After celebrating the big 4-0, it’s not unusual to notice a few signs of aging staring back at you in the mirror. While some of the changes shouldn’t entirely come as a surprise—fine lines around your eyes, a middle that’s a bit softer than it was in your 20s and 30s—others are more unexpected. One common yet often unexpected change: the size, shape, and feel of your breasts.
How dramatic the transformation is varies widely and is often closely tied to shifts in your menstrual cycle. “After age 40, many women start having higher surges of estrogen for brief durations,” explains Adeeti Gupta, MD, founder and director of Walk In Gyn Care in New York City.
These hormonal ups and downs during perimenopause (aka the change before “the change,” which can start roughly five years before menopause actually kicks in) can translate to shorter periods. But they can also impact your breasts. So can gaining weight (also common around this time) and, of course, simply getting older. Here are 6 breast changes you might experience in your 40s.
Your breasts become extra sensitive
As you work your way through perimenopause, there’s a good chance that your menstrual cycle will become shorter and shorter—meaning that you’ll be getting your period more frequently. And as each period nears, PMS might hit in a big way. “It can lead to more breast tenderness and swelling,” says Dr. Gupta. “You might feel like you’re going through a type of puberty again.”
While you can’t stop your hormonal clock, you might be able to ease painful breasts by minimizing external sources of estrogen. Dr. Gupta suggests cutting out soy-based foods (like tofu), since they contain natural plant estrogens, and limiting your consumption of red meat, which may also raise your levels.
They get bigger
Thanks to the triple whammy of weight gain, swelling from estrogen spiking, and inflammation (which increases in the body in your 40s), you might have a sudden need to go bra shopping. “Breasts often get bigger, and most women who already had big breasts cannot stand having even larger ones,” says gynecologist and integrative physician Prudence Hall, MD, founder of The Hall Center in Santa Monica, California.
Going up a cup may be inevitable, but maintaining your weight (or losing weight if you’re overweight) can help your girls remain at the size you’ve become accustomed to. Keeping your weight in check also eases tenderness and sensitivity, because stored fat increases levels of estrogen in your bloodstream.