Anatomy of the Female Breast for Breastfeeding

The female breasts, also known as the mammary glands, are located on the front of the body. They extend out of the chest wall between the abdomen and the neck. Since a gland is an organ or a part of the body that can create a substance or secretion, the breasts are able to produce breast milk. The ability to make breast milk allows women to provide nutrition and nourishment to their children through breastfeeding


Although the size and the shape of the breasts can vary tremendously from woman to woman, all breasts are made up of the same parts. Here is a list of the external and internal structures that make up the anatomy of the female breast.

Exterior Parts

Skin: The breasts are covered by skin. The skin surrounding the breast contains the areola, the nipple, and the Montgomery glands. 

Areola: The areola is the circular or oval area at the center of the breast that is a darker color than the surrounding skin. It is believed that the areola is darker in color so that the newborn can more easily locate it to latch on and begin breastfeeding.

Nipple: The nipple protrudes outward from the center of the areola. There are several small openings in the nipple that allow breast milk to flow out of the breast and into the baby's mouth.

Montgomery Glands: On the outside of the nipple and areola are small raised, bumpy glands. These glands produce a secretion that cleans, moisturizes, and protects the nipple and areola during breastfeeding. It is also believed that the Montgomery glands, or areolar glands, produce a scent that helps the newborn to find the nipple and latch on.

Interior Parts 

Glandular Tissue: The glandular tissue in the breast is the milk-making tissue. This is the part of the breast that produces breast milk.

Milk Ducts: Milk ducts are the transport system for breast milk. They carry the milk from where it is made in the glandular tissue, through the breast, and out of the nipple to the baby.

Ligaments: The Cooper's ligaments are bands of fibrous tissue that provide the breast with structure. Since there are no muscles located within the breasts, ligaments give the breast its shape.

Nerves: There is a complex system of nerves located throughout the breasts. These nerves respond to suckling at the breast and trigger the release of the hormones oxytocin and prolactin. Oxytocin and prolactin are responsible for the let-down reflex and the continued production of breast milk.

Fatty Tissue: Adipose tissue, or fatty tissue, is what determines the size of the breasts. The more fat that is inside of the breasts, the larger the breasts will be. However, the amount of fat does not have anything to do with the amount of milk-making tissue within the breast. Therefore, breast size does not determine the amount of breast milk that is made.

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  • American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.
  • Doucet, S., Soussignan, R., Sagot, P., & Schaal, B. The secretion of areolar (Montgomery's) glands from lactating women elicits selective, unconditional responses in neonates. PLoS One. 2009; 4(10): e7579.
  • Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby. 2011.
  • Riordan, J., Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2010.

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.