6 Things That Can Actually Impact Your Breast Size

It’s more than just your genes.
Various breast sizes

Most body parts, like your arms, legs, feet, and ears, grow to a certain size and then stop. Your boobs, on the other hand, are a completely different story. Your breast size and shape can go change throughout your life.

Of course, your boobs tend to have a standard size that you consider your “normal.” And, while they may deviate here and there, you probably eventually come back to this size. While it’s easy to think that your cup size was predestined, there are actually a lot of things that affect boob size. Here are the biggest factors that influence the overall size of your breasts.

1. Your family history.

Your genes dictate your hair and skin color, how tall you are, and a bunch of other things including, yup, your breast size. But your genes are more likely to predict your breast baseline—not your actual size. “Women often are born with their breast size, but it can change in their lifetime,” Nazanin Khakpour, M.D., F.A.C.S., a surgical oncologist specializing in breast cancer at Moffitt Cancer Center, tells SELF. That doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to be a C-cup if your mom and sister are, but it’s definitely more likely for you than someone who comes from a family with a history of A-cups.

2. Your weight.

Breasts are made up of supportive tissue, milk glands and ducts, and fat, and how much you have of each is unique to you. Some women have more supportive tissue than fat and vice-versa. If your breasts contain a decent amount of fat, you could see a difference in your boob size when you gain or lose weight, Sherry Ross, M.D., a women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., tells SELF. That said, you probably won’t see a huge change if you gain or lose a few pounds. “It usually has to be a significant weight gain or loss to change your breast size,” Dr. Ross says.

3. Pushups, bench presses, and other pectoral exercises.

If you started lifting recently and noticed your boobs seem a little perkier lately, that may be related. Doing pectoral exercises can strengthen your pecs, which sit behind your breast tissue, and can cause your boobs to push out a tiny bit more than usual, Albert Matheny, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., of SoHo Strength Lab and Promix Nutrition, tells SELF. Keep in mind that these exercises won’t actually increase your breast size—but they might grow the muscle behind the breast, which could make them appear a little bigger.

4. Your birth control.

Your birth control can do more than prevent an unintended pregnancy and help regulate your period: Hormonal birth control methods like the pill, the shot, and the hormonal IUD can actually impact your breast size, women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, M.D., tells SELF. This is largely due to water retention, she says—and it’s unlikely to last. “It’s usually most noticeable when someone starts birth control,” Dr. Wider adds.

5. Pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Pregnancy boobs are a legit phenomena—a woman’s breasts can grow several cup sizes during pregnancy thanks to hormonal changes like increases in progesterone, Dr. Khakpour says. Your breasts may swell up even more when you’re breastfeeding thanks to your milk coming in, but they typically go back to normal about three to six months after you stop nursing, Dr. Khakpour says.

And if you have a few kids, the effects may be more pronounced. “Some women may experience changes in breast size and shape after multiple births and breastfeeding,” Dr. Khakpour says.

6. Your age.

Your boobs probably aren’t the same now as they were when you were 15, and it’s likely they’ll look different down the road. Most women’s breasts will become less perky with time, and that’s totally normal, Dr. Ross says. “It’s largely due to a change in skin elasticity and stretched ligaments,” she says.

While it’s normal for your boobs to change, there’s often a reason behind it that you can pinpoint. But, if you find that you’re experiencing sudden breast changes and you don’t know why, it’s important to talk to your doctor. While it’s likely due to something you haven’t thought of, it could be a sign of a tumor or growth in your breast. Again, don’t panic if you notice changes, but it’s best to get it checked out, just in case, Dr. Wider says.

Breast Size And Mental Health: Women With Bigger Boobs More Likely To Have Lower Self-Esteem And Eating Disorders

Most women have looked in the mirror and had a moment where they believed their breasts were a reflection of self-image. Whether they’re small breasts, large breasts, or average-sized breasts, they can have many implications when it comes to a woman’s mental health. According to recent study published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, asymmetrical (uneven) or macromastia (abnormally large) breasts can lead to mental health problems, from lower self-esteem to eating disorders.

Woman looking at herself in the mirror

The right versus the left breast of any woman is very often different in size and shape, according to Healthy Women. It’s common for girls to have different-sized breasts or nipples, especially as they develop during puberty. This is known as breast asymmetry and affects more than half of all women. Dr. Brian I. Labow, lead author of the study and ASPS Member Surgeon of Boston Children’s Hospital, believes breast asymmetry is more than just a “cosmetic issue” and that it can have negative psychological and emotional effects on women.

In the first study to analyze mental health implications of breast size, Labow and his collegues sought to measure the impact of adolescent breast asymmetry compared with macromastia and females with normal breasts. A total of 59 young women aged 12 to 21 years, who all had breasts differing by at least one bra cup size, were recruited to answer the Short Form Health Survery, Version 2 Short Form-36), the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, and the Eating Attitudes Test. Similar tests were carried out on a group of girls without breast asymmetry.

The tests conducted among all groups of girls ascertained how well the participants functioned psychologically and socially. The females also did a series of tests to score their health-related quality of life. About 40 percent of the participants had tuberous breast deformity — a condition in which the breasts don’t develop normally.

The findings revealed there is a negative impact for women with asymmetrical breasts, extra-large breasts, and those with a relatively mild difference in breast size. Several aspects of mental health and well-being were lower for girls with different-sized breasts compared to those with normal breasts. They also had significantly lower scores for emotional well-being and self-esteem even after researchers adjusted for differences in body weight. Asymmetrical breasts were also associated with borderline issues in social functioning, eating behaviors, and attitudes.

“The observed impaired psychological well-being of adolescents with breast asymmetry may indicate the need for early intervention to minimize negative outcomes,” the authors wrote, according to the press release. The findings raise awareness that no provision currently exists for young women born with different-sized breasts. This means treatment is often not reimbursed by insurance because there is “no functional impairment.”

Labow and his coauthors emphasize this doesn’t necessarily mean surgery, especially for younger girls, “consultation and support” may be appropriate. For girls who have finished growing and still have breast asymmetry, surgical correction may reap emotional benefits for patients. Early interventions should include weight control and mental health counseling.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ latest statistics, there has been a 70 percent increase in breast lifts and a 37 percent growth in breast augmentation since 2000. Interventions and surgery could make the difference between poorer self-image and confidence for women with breast asymmetry. It could also prevent the onset of mental health issues.

Source: Cerrato FE, DiVasta AD, Faulkner HR et al. Psychological Impact of Breast Asymmetry on Adolescents: A Prospective Cohort Study. Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. 2014.

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