Poppy Lockett’s shoulders would often bleed where her bra straps had been digging into her skin. Trudging back from a long day at college, she would arrive home in tears, her back aching and her stomach bearing angry red marks where her 34KK breasts had been rubbing.

‘It was so uncomfortable,’ says Poppy, who lives in Manchester with boyfriend Toby, 20, an IT technician. ‘My breasts were so droopy and heavy they made my whole back hunch over.

‘I often developed sores and rashes and had to wear size 22 tops, even though I’m only a size 12-14 everywhere else. Then there was the constant staring – from men and women.’

Emma Jones, 25, from Devon, had a breast reduction done privately last July. She had been requesting help from the NHS since the age of 14. Pictured before the operation

By 16 she was a 34G and had asked the GP several times if I could be referred for a breast reduction, but they said it wasn’t possible. Picture post-operation

Last September, aged only 18, Poppy underwent a breast reduction to deflate her backbreaking KK cup to a far more manageable DD.

She is far from alone in resorting to such measures at such a young age. According to the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), the demand for breast reductions increased by 13 per cent last year with 6,246 operations being carried out.

One comparison website – cliniccompare.co.uk – reported a 60 per cent increase in interest in this procedure in the 14-25 age group. Compare that to demand across the total age range rising by just 3 per cent.

So why are so many young women plagued with such large breasts that they are willing to risk major surgery to improve their quality of life?

While it’s easy to blame soaring breast size on obesity, many women having reductions are a slim size 10 or smaller, and their cup sizes are caused by hormones. Experts also put it down to late motherhood, fatty diets and an increase in uptake of the contraceptive pill.

Dr Shazia Malik, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the Portland Hospital in London, explains: ‘Girls who are overweight at a young age tend to go through the menarche (start of their periods) earlier and this means they are exposed to oestrogen (the female hormone) at a younger age, which will stimulate breast growth and size.

Poppy Lockett, lives in Manchester with boyfriend Toby, 20, an IT technician. Her breasts were so droopy and heavy they made her whole back hunch over

Poppy before her breast reduction. Her backbreaking KK cup were reduced to a far more manageable DD

‘Also, we are having fewer children, later, which means we are having more periods and, therefore, more exposure to the oestrogen our body makes each month in the menstrual cycle.

‘The Pill works by giving us extra oestrogen and progesterone. And girls are being born to mothers who not only may have been on the Pill for a large part of their adult life, but whose mothers took it, too.’

Dr Malik adds: ‘Oestrogen in its natural form and the manufactured form – for example, in the Pill or HRT – affects our breasts.

Elicia Davies, 28, from London, who works in promotions, thought surgery was the only option. She started developing at just ten and was an F cup by 16. Pictured after the operation

‘I read more and more data these days about oestrogens in our drinking water, as well as in cows’ milk, and maybe even in meats such as chickens because of hormone injections given to farmed animals.

‘Then there is evidence that BPAs [bisphenol A, a chemical linked to health problems including obesity and infertility] in plastics [such as bottles and food packaging] may also increase oestrogen in our bodies.

‘So a combination of environmental and internal factors may be causing this increase.’

Elicia before her breast reduction. As a size 8-10, she struggled to find bras because she had a slim 32in back but a large E cup

Harley Street plastic surgeon Dr Max Marcellino has noticed a rise in the past 18 months of women under 30 asking for reductions.

He says: ‘Over the past 20 years it wasn’t common, but now I perform one a week. It can probably be attributed to increased awareness about plastic surgery and people having a greater knowledge of what is available.

‘But our modern-day lifestyle, from processed food in our diets to the contraceptive pill, appears to be affecting the size of women’s breasts. I’ve seen it first-hand in my clinic over the years.

‘I had a mother come in with her daughter recently, and while the mother was a C to D cup, the daughter was a J cup.’

Statistics prove breasts are getting bigger. Lingerie manufacturer Curvy Kate revealed that their J and K cup sales rose by a dramatic 186 per cent from 2013 to 2015 and they have sold more than 100,000 J-K cup bras.

Poppy Lockett’s large bust became a problem when she was just 14. ‘By that age I was already a GG cup and they seemed to be growing almost overnight,’ she says. ‘Bras would only last me a couple of weeks before I got too big. I couldn’t take part in PE lessons because running or playing netball was out of the question.

‘School uniforms would never fit and I’d get taunts and comments. One boy used to shout things across the playground and others would try to touch them as I walked down the corridor.

Emma has scars from where she used to wear her bras and her back used to be extremely painful. She wasn’t able to lie on her front at all

‘When I started working at a hairdresser part-time I noticed even female clients talking to my chest as if they couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It affected my confidence. I used to get upset and embarrassed.’

In Poppy’s case, genetics are believed to be partly the cause of her considerable cleavage: ‘My mum had a breast reduction in 1989, going from a HH to a C.

‘Every woman on her side of the family has a large bust. I have an older sister who is 22 whose boobs are large, but not stupidly big, and my younger sister is only 12, so who knows how she will develop.’

Pictured before the reduction. She doesn’t know why her chest was so large, as her mum and sister are normal-sized and Emma eats healthily and exercises

Poppy asked for surgery on the NHS ‘several times, but my GP always said no’.

Last year, she was at the end of her tether after being offered antidepressants instead. ‘I came home and broke down and my dad said: “Enough’s enough, we’ll pay for you to go private.”

