June 3, 2018
As doulas and mothers we talk about breasts a lot. The changes to expect during pregnancy, the ups and downs of breastfeeding and even some changes to expect after the breastfeeding journey is over. But often women do not think about the importance of doing Breast Self-Exams (BSE). I think there are more women than would care to admit that they do not bother with BSE but leave it on their ObGyn when they have their yearly exams(which isn’t yearly anymore for healthy women!).
So we’ve put together a simple how-to for you to encourage you to take your breast health into your own hands, literally. It only takes a few minutes each month and could help you be in tune with your body and be able to tell when something isn’t right.
It is best to perform your BSE 1 week after the start of your menstrual period, as your breasts will not be as tender to touch (so on cycle day 7 of each month is the ideal time).
If you do not menstruate, choose a specific time each month to perform the BSE. Maybe pick a day that is just easy for you to remember and set a reminder in your calendar on your phone to repeat on that day every month.
You should examine your breast in three different ways: in front of a mirror, in the shower, and when lying flat on your back. Be sure the room is well lit, this helps you notice any redness or discoloration that may be present.
At each step, look for any change in the shape or appearance of your breasts.
Arms at your side
Arms over your head
Hands on your hips, pressing firmly to flex your chest muscles
Note if there are any skin or nipple changes such as dimpling (orange peel) of the skin.
Gently squeeze each nipple to see if a fluid comes out of the nipple. If it does, note the color and amount. Your doctor will ask about these details when you follow up with an appointment. If you are breastfeeding, it’s likely you will express milk, while normal. Still note if there are any unusual characteristics with your milk.
Soap your hands and use three soapy fingers (index, middle, and ring) to feel the breast tissue in the same systematic pattern (an up-and-down pattern as though you were mowing the yard).
Raise your right arm above your head and begin to examine your right breast.
Be sure to start at the middle of your chest where your collarbones come together.
Go up and down the entire breast area and into the armpit. Also examine the area just above your collarbone, because breast tissue is also found in this area on some women.
Do the same thing on the left breast.
Place a small pillow (or rolled towel) under your right shoulder and place your right hand under your head.
Use the same steps as in the “Shower” section above.
It is best to use the same systematic method each time you perform a BSE. That way you won’t leave anything out of your examination.
If you note any unusual lumps, masses, or drainage from your nipples, consult with your health care provider as soon as possible. Don’t be shy or think “it will just go away”. This is what our doctors are there for, even if it is nothing more than a small cyst, it is always best to be examined and be given peace of mind.
BSE has been proven to be a life saver. Be in charge of your health, prevention and early detection are the most important things you can do for yourself!