Are you pregnant and unable to ignore the aching and throbbing in your breasts?
Breast pain is a super common experience during pregnancy, especially during early pregnancy.
Most women will have some breast soreness during the first trimester, usually starting during the fourth week and ending around the 14th week. Some women experience soreness earlier, and for some, it’s the earliest symptom of pregnancy.
Some women experience breast soreness their entire pregnancy, or even in the early stages of labor.
Is It Pregnancy Or PMS?
This is a very important question. Many of us experience breast soreness because of premenstrual syndrome, the pill, or a bit of rough handling. This is all due to alternating levels of hormones. Specifically, the hormones estrogen and progesterone which are the major pregnancy hormones that cause many of the symptoms women go through as they are carrying their little one.
If you’re feeling very hungry, you are probably experiencing PMS. If your cycle is regular, you can check whether your period is due in the next 1 to 5 days. If it is, PMS is almost certain.
If you are feeling sick or experiencing spotting, you might be pregnant. This is even more likely if your period is late.
Even if you are on contraception, you could still be pregnant. If you have an implant or an IUD, it becomes especially urgent to find out if you are pregnant, as the complications can be very dangerous.
Of course, the only close to surefire way of knowing if you are pregnant is to take a pregnancy test. These can still give us a false positive or a false negative, but in most cases, you will have an answer in your hand in minutes (1).
Can Anything Else Cause This Soreness?
As we mentioned above, your menstrual cycle, the pill and rough handling during sex and even menopause can also cause soreness. So can a hormonal imbalance, a poorly fitted bra, an infection, or a growth.
To check for hormonal issues, including the pill and a hormonal imbalance, look out for other signs of hormone troubles, such as a sudden onset of acne. But bear in mind that pregnancy can also cause hormonal issues, so take a pregnancy test to be sure.
To check for physical problems such as bruising, first of all, ask yourself if you have had anything happen to your breasts that could have bruised them.
Rough sex, walking into something, or sleeping funny can cause some serious pain. Look all over for red or purple marks.
To check if your bra is fitted properly, make sure your breasts rest in the cups without sinking or overflowing, that the strap is tight without digging in, and that the shoulder straps are comfortable, but taut.
Get a Fitting
Finally, make sure to regularly check your breasts for changes. Breast soreness can be an early warning sign of breast cancer, so you need to make sure to check for lumps or other changes. This can usually be felt in only one breast, while most of the other hormonal reasons mentioned the soreness is felt in both breasts.
Why Do My Breasts Hurt During Pregnancy?
When you get pregnant, the hormones estrogen and progesterone spike up. This helps the womb to prepare a lining for the fetus to implant itself safely and discourages that lining from coming loose unnecessarily.
What is more, now your breasts will be at their final stages of development. This is why some women who didn’t have soreness during their periods will still experience soreness during pregnancy.
The glands are getting bigger, more fat is growing, there is increased blood flow to the area, and the cell types are even changing! All of this, together, adds up to soreness (2).
Just My Nipples Are Tender. Is This The Same Thing?
Some women do not feel much breast soreness, but instead, experience tender nipples. This is sort of related, but not always the same thing.
Your whole breast is likely to feel sore when you are pregnant, but if it is specifically your nipples that are sore, you might be getting close to producing milk. That’s especially true if you are in your third trimester.
As you get nearer and nearer to lactating, your nipples, specifically our areola or the dark area around your nipple will grow darker and larger, and you may notice a small collection of pores opening on the tip of your nipples. They may be very sore, sensitive, and even itchy as this happens. You might notice little drops forming as well. If you see raised bumps that feel like goosebumps around your areola are called Montgomery tubercles. No need to worry, these are actually glands that help lubricate the area and prevent germs from forming.
It Hurts More When I…
There are so many things that can make breast pain worse during pregnancy.
Some women find eating certain foods makes the soreness worse. Others find they feel particularly sore during sex, or after an orgasm. This is all related to your hormones and since some foods can affect your hormone levels such as soy products and estrogen for instance, it is best to steer away from those when it’s mealtime.
There is no set list of things that will make your soreness worse or better. It’s just different from woman to woman.
The only advice I can offer you about this is to avoid whatever is making you sore, whether it’s a food, an activity, or an item of clothing.
It’s Just Temporary
It Hurts But They Aren’t Growing At All
Don’t fret. Not everyone’s breasts grow very much in the earlier stages of pregnancy.
Many women find their breasts don’t grow at all during pregnancy. Soreness and growth do not have to happen at once, and may not happen at the same time at all for you.
