Wearing the right bra, learning about breast care and how to do self-exams, maintaining a healthy weight, and skipping cigarettes and alcohol are essential to breast health, even for teenagers. But if you're a typical teen, your first concern is just whether you have "normal" breasts.

One of the reasons behind that concern is that all girls develop at a different rate, so it's hard to know if you're "normal" or even what exactly "normal" breasts look like. "Young people use each other to try to figure out what's normal, but a girl should understand that just because her best friend has developed a certain way, she might not develop the same way," explains Maria Trent, MD, MPH, an adolescent medicine specialist at Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. "Breast development depends on the timing of puberty overall."

This means that it's possible for a young teen to have developed much sooner or (in her mind) much later than her peers. Either way might leave you feeling awkward. Generally speaking, every girl should have had some breast development by the age of 14, says Dr. Trent. If nothing is happening by age 16, it's time to talk to your doctor about what could be delaying the process.

Besides your unique timeline for development, know that normal, healthy breasts come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with nipples and areolae (the dark circle of skin around the nipple) that look quite different from one girl to another.

It's also important to know that healthy breasts do change. Over time you might see predictable changes that are part of your menstrual cycle, such as lumps or increased tenderness at certain times.

Breast Care: Healthy Breast Basics
Your doctor or nurse can show you how to do a breast self-exam. This is a monthly check that you do to look for any unusual changes. Your breast self-exam can help you figure out whether any changes you notice are part of normal breast development or need medical attention. Here are some of the concerns you should talk about with your doctor:
  • Lumps. Some women get lumps at certain times of their monthly cycle, but these go away. Call your doctor if you feel a large mass that's growing or painful, Trent says. An infection is the likely culprit, but your doctor should make the diagnosis.
  • Redness. Redness on the skin of your breast (especially if it is also hot to the touch) could also be a sign of infection.
  • Tenderness. Some girls find that their breasts get more tender before their period. However, unusual tenderness at an unexpected time in your cycle means you should call the doctor.
  • Nipple discharge. There are a variety of reasons for fluid to come out of your nipples, from pregnancy to medication side effects, and almost all need a doctor's attention.
  • Skin changes. As with other parts of your body, the skin of your breasts deserves attention, too. Take note if you see changes in your skin, such as a bleeding mole, unwanted hairs, or irritated patches of skin. Your doctor can help you find ways to manage these conditions.
Also remember that hygiene is important. Make sure that you keep any creases in your skin, such as under your breasts, dry and clean.

Choosing the Right Bra
Another important part of breast care is wearing a bra that is comfortable and gives you the support you need, particularly if you have medium- to large-size breasts or if you play sports, Trent says. Shopping for the right bra could be a fun trip for you and your mother or another woman in your life - a bonding experience that is also about your daily comfort. She recommends stores with trained salespeople who can help you get the right fit.

Healthy Lifestyle Choices, Healthy Breasts
In many ways, your breast health reflects your overall health. A healthy diet and weight will keep your breasts and your body healthy. Being overweight can make it more difficult for both you and your doctor to feel whether your breasts are healthy and, over your lifetime, could also increase your risk for breast cancer.

Even lifestyle choices that don't seem related to your breast health actually are. For example, research is now beginning to show that girls who smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol significantly delay the development of their breasts.

Breast health is so much more than size - opt for a healthy lifestyle and practice good breast care habits for healthy breasts for life.