meets. If it’s an odd number, round up to the next even number. For instance, if you measure 33 inches around, you will wear a size 34. If it’s an even number, this is your band size (but you should try the size up, too, to see which is more comfortable).

3) Math Time: Put your math skills to work and subtract your band size from your bust measure.

Bust line measurement - band size measurement = cup size

(the number of inches you have left over will determine your cup size)

Cup Sizes

AA Cup = less than 1/2 inch of difference between the band and bust size measurements

A Cup = 1/2 to 1 inch of difference

B Cup = 2 inches of difference

C Cup = 3 inches of difference

D Cup = 4 inches of difference

If your band size is 30 inches and your bust is 2 inches larger than that, you should start by trying on bras tagged size 30B. Since every bra is a little different, you might need to try on different styles and brands to find the right one. It’s also good to remember that as your breasts grow, your bra size will change. You’ll want to get refitted or measure yourself again each time you shop for a new bra.

The right bra won’t hurt your shoulders or pull too tight around your chest or rib cage. It shouldn’t gap underneath your arms or in the cups when you are standing straight. A bra that’s too small will feel tight and painful. You want one that lets you breathe but still helps hold your breasts in place.

A bra is a personal thing, and you might be surprised that you like a different style of bra than your sister or friend, but it makes sense: Every body is different.

The Best Bra for Every Activity

In addition to a good fit, you want to make sure you’re wearing the right bra for the right activity so that you can be comfortable and your breasts are held in place. You wouldn’t wear your soccer cleats to ballet class, and you definitely wouldn’t wear your ski boots to school. Bras are the same way! Sometimes, when you don’t have the right support, your breasts can become tender and sore, and that’s definitely no fun.

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Image Training Bra: These bras are for girls who are just starting to develop, though you aren’t actually training for anything! They are specifically made out of comfortable fabrics and in smaller cup sizes, all good for getting you used to wearing a bra. Training bras are sometimes called “bralettes.”

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Image T-Shirt Bra: T-shirt bras don’t have seams in the cups or an elastic band, so you won’t be able to see any lines under your T-shirt. These are great everyday bras, often made out of breathable cotton.

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Image Sports Bra: This bra is for—you got it— sports! It’s also for anytime you want a little extra support. It is made to hold your breasts firmly in place during physical activity, from basketball to dance class to running around with your friends. Sports bras are usually made from very stretchy material like spandex, and you usually just pull them over your head (there aren’t any clasps). A lot of girls think sports bras are the most comfortable, and if you feel this way, you can definitely wear them all the time. There’s no need to save them just for sports!

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Image Underwire Bra: An underwire bra has actual U-shaped wires under each of the cups to give added support. For proper fit when wearing an underwire bra, make sure that the wires lie flat against your rib cage.

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Image Lined or Padded Bra: You can get a bra with a thick lining or light padding for extra coverage. Some women, when they get older, wear padded bras to get more shape.

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Image T-Back or Racer-Back Bra: This bra has straps that run down the middle of your back to form a T, instead of coming down behind each of your shoulders, much like a racing swimsuit. If you ever get shoulder pain from wearing a bra, this style can help balance the weight from your breasts across your back. This is also a good bra to wear with a racer-back tank top or if your bra straps slip off your shoulders.

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Image Bandeau Bra / Strapless Bra: A bandeau bra wraps around your breasts like a tube. Some pull over your head and others fasten with hooks in the back. Since they’re strapless, they don’t offer a ton of support, but they are good for layering clothes or if you have a shirt with low armholes and want to make sure something is covering the sides of your body. You can also get strapless bras with underwire.

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Image Built-in Bra: Many shirts and tops (swimsuits, too) have bras built into them. These are sometimes called “shelf” bras because they hold up your breasts like they are on a shelf. (I always giggle at that description—when would it ever be comfortable to have a shelf under your breasts?!) If you want extra support and coverage, you can also wear another bra when you are wearing a shirt that has a built-in bra.

Bra Care

“Always let a bra rest between wearings,” suggests Norah Alberto. And when it comes to washing your bras, it’s a good idea to wash them every few wears. They get sweaty just like the rest of your clothes!

If you have any bras that are made of delicate fabric, like lace or even cotton with stretch, you might want to wash them separately from the rest of your clothes to help them last longer. It’s also a good idea to hang your bras to dry, since the dryer can wear out the elastic in stretch fabrics, bend the underwire in underwire bras, and snag delicate fabrics; sometimes the heat can even cause bras to shrink!

Where to Wear Which Bra?

Not sure which bra to wear, when? Here are some good suggestions, whatever you might be doing.

If you are . . .

 

You might want to wear . . .

going to ballet rehearsal

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a sports bra or racer-back bra

hanging out with friends on Saturday

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a T-shirt bra (great for every day!)

wearing a cute dress

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a lined bra, or if you need support, an underwire

playing softball at the park

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a sports bra, since you’ll be running the bases

going to school

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whichever bra is most comfortable for a full day

riding your bike

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a sports bra or a top with a built-in bra

going shopping with your mom

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a T-shirt bra (the best for trying on all kinds of clothes)

wearing a tank top with low-cut armholes

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a bandeau bra

going to bed

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you don’t need to sleep in a bra but some girls like to wear shirts with built-in bras to bed

How Many Bras Is Enough?

To know how many bras you need, think about what kinds of activities you do. If you play a lot of sports, then you might want a few sports bras, as well as some other bras that you can wear with regular clothes. It’s kind of a personal thing. Norah Alberto recommends having “a couple of T-shirt bras, a T-back bra, a bralette, and a sports bra to round out your bra wardrobe.”

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White or skin-colored bras are best for wearing under white shirts, and a dark or black bra is good under dark shirts and sweaters. One time, a friend took a picture of me while I was wearing a white bra under a black T-shirt. You couldn’t tell in real life, but the flash from the camera caught the white fabric, and in the photo, you could see my bright white bra through my shirt!

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Image GET CONFIDENT: Your First Bra Image

In fifth grade, I had just started wearing a bra and was fidgeting with the straps in class one day. A boy noticed and said loudly, “I just saw your bra strap! You wear a bra!”

I was mortified. I hadn’t even told my friends that I was wearing a bra yet! A few kids laughed, but I just said, “Whatever,” and went back to working on my math problem. Really, I was so embarrassed, I felt like crying.

At lunch, my friend Anna came up and whispered in my ear, “Don’t worry. I started wearing a bra, too.” She smiled, and suddenly I realized that I wasn’t alone. Just because we hadn’t talked about getting bras didn’t mean that we weren’t both going through the same thing. Remember, all girls go through puberty, and even when things feel scary or uncomfortable, you are never alone.

A Note from Sarah: Your Body Is Yours

While we’re talking about your body and developing, it’s also important to remember that your body is yours, and no one should ever touch you without 100 percent permission. You are in charge of your body. NO ONE, no matter how well you know them, has the right to do anything to your body. You always have the right to feel comfortable and safe.

If anyone—either an adult or another kid—tries to touch you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable AT ALL, you should immediately tell an adult you trust. Don’t wait, and don’t feel embarrassed. It’s never your fault if someone tries to take advantage of you—turn to the people who love you and want to help you.

Remember to trust your feelings. If you have a bad feeling about something or someone, it’s better to talk about it than ignore it. A trusted adult will help keep you safe. Everyone has the right to protect her own body. Be sure you demand respect for yours and respect other people as well.

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