Hormones & Sore Boobs
Boobs. Why do boobs hurt every month? For something that is essentially fatty tissue (like many other parts of our bodies), boy do they come with a lot of baggage! However you feel about them though, if you’re a menstruating person, odds are they’ve caused you pain some time in your life. So let’s talk through your boob pain and one significant cause: hormones!
Hormonal Breast Pain
70% of people with breasts experience breast pain [also referred to as mastalgia] at some point (1). This pain can be linked to menstrual cycle (cyclical breast pain) or, well, not (non-cyclical). Right now we’re gonna be talking about breast pain thanks to the menstrual cycle!
What Causes Hormonal Breast Pain
Throughout the menstrual cycle, hormone levels and ratios fluctuate (read more about how the cycles works here!) Two key hormones in the menstrual cycle are estrogen and progesterone, and it’s the ups and downs of these that can cause your breasts to feel painful, lumpy and swollen (2). Why the pain? The sensation you are feeling is the stimulation of your duct and milk glands- they are increasing in size and number in case lactation may become necessary (3). This makes the breasts swell and retain water (4). Hence the pain and tenderness you feel.
Fibrocystic Breast Changes
While your period may be the culprit, your hormonal breast pain may be exacerbated due to something called fibrocystic breast changes, which can cause cysts to develop in the breasts (It’s not as bad as it sounds!). These cysts can fill up with fluid, and the more fluid = more stretched tissue = more discomfort. (5, 6) But don’t fear! Fibrocystic breast changes happen to about half of AFAB (assigned female at birth) in their 20s-50s7 and is generally not dangerous - just uncomfortable and can sometimes cause nipple discharge (6) (although always check in with your health team if you’re unsure).
So how do you know if your breast pain is hormonal?
Track it, baby! Cycle tracking is an awesome way to better understand your unique body. Because oftentimes the breasts are left out of the period convo, you may need to create your own section in the tracker to make a note of how your breasts feel over time. After a handful of cycles, there might be a clear pattern like, ohhh my boobs KILL because I’m about to ovulate. COOL!
Okay. So you’ve tracked your symptoms, and yes, those painful boobs are because of your menstrual cycle. What’s a menstruator to do?
Some Things to Help
(Read the full version of this article to get some more info on these!)
- Breast support (8, 9)
- Anti-inflammatory painkillers
- Cutting out the caffeine (8)
- Your diet (8)
- Vitamin E and B6 supplements (6,10)
- Use an ice pack (11)
- Use a hot pack or have a hot bath or shower (11)
- Eat less salt (4)
- Draining the cysts (5)
But, could it be it cancer?
While we are used to pain = something really, really bad, breast pain actually isn’t typically the first sign of cancer (12). Generally the first symptom of breast cancer is a painless hard lump (8) (like a frozen pea), which is why it is so important to do monthly breast checks (Remember to start at the armpit! You have breast tissue there!) If you ever do find a lump, or aren’t sure, check in with your health team. And, while pain typically isn’t the first symptom, if you do have pain that is unaccounted for and not cyclical, and/or on a very specific area of your breast, always better to play it safe! Go get checked out (12)!
In partnership with: Allbodies.com
Written by: Martha Michaud
Medically reviewed by: Heather Bartos, MD
Goyal, Amit. “Breast Pain.” BMJ Clinical Evidence. BMJ Publishing Group, October 14, 2014.
"Breast Pain (Mastalgia)." Johns Hopkins Medicine, Based in Baltimore, Maryland. Accessed December 10, 2019.
Harvard Health Publishing. "Breast Pain: Not Just a Premenopausal Complaint." Harvard Health. Last modified September 25, 2019.
Corinne O’Keefe Osborn. "Sensitive Breast: 10 Causes, Other Symptoms, Treatment, and More." Healthline. Accessed December 10, 2019.
"Learn All About Breast Cysts." Breast Cancer Now. Accessed December 10, 2019.
Lori Smith, BSN, MSN, CRNP. "10 Common Causes of Breast Pain." Medical News Today. Accessed December 10, 2019.
"Why Do My Breasts Hurt?" WebMD. Last modified March 27, 2017.
"Breast Pain (Mastalgia) - Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust." Pages - Home. Last modified 2, 2015.
Jaime Herndon and Rachel Nall. "Breast Pain: Types, Causes, and Treatments." Healthline. Accessed December 10, 2019.
"Clinical Effectiveness of Vitamin E and Vitamin B6 for Improving Pain Severity in Cyclic Mastalgia." PubMed Central (PMC). Last modified November 2015.
Gotter, Ana. "Treating Pain with Heat and Cold." Healthline. Accessed December 10, 2019.
"Breast Pain - Symptoms and Causes." Mayo Clinic. Last modified January 31, 2019.