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As we all know, breast development is the most visible sign that a girl is beginning her journey into womanhood. As a result, it has added significance in every girl's life. Along with her hair and skin, your daughter is more likely to focus on her breasts than on any other part of her body. (The boys in your daughter's class are certain to share her fascination with this subject.)

As a mom, you have two goals when it comes to your daughter's breast development. The first is to ensure that she has no breast-related health problems. Luckily, as I'll explain below, you really don't have too much to worry about on that score. But your second goal is much more difficult. Namely, you need to do everything you can to ensure that your daughter has a positive self-image of her body, regardless of whether her breasts are large or small, narrow or full, late in developing or early to show.

In the medical community, the breast development process is referred to as "thelarche," which is pronounced "thee-LAR-key."

It's no secret that our society seems fixated on breasts. As women, we can't ignore the fact that they represent an obvious sign not only of our sex but also of our sexuality. But we can't let breast size and breast development define who our daughters are or how they feel about themselves.

As a physician, the first question I'm always asked about breast development is, "What's normal?" Well, the answer is, "There's a lot of variation." However, there are certain facts that are helpful for you to know so that you can keep your daughter informed. Additionally, these facts will help you recognize those rare and unlikely situations where you may need to consult with your daughter's pediatrician about this issue.

What are breast buds?

In the medical community, the breast development process is referred to as "thelarche[1]," which is pronounced "thee-LAR-key." (This term can come in handy if you ever want to research the issue on the Internet. If you type in "thelarche," you'll be directed to good, informative medical Web sites. However, if you type in any search term that includes the words "women's breasts," you'll be directed to Web sites that will make you blush.)

The word "thelarche" is a Greek word that simply means "beginning of breast development." This process starts with breast budding, which usually happens when a girl is between the ages of 8 and 10. However, some girls' breast buds[2] appear significantly later in puberty[3], and as surprising as it may seem, breast development that begins as early as age 3 may not be deemed abnormal.

The appearance of breast buds will typically occur around the same time that your daughter undergoes a growth spurt[4]. This budding process begins when a hormone known as estradiol[5] starts coursing through your daughter's body. It's this hormone that causes your daughter's once boy-like figure to begin hinting at its future femininity.

What should I do if one of my daughter's breasts is bigger than the other?

Breast buds are tender, raised bumps that appear directly under a girl's nipples. It's not unusual for breast buds to appear on just one side first. As a result, there have been many frantic but unnecessary trips to the doctor when a lump has suddenly appeared under a single nipple of a young girl.

Similarly, a mother can understandably become concerned when one side of her daughter's chest is noticeably larger than the other. (For reasons that are

Approximately 25% of adolescent girls experience breast asymmetry that persists into adulthood.

not entirely understood, this usually occurs on a girl's left side.) This is not uncommon. Approximately 25% of adolescent girls experience breast asymmetry that persists into adulthood. Later in life, corrective measures can be taken to "even out" this difference in the size of a woman's breasts. (However, the difference between each breast is typically not that noticeable.)

  • [1] The development of breast tissue in an adolescent.
  • [2] The early breast tissue that first appears in adolescence.
  • [3] The period of time in which a child undergoes physiological and emotional changes that help her/him develop into a young adult capable of reproducing.
  • [4] A period of rapid growth in height, weight, and muscle mass that takes place in adolescence, typically between the ages of 11-14 for girls, and 12-16 for boys.
  • [5] An estrogen hormone produced by the ovaries that is responsible for breast development and menstrual cycles in females.
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