When our children are young, we are always on the lookout for anything that might be a sign of a greater problem. As parents, we have to advocate for our young children because they can't speak for themselves.
So when we see something as alarming as prepubescent breast development in a child under one year of age, it's very concerning.
What Causes Premature Breast Development
Newborns are often born with breast buds which develop in the womb as a result of exposure to their mother's hormones. Babies can be born with a large hormonal load transferred during the birth process.
Since childbirth and prenatal development are dependent on hormones it's not uncommon for there to be a surge of hormones prior to childbirth.
Usually, these premature breast buds will go away within the first three months. If your baby has newborn breast buds, you can mention them to your doctor at checkups, but it's not something that should cause any alarm.
These small breasts will look like early breast development in both boys and girls and may even leak milk, however, these issues will resolve when the hormones have fully cleared their system.
What is more worrying is when breast bud development happens after those first few months of life and well before the normal prepubescent age.
Typically this type of breast bud development is also caused by hormones, however, the source of hormonal activity needs to be identified to determine if a treatment plan should be put in place.
Estrogen and Hormonal Exposure
In most instances, premature breast bud development is caused by hormonal imbalances. Babies can be breastfeeding, drinking or eating soy products, or have a hereditary predisposition to precocious development.
If a baby is still breastfeeding, it’s possible hormones from their mother are being transferred through breast milk. If breast buds develop talk to your pediatrician about possibly discontinuing breastfeeding and discuss feeding alternatives.
Another cause of breast bud development is soy protein which is high in estrogen. Much of the food we eat has soy products in them, so most of us are exposed to soy daily.
Many formulas are made from soy and some vegetarian meat products are also made with soy. If you are consuming soy and still breastfeeding this can also be a source of hormones for your baby.
Consider the amount of soy your baby is getting in their diet and scale back to see if this is causing the breast buds. Wait a few months after cutting back on soy products before seeing results.
Most of the time soy related hormone issues will resolve themselves a few months after soy has been removed from the baby's diet.
Heredity and Breast Development
Our heredity may also be a cause for premature breast budding. Some families are predisposed to precocious development. Check with family members to see if their children or other members of your family had early breast buds.
While most instances of premature breast budding occur in female children, they can be seen in boys at this age as well.
If you find that other family members have had premature breast buds during infancy, check with the time frame. In most cases, the breast buds will go away before your child is three or four.
In very rare cases some children are hereditarily predisposed to early onset puberty and can be prepubescent as early as five or six years old, however, it is extremely rare, especially in a child under one year of age.
If your child’s breast buds are accompanied by pubic hair growth and body odor, a consultation with your pediatrician would be necessary. This condition could mean there is a more serious hormone imbalance and medication to stunt hormones and puberty will most likely be needed.
A child might also just be chubby. The breast buds may look like developing mammaries but are often just swelling and fat deposits in the breast tissue.
If a child is genetically predisposed to be tall or is eating fatty foods, they may be in the upper percentiles for high and weight and this too can cause breasts to look like they are budding.
If your family is tall and large proportioned genetically and you know your baby is eating the right foods, then the breasts will go away as your baby matures.
Thelarche in One or Both Breasts
Thelarche is the medical term for early breast budding. As mentioned already this could be caused by hormones, heredity or fatty tissue in the breasts. In most cases when thelarche is detected in one breast, the cause is hormonal and will go away on its own over several months.
Thelarche can occur in both boys and girls and is usually a normal hormonal reaction to overexposure to female hormones that are present in both males and females.
Usually, there is no need for concern, however, mentioning the issue to your pediatrician is advised.
Thelarche can happen in children at any time before puberty, however, it typically occurs in newborn infants and toddlers under the age of three.
If this is happening to your preschool or school-aged child, perhaps a sonogram or MRI might be needed to identify the budding and the source of the hormonal imbalance.
In children older than six, the breast budding may also be a sign of precocious puberty.
When to Worry
If your child’s breast buds do not resolve over the course of a few months, even after lessening their exposure to soy and hormonal influences, you may need to consult your doctor to discuss other causes of thelarche.
If your child’s breast is red, very hard to the touch or warm, it may mean this is an infection and a doctor should be seen immediately.
In most cases, thelarche will resolve on its own within a year if the condition lasts longer than a year, ask your doctor to do further tests to determine the cause and course of action.