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Breast health: 10 important facts every woman should know

This month, you'll see pink ribbons and products just about everywhere promoting Breast Cancer Awareness month. Sometimes it seems as though everywhere we turn, we hear about someone else being diagnosed with breast cancer.

This disease is unfortunately common—one out of eight women will be diagnosed with it in their lifetime, and it can be devastating when it happens to someone close to us, but early detection and being aware of your health can be instrumental in detecting it early.

It is so important that, as women, we work together to learn and support each other with our health. Here are 10 facts about your breast health that every woman should be aware of:

1. You are probably not wearing the right bra size

Don't worry, most of us aren't. It is estimated that eight out of 10 women are wearing incorrect bras sizes! In addition to being uncomfortable, this can hurt your back and shoulders, and if you are breastfeeding, can increase your risk of clogged ducts.

Lingerie stores and many department stores have bra fit specialists to help you. Use breast cancer awareness month as motivation to invest in one or two good bras (you only have to wash them about every three to four washes)—it may make a world of difference.

2. You can learn about your risk factor from your genes

There are two important genes (DNA code) that can impact your risk for breast cancer: BRCA1 and BRCA2 (commonly called "brack-a.") Everyone has them and their job is to suppress cancer cells. But, 0.25% of women have a mutation in these genes, which means they are not as good at fighting cancer.

Women with these mutations have a higher risk of breast cancer: 55-65% chance for BRCA1 and 45% for BRCA2.

So, should you get tested for a BRCA mutation? That is not an easy decision, but your doctor can help you make it. Things to consider include your family history of breast cancer and what you would do with that new information.

3. Babies and age may make a difference, too

If you first got your period younger than age 12, gave birth to your first baby after age 30, or have never given birth, the chances for breast cancer are a little higher. You certainly don't have to be stressed about that risk, just be sure to check your breasts monthly and talk to your doctor about prevention and routine screening.

4. It's possible to reduce your risk of breast cancer

For women with a high risk of breast cancer, research has found that there are some lifestyle changes you can make that may reduce the chances. These include:

  • Quit smoking
  • Drink less alcohol (less than one drink per day)
  • Exercise
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid high doses of radiation when possible
  • Limit hormone therapy when possible

5. Birth control may increase your risk... but only a little

A 2017 study found that women who used hormonal birth control, like the pill or the hormonal IUD, had a slightly higher risk of developing breast cancer—but it's very slight: One new breast cancer case per every 7,690.

If you are concerned, you can chat with your doctor or midwife about a non-hormonal method of contraception, like condoms, the copper IUD, vasectomies or tubal ligation, and natural family planning.

6. You should check your breasts at least once a month

The best time to do a breast exam is a few days after your period ends. If you are pregnant or nursing and don't have a period, just check on the same day of the month each month. Here's how to do it:

  1. Look at your breasts in the mirror, first with your hands on your hips and then with your hand up in the air.
  2. Feel your breasts while you are standing. This is easiest to do in the shower when they are a bit slippery. How you feeling them is up to you, just make sure you cover the whole breast (including the breast tissue that's in your armpit). Many women like to start at the nipple and move outward in concentric circles until they have covered the whole breast.
  3. Lay down and feel your breasts. Lay on your back, and place one hand behind your head. Use the other hand to check the breast in the same way as above.

7. Every breast is different—like these

Keep this in mind:

  • Breasts on the same body can be different sizes
  • You may have small hairs on your breast
  • Breast tissue can hurt around the time of your period

8. But some findings warrant further investigation

Talk to your doctor if:

  • You find or notice a lump or bump
  • You see swelling anywhere near your breast, armpit or collarbone
  • There are changes to the skin around your nipple
  • You notice warmth or itching
  • Or notice pus, blood or other liquid leaking from your nipple (other than breastmilk)

9. There is a mammogram plan, but yours might differ

The American Cancer Society recommends the following timeline for mammograms:

  • Women between age 40 and 44 can start to have mammograms if they choose to
  • Between the ages of 45 and 54, women should have a mammogram every year
  • At 55 and older, women can continue yearly mammograms or switch to every other year, as long as she is in good health

Your doctor may also recommend a mammogram if you have an unusual finding or a risk factor.

10. The survival rate for breast cancer is improving 💪

Nearly 90% of women with breast cancer will survive. Early detection and treatment really do matter so never hesitate to reach out to your provider if you have a concern.

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When expecting a baby, there is a lot you can test-run in advance: Take that stroller around the block. Go for a spin with the car seat secured in place. Learn how to use the baby carrier with help from a doll. But breastfeeding? It's not exactly possible to practice before baby's arrival.

The absence of a trial makes it all the more important to prepare in other ways for breastfeeding success—and it can be as simple as adding a few of our lactation aiding favorites to your registry.

MilkBliss chocolate chip soft baked lactation cookies

MilkBliss lactation cookies

Studies have shown the top reason women stop breastfeeding within the first year is because they are concerned about their milk supply being enough to nourish baby. Consider MilkBliss Lactation Cookies to be your secret weapon. Not only are they wholesome and delicious, but they were formulated specifically for breastfeeding moms based on the science of galactagogues—also known as milk boosters. They also come in peanut butter and wild blueberry flavors.

$23

Evereden multi-purpose healing balm

Evereden multipurpose healing balm

Also up there on the list of reasons women stop breastfeeding: the toll the early days can take on nipples. Made from just five ingredients, this all natural healing balm is ideal for soothing chafed nipples, making for a much more comfortable experience for mama as her body adjusts to the needs of a breastfeeding baby.

$20

Lansinoh milk storage bags

Lansinoh milk storage bags

For a breastfeeding mama, there are few things more precious and valuable than the milk she worked so hard to pump—and it's the stuff of nightmares to imagine it spilling out in the fridge. With these double-sealed milk storage bags, you can be assured your breastmilk is safe and sound until baby needs it.

$12.50

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Belly Bandit bandita nursing bra

Nursing a baby is a 24/7 job, which calls for some wardrobe modifications. Because Belly Bandit specializes in making things more comfortable for the postpartum mama, they've truly thought of every detail—from the breathable fabric to the clips that can be easily opened with one hand.

$47

boob-ease soothing therapy pillows

Boob Ease soothing therapy pillows

For nursing moms, duct can quickly become a four-letter word when you suspect it's getting clogged. By keeping these soothing breast pillows in your breastfeeding arsenal, you can immediately go on the defense against plugged milk ducts by heating the pads in the microwave or cooling them in the freezer.

$25

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

Belly Bandit perfect nursing tee

A unfortunate reality of nursing is that it can really seem to limit the wardrobe options when you have to think about providing easy, discrete access. But by adding functional basics to your closet, you can feel confident and prepared for breastfeeding on the go.

$59

Bebe au Lait premium cotton nursing cover

Bebe au Lait cotton nursing cover

Nursing in public isn't every mama's cup of tea. But babies can't always wait until you've found a private place to get down to business if that's your preference. That's where a nursing cover comes in handy. This one is made from premium cotton and features a patented neckline that allows for airflow and eye contact even while you're covered.

$36

Lactation Lab basic breastmilk testing kit

Lactation Lab breastmilk testing kit

Curious to learn more about the liquid gold you're making, mama? The testing kit from Lactation Labs analyzes your breast milk for basic nutritional content like calories and protein, as well as vitamins, fatty acids and environmental toxins to help boost your breastfeeding confidence.

$99

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