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How to Conduct an At-Home Breast Exam

We are quite familiar with breasts and the bras that support them, which is why we also support the health of your breasts. At-home breast exams help you learn more about what's normal for you when it comes to the shape, size and texture of your breasts.

The steps below walk you through the process for conducting a monthly exam on your own. Please note: while these are researched guidelines, you should consult your doctor immediately if you have any questions or notice anything unusual, as we are not medical professionals.

1. Choose the best time for you.

You probably have noticed your breasts tend to get tender at certain points in your cycle, thanks to changing hormone levels affecting your breast tissue. For most women, swelling usually starts to go down once their period starts. For this reason, the Mayo Clinic says that the best time to perform a self-exam for breast awareness is usually a few days after your period ends.

2. Examine how your breasts look.

Spend some time topless, and bra-less, in front of a mirror to get familiar with how your breasts look without your ThirdLove bra on. Now look for anything unusual in their shape, in the appearance of the skin and in the nipples. During each self-exam, you'll be taking note of any changes from their usual look. Specifically, experts say to pay attention to any of the following changes:

  • Dimpling or puckering of the skin
  • Bulging areas or other changes in shape
  • Color differences
  • Swelling
  • Redness or a rash
  • A nipple that no longer sticks out but inverts inward
  • A nipple that changes position
  • Signs of any sort of fluid coming out of either or both nipples 

Look at your breasts full-on, facing the mirror. First, just stand with your hands at your sides. Then press your palms firmly on your hips so you flex your chest muscles. Lastly, raise your arms over your head. Take note of anything that looks different from what you remember and let your healthcare provider know at your next appointment.

3. Examine how your breasts feel.

When you check yourself out in the mirror, you're looking for anything that looks unusual compared to your memory of how your breasts look. When you check yourself out using your hands you're looking for anything that feels unusual for you. NationalBreastCancer.org notes that especially if you feel any lumps, thickened areas or hardened knots, ask your healthcare provider to check them out for you.

The hands-on portion of the at-home breast exam has two positions: standing or sitting and lying down. You might prefer to do the upright part while in the shower since many women find that feeling their breasts is easier when their skin is slippery, as recommended on BreastCancer.org.

  1. Hold your three middle fingers together flat.
  2. Use the pads of your fingers to make small circular motions, like you're rotating a quarter around 360 degrees.
  3. Start off with a light touch, with just enough pressure to feel the tissue right below the skin.
  4. Choose a pattern to follow that covers the entire breast. For example, you could start at the nipple and move in circles outward, or you could move in a snake-like pattern from top to bottom, left to right. The pattern doesn't matter as long as you end up feeling the whole breast by the time you're finished.
  5. When you finish one breast, repeat with the other one.
  6. After you've lightly explored both breasts, repeat the entire pattern, this time using a medium touch so that you can feel a little deeper.
  7. Apply more pressure for the third time around so that you can feel the deep tissue down to your rib cage.
  8. Finally, squeeze each nipple to feel for any lumps and to check for any discharge.

Take the time to make sure you do a thorough job of examining your breasts. Mayo Clinic advises not to rush through your exam, which might take several minutes in front of a mirror as well as several minutes in the shower and some more lying down. Your breast health -- and you! -- are well worth the effort.