Regularly checking your breasts for lumps is hugely important to spot signs of breast cancer, and this should continue throughout pregnancy and while breastfeeding, but did you know less than half of UK women do this regularly?
During pregnancy your breasts will undergo many changes; they can begin to feel lumpier, the skin around your areola may darken, you may have more obvious sweat glands and, naturally, they will get bigger!
Read more: Tender breasts during pregnancy
However, despite these changes, it’s still important that you’re regularly checking your breasts. “Being aware of your breasts is important at all stages of life and regular self-examination should carry on while breastfeeding,” says Dr Bana Haddad, medical advisor at Breast Cancer UK.
There’s no definitive ‘right or wrong way’ to check your breasts, but getting to know how your boobs look and feel personally is an important step to detecting any signs of breast cancer early and getting treatment.
Keep on reading for Dr Haddad’s step-by-step guide on how to do this.
How to check your breasts for lumps at home
Dr Haddad says it’s important to check your breasts every month so you can get used to how they feel.
“Check your breasts at the same time every month using your index and middle fingers and walk around the whole breast in a spiral motion including under your armpit and then repeat on the other side,” says Dr Haddad.
Also take time to look at your breasts with your arms down and with them raised.
“Check for changes you can see in your breast such as swelling, inflammation, dimpling or any rashes. Then, check for changes in your nipple such as a sunken nipple, a crusty nipple, or any discharge from the nipple.”
How to check your breasts when breastfeeding
Dr Haddad says that regular self-examination of your breasts should continue while breastfeeding.
“It is better to check your breasts post-feeding by lying down on your back, say on a towel to catch any milk leakage. To check the breast, start with one hand behind your head, use the fingers of the other hand to walk around the entire breast in an overlapping circular motion, including the armpit to the middle of the chest, from the collarbone to the lower ribs.
“It is very common to feel a lump during breastfeeding. Engorgement can be resolved by regular feeding or pumping and sometimes blocked ducts might be the cause of painful lumps. If you have any concerns about a palpated lump, please get in touch with your primary care clinician for further advice.”
While Dr Haddad states that 9 out of 10 lumps are completely harmless, if you have any symptoms worrying you, you should not wait for your breast screening letter, or after you’ve given birth to get in touch with your GP.
“Any small changes, any breast lumps, any pain, anything that makes women worry about their breasts or men. We examine you, make a decision together and take appropriate action from there.”
Where to get more support
If you have been affected by cancer or are worried about symptoms, there are many helpful charities and resources that can offer help and support throughout your journey.
Breast Cancer Now - With the impact of COVID, Breast Cancer Now are doing a lot to help out women affected by breast cancer during the pandemic.
Cancer Research UK - Have you been impacted by a different kind of cancer? Visit Cancer Research UK for further help.
CoppaFeel - This charity can provide you with more help when it comes to checking your breasts.
Against Breast Cancer - They're on a mission to find a vaccine against breast cancer.
Pink Ribbon Foundation - Find plenty of helpful information and support for those with breast cancer.