The exterior of the breast reveals two of its most important parts: the nipple and areola. These two parts play their biggest roles in the primary function of the female breast: breastfeeding. According to riainvision.com's "Anatomy of the Breast," the areola, or the dark circle that surrounds the nipple, aids in the process of breastfeeding by supplying a lubricating substance for the nipple. The lubrication is released by Montgomery glands, which are often noticeable in the nursing mother and look like small raised bumps. This lubrication is important, because breastfeeding a hungry and often quite avid infant can be difficult and painful. The nipple (the part of the breast in the center of the areola from which infants suck) contains many nerves that stimulate the production of milk in the breastfeeding woman.
A Look Inside: Ducts, Lobes and Lobules
Inside the female breast, we find three more anatomical aids in breastfeeding. According to the Beth Israel Health Care System's article on the breast anatomy and development, the average woman has about 15 to 20 lobes in each breast. These lobes are made up of lobules, which contain glands that produce milk. 007b's online article, Basic Breast Anatomy, provides a helpful analogy comparing lobes and lobules to a bunch of grapes and the individual grapes that make up the bunch, respectively. The lobules are connected by milk ducts (like grapes are connected by stems). The milk ducts are very small tubes that aid in milk flow. They carry the milk through the breast and to the nipple. A common breastfeeding problem called clogged milk ducts results from the milk being stopped up in one of the milk ducts.
The shape and size of the breast are determined by the amount of fat and connective tissue. Each breast has a certain amount of fat, which provides padding for the milk ducts, lobes and lobules. More fat means softer breasts; more glandular tissue will result in firmer breasts, as noted at 007B.com. Besides fat, the breast also contains connective tissue or fascia, which holds capillaries and other cells, as well as ligaments, which aid in supporting the breast.
Breast Development Before and During Puberty
The various parts of the breast play different roles, depending on the female's stage of development. Before puberty, female and male breasts are virtually identical. Once a girl goes through puberty, some important changes occur in the breasts. According to Imaginis.com, it is the production of new hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, which leads to further breast development. Breast ducts begin to increase in size, and fatty tissue becomes more abundant, which prepare the breasts for pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding.
Breast Development During Pregnancy
The first eight weeks of pregnancy, according to Imaginis.com, cause drastic changes in breast anatomy and development. The milk ducts expand very quickly, causing enlargement of the breasts, and progesterone causes more glandular tissue to develop. The areola and Montgomery glands may also become more pronounced. Many hormonal changes occur throughout pregnancy and are vital for the successful production of milk.
Breast Development After Birth
The breasts continue to develop and change after birth, as described at Imaginis.com. Hormone levels peak when the new baby is born, and the first milk, called colostrum, is produced. This milk is high in nutrients that the new baby needs most. Anatomically, the breasts are radically changed as milk production begins. Baby's suckling, combined with the release of hormone, causes milk to be released and passed through the various ducts, lobes and lobules to the nipple, where it is released to the infant. Naturally, the breasts enlarge in size during the initial stages of breastfeeding, although many women's breasts return to their normal size within a year or so.