Your Breasts: What’s Normal, What’s Not?

Your breasts go through changes when you have your period, when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, and when you go through puberty and its flip side, menopause. But outside of these times, what’s normal and when should you check in with your doctor?

Nipple Discharge

This includes any fluid that comes out of your nipple. It can happen during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It can even continue up to 2 years past the time you stop nursing. This is all normal.

A milky-white leakage from both breasts can also happen before menopause. This is due to hormones. It’s not uncommon.

But if the discharge is bloody, greenish, or clear, or if it affects only one breast, if there’s a lump, or if it happens without prodding, see your doctor, whether you’re in menopause or not. The cause could be an infection, a sac filled with fluid called a cyst, other lumps that aren’t cancer (such as fibroadenomas), or cancer.

Your doctor will give you a checkup, including a physical exam of both breasts. She'll ask you about your symptoms and family’s medical history, too. You may also get a mammogram or sonogram to check inside the breast.


Try not to worry. But do see your doctor to find out what it is. This is especially important if you notice large lumps in your armpit or if the bumpy area doesn’t go away after 6 weeks. 

Most breast lumps -- more than 80% -- aren’t cancer. Most of the time, they show up when you have your period or are nearing menopause. They can be small or large in size and feel hard or squishy. Many are harmless cysts filled with fluid. 

Your doctor will check your breasts and will probably recommend a mammogram and possibly other tests. She may use a needle to remove a little bit of the fluid from the area or take a small sample of the lump for more testing.

It’s a good idea to get to know what’s normal for your breasts. That way, if you notice something different, you can work with your doctor to find out what it is.


Color and Texture Changes

If the skin around your breasts becomes dimpled, itchy, scaly, or red, you should check in with your doctor. She may just keep on eye on this or order a biopsy -- removing a small piece of tissue -- to make sure everything is OK.

Soreness and Tenderness

It could just be “that” time of the month. A lot of women feel this way before or during their periods. This is normal and usually the pain goes away on its own. You should get it checked out if the pain gets worse, or if it’s in one specific area of your chest, or if it affects your daily routine (like working out or picking up your kids).

Things that can cause breast pain include birth control pills, large cup size, and hormones. During your exam, your doctor may consider whether it might help to change the type of birth control pills (if you’re on them), or adjust your hormone therapy (if you take it for menopause symptoms). For some types of breast pain, it may help to cut down on caffeine.

Changes in Size or Shape

Your breasts may change during different points in your life. For instance, this can happen when you have your period and when you’re pregnant -- often enlarging due to hormones.

Once you reach menopause, you may feel like your chest sags, becoming smaller and losing its shape. This is normal.  

But if you notice changes outside of this time -- if your breasts look or feel different -- then you should check with your doctor to make sure everything is OK.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on June 17, 2020



John Hopkins Medicine; “Nipple Discharge.”

Mayo Clinic: “Nipple Discharge.”

Susan G Komen: “Benign Breast Conditions”

American Cancer Society: “Mammogram Basics.”

Cleveland Clinic: “I’ve found a breast lump.”

National Cancer Institute; “Understanding Breast Changes: A Health Guide for Women.”

American Cancer Society: “For Women Facing a Breast Biopsy.”

Mayo Clinic: “Breast Pain.”

John Hopkins Medicine: “Normal Breast Development.”

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