Why Do My Areolas Have Bumps
Your breasts will change as you get older, but they also go through a lot in their lifetime. During puberty, for example, hormone levels rise dramatically, causing them to swell with milk-producing lobules and ducts. After delivery, your breasts shrink down from an enormous size, all the way back down to pre-pregnancy dimensions. As we age, our breast tissue becomes less dense, making them more susceptible to cancerous tumors. And over the course of several decades, our breasts take on a variety of other physical characteristics that make us feel different.
The most obvious difference is cosmetic — women often wear bras made specifically for their shape. But there are plenty of others that aren’t so easy to see. For instance, many people don’t realize that their breasts have dimples or indentations, caused by mammary ridges (also known as Montgomery tubercles). These bumps usually appear at the base of each breast, just under the areola. They’re actually tiny little glands called Montgomery tubercles. Each gland releases about one teaspoon of fluid per day, and what comes out of those glands alerts your body when it’s time to feed your newborn.
This happens because breastfeeding mothers produce prolactin, a hormone that stimulates the production of milk. Prolactin is produced by the pituitary gland, located in the brain stem. When prolactin gets released into the bloodstream, it causes the mammary glands to secrete milk, and it triggers the release of oxytocin from the uterus. Oxytocin then travels up into the chest cavity where it crosses over into the blood supply of both the breasts and the nipples. Once here, it causes the formation of milk ducts. The presence of these new ducts results in the formation of a larger areola that helps guide the flow of milk toward your baby. In addition, prolactin increases the sensitivity of the skin surrounding the nipples, which allows them to better sense any contact with another person’s saliva or even air currents.
These bumps serve an important function in nursing infants, too. Although they are only visible while nursing, they provide nourishment to the infant. A mother’s hormones affect the type of fat she produces, including DHA, a fatty acid necessary for proper development of the baby’s brain. This fat provides protection against infection and disease.
But why do these bumps form? Read the next page to find out.
Montgomery Tubercle Development
To understand how this process works, let’s first look at the components needed for lactation. Breastfeeding requires three things: 1) enough milk to satisfy the baby, 2) a healthy milk supply, and 3) an efficient mechanism for bringing the milk to the baby. Lactose, the sugar contained within human milk, is easily digested by babies’ immature digestive systems. However, if a mother has insufficient stores of glycogen (the storage form of glucose), her body won’t be able to break down the lactose, and thus she won’t be able to produce enough milk.
There are two main ways to store glycogen: muscle cells and liver cells. Muscle cells work best during pregnancy, but after childbirth, the amount of available muscle mass decreases. Liver cells, however, continue storing glycogen long after birth. Since the liver is responsible for producing glycogen, it’s no surprise that it plays an integral role in lactogenesis.
During pregnancy, the amount of estrogen circulating in the blood rises significantly. Estrogen affects the growth of the mammary gland and enhances its ability to secrete milk proteins. It does this by increasing the number of receptors on the surface of the cell membrane, allowing more prolactin to bind to them. More prolactin means more milk production, and more receptors mean more efficiency and greater capacity.
When the baby is born, the mother’s hormones drop quickly. This decrease in estrogen may be the reason why the Montgomery tubercles disappear once the baby is removed from the mother’s breast [sources: Killeen; Sanger].
Other factors contributing to the disappearance of Montgomery tubercles include the following:
Baby formula — Babies who are fed formula instead of breastmilk generally don’t develop Montgomery tubercles because they receive much less prolactin than nursing mothers. If a woman doesn’t nurse, her body isn’t getting the same hormonal boost.
Mastitis — An infection of the breast can lead to inflammation and pain, and this prevents the secretion of prolactin.
Pituitary disorders — Pituitary disorders such as hypothyroidism interfere with normal functioning of the pituitary gland, preventing the release of prolactin.
Tumors — Tumors interfering with the pituitary gland can prevent the release of prolactin.
Drugs — Certain drugs, especially corticosteroids, inhibit the release of prolactin.
Trauma — Shock due to trauma can result in the suppression of prolactin.
As mentioned earlier, the appearance of these bumps varies widely. Some women never experience them, whereas others encounter them year after year. The condition is not hereditary, nor is it related to general health problems like diabetes. There are some simple solutions doctors offer patients who suffer from these bumps. First, try to keep your overall weight stable, since obesity can suppress the release of prolactin. Second, avoid shock therapy, which can trigger the development of these bumps. Third, talk to your doctor about using anti-inflammatory medications or antibiotics to treat infections. Finally, consult your physician before taking any dietary supplements designed to increase milk production.
Although the exact reasons behind the occurrence of Montgomery tubercles remain unclear, researchers believe that they could help determine whether a particular individual is likely to become pregnant. Researchers theorize that the presence of certain genes could influence the development of these bumps. Specifically, one gene called MUC1 appears to play an essential role. While studying the genetics of breast cancer, scientists discovered that women who carried mutations on this gene were more likely to develop Montgomery tubercles. Women without a mutation on this gene had no risk of developing the problem.
Researchers hope to use genetic information to help identify women at higher risk of breast cancer. This knowledge could enable physicians to screen high-risk women for possible cancers early, giving them the opportunity to catch them before they advance too far.
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