Last September, Poppy underwent the £7,000 procedure at the Spire Hospital in Manchester – and she hasn’t looked back. ‘I’d watched some videos of breast reductions on YouTube, so I knew what I was having. When I woke up afterwards, I started crying because I was so happy with my DD cup size.

‘While the dressings were on I was scared to touch them. By the time I saw them properly ten days later they were still so swollen, but the scars were a perfect line and the nipple was still healthy, so there’s a chance I’ll be able to breastfeed in the future, too.

Poppy Lockett’s large bust became a problem when she was just 14. By that age she was already a GG cup and they seemed to be growing almost overnight

‘Friends and family can see what a difference it’s made to my happiness. When I went into work after the operation, my boss said: “I can’t believe how different your face is because you seem so much happier. It’s made such a difference”.’

Emma Jones, 25, a banking customer services adviser from Devon, also had the operation done privately, last July.

She had been requesting help from the NHS since the age of 14.

Bras would only last her a couple of weeks before she got too big. She couldn’t take part in PE lessons because running or playing netball was out of the question

‘I was already an F cup and, by 16, I was a 34G and had asked the GP several times if I could be referred for a breast reduction, but they said it wasn’t possible,’ says Emma.

‘I have scars where I used to wear my bras, my back used to cripple me and I could never lie down on my front because it was so painful.

‘If I wanted to exercise, I’d have to wear two bras, plus a sports bra. I’d never look at myself in the mirror and the only time I ever took my bra off was in the shower. Even my partner never saw me completely naked. It was too uncomfortable to take off my bra in bed.’

As for possible reasons for her large chest, she says: ‘I’ve no idea why I was so big-chested because my mum and sister are normal-sized. I eat healthily, I exercise.

‘One doctor told me it could be hormonal and I’ve been on the Pill since I was 16, but it’s a low oestrogen one, so who knows? All I do know is that if I lost a stone in weight, my breasts stayed the same size.’

Emma says her chest also affected her psychologically when she was younger.

‘Certainly before I met my last boyfriend it affected my relationships,’ she says. ‘I never knew if a guy was interested in me simply for my “assets”.

‘Men would stare and speak to my chest. Not long after I’d had my operation, a male acquaintance I’ve known years said: “I’m looking at your face for the first time and I didn’t know how pretty you were.”’

Elicia had the £6,500 surgery with Harley Street surgeon Dr Max Marcellino last year, and went from a 32E cup down to a D and had an uplift at the same time

Emma had her £7,500 surgery at Elite Surgical in Birmingham. Her surgeon Mr Sultan Hassan reduced her breasts to a DD – taking off two pounds of weight.

‘When I woke, Mr Hassan was there and told me everything had gone well.

‘Immediately I looked down and put my hand on my chest and my boobs had gone. I burst into tears, I was so happy.’

But then she developed a clot in her left breast – causing swelling, hardness and discomfort.

She says that the breast reduction has it has transformed her life. She thinks it’s a combination of environmental and internal factors may be causing the increase in breast size

If not treated quickly, a clot is potentially fatal, as it can break off and travel to another area of the body and cause a blockage that can trigger a heart attack, stroke or pulmonary embolism (where an artery in the lungs becomes obstructed).

‘Apparently I was only the second patient this had ever happened to with Mr Hassan, so I was just unlucky. It was frightening, but he called in a surgical team straight away and it was removed. I went home the following afternoon.’

Chantelle Crabb, expert bra fitter for Curvy Kate, wonders if surgery is always the answer. ‘Every woman has the right to decide what to do with their body and certainly for anyone with, say KK cups, a reduction is probably right,’ she says.

Elicia read about oestrogens in our drinking water, as well as in cows’ milk, and maybe even in meats such as chickens because of hormone injections given to farmed animals

‘Up to 90 per cent of women wear the incorrect bra size, which can lead to painful problems including back ache, poor posture, grooves in the shoulder and even indigestion.

‘It may be that some women opt for surgery when a correctly fitting bra might have solved the issue.’

But Elicia Davies, 28, from London, who works in promotions, is unconvinced. For her, surgery seemed the only option.

‘I started developing at just ten and, by 16, I was an F cup and they were really drooping and giving me so much back pain,’ she says.

One doctor told Emma that her breast size could be hormonal. She’s been on the Pill since she was 16, but it was low oestrogen one so she didn’t see how it could have affected it

‘I’m not on the Pill, and I’ve changed my diet so many times in a bid to change their shape, yet nothing has affected them.

‘I can only think it comes from my father’s side because the women in his family are all big-chested, too.’

As a size 8-10, Elicia struggled to find bras because she had a slim 32in back but a large E cup.

She had the £6,500 surgery with Harley Street surgeon Dr Max Marcellino last year, and went from a 32E cup down to a D and had an uplift at the same time. She says it has transformed her life.

In Poppy’s case, genetics are believed to be partly the cause of her considerable cleavage. Her mum had a breast reduction in 1989, going from a HH to a C

‘When I woke from the op to be told everything had gone well, I can’t describe the excitement,’ she says. ‘Ten days later, when the dressings came off, I looked in the mirror and my boobs were perfect.

‘I’d been worried about scarring, but I hardly noticed any. They were better than I could have imagined.

‘Three months on and everyone keeps asking if I’ve lost weight.

‘I’m standing taller, my back doesn’t hurt, my posture is better and I’m even doing my job better because I feel more confident.

‘I can go clothes shopping and wear things I couldn’t wear before. I am so much more confident.

‘My only regret is not doing it sooner.’