This is perfectly normal, and so long as your pregnancy is progressing, there is no problem.
Chances are your breasts will swell after giving birth. Many women experience a sudden surge in size as their milk comes in, a process called engorgement, but not before.
And even if they don’t grow at all, ever, as long as you are producing milk normally or bottle feeding, it won’t be a problem for you or your baby.
Although size does vary from woman to woman, breasts will usually increase in size even if slightly with milk production.
Editor's Note:Dr. Njoud Jweihan, MD
And remember that the same tips and tricks apply whether or not your breasts are growing in size. So there is no need to stop reading if you are sore, but not growing. Also keep in mind that breast changes are different from pregnancy to pregnancy so it is beneficial to know this information even for the long run. The advice below can still help you!
The First Trimester Is Over And It Still Hurts
The soreness usually goes away at the start of the second trimester. But not always.
For some women, breast soreness is something that carries on all throughout pregnancy especially when it is the first pregnancy and the body is not familiar with all the changes it is going through. This doesn’t mean anything is wrong, it just means that, a bit like during puberty, the changes are happening very quickly and you are a little more sensitive to them.
Some women also experience surges of pain and tenderness. These are something you want to keep a closer eye on, because even though they can be perfectly harmless, they could also be symptoms of issues like infections or growths.
Be on the Safe Side
Finally, you could have had no soreness for months and months only to get sore again in your eighth or ninth month. This is normal too, and usually means your body is starting to get ready for lactation or breastfeeding and to give birth.
How to Relieve Breast Pain During Pregnancy
If you are experiencing breast pains, some easy solutions have been proven to work.
For starters, there are many simple, over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicines that are perfectly safe to take during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor or midwife about these options. According to many mothers, Tylenol usually works in these circumstances.
You will also find you are more comfortable if you change your bra. Get fitted regularly throughout your pregnancy to make sure you are wearing the right maternity bra and it’s not too tight.
Choose one without an underwire so that it can adapt to the changes in your breasts. Some women choose to wear oversized sports bras during the first trimester and nursing bras during the second and third trimester for this reason.
And you may want to try hot and cold compresses, which can encourage better blood flow, reduced inflammation, and faster cell recovery. Use warm compresses when you are experiencing standard soreness or itching, but cold ones when you feel tender or swollen (3).
Drinking more water and reducing the amount of salt you eat can help reduce water retention. As water retention can make your breasts more swollen and painful, this can really help.
Editor's Note:Dr. Njoud Jweihan, MD
Milk Is Coming Out. Is This Normal?
We often expect not to lactate until we are either close to giving birth, or have already given birth. Most women will leak a little bit during the last month, and that is a good time to invest in some good nursing pads. In most cases the fluid is colostrum or the milky fluid that is produced just before breast milk.
But you can start lactating at any point during pregnancy, even from the very start. This usually occurs starting in the second trimester since that is when colostrum starts to be produced.
And as long as everything else is normal, there is no problem with this. It’s just what your body is doing.
That said, any leakage is something to keep an eye on, even if you think it is milk. If you notice your breasts are leaking, check for any swelling, redness, or lumps.
If you notice any odd signs, such as bloody discharge, or if you are just feeling worried and need reassuring, see your doctor to rule out anything more serious.
Signs Of Mastitis To Look Out For
If you are lactating before your baby arrives, you need to look out for signs of mastitis or another infection of the breast.
Normally, mastitis is caused by your nipple cracking when you are breastfeeding, which lets bacteria from the baby’s mouth into your breast, where it multiplies in the milk ducts. But mastitis can happen in any woman who is lactating, and other infections can also happen.
If your breasts are feeling very sore and warm, there is a hard area that’s red and hot, and you are experiencing fever, then you might have a breast infection. This is more of a risk for women with diabetes or women with weakened immune systems.
Make sure to see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms (4).
Other Trouble Signs
Just because you are pregnant does not mean you are immune to things like breast cancer, unfortunately. The signs and symptoms of pregnancy can hide the symptoms of breast cancer, making it harder to spot.
Even doctors can have a hard time checking and monitoring symptoms in pregnant women, because there is so much overlap between the signs of breast cancer and the normal breast changes.
Make sure to watch for any sudden changes in your breasts, especially the growth of a hard lump, one breast becoming much larger than the other, and shape-changing dramatically. You may also experience leaking, bleeding from the nipple, changes in the skin such as an orange peel appearance, or discharge that has an odd color. The sudden inversion of a nipple should be looked at as a possible sign of breast cancer. Keep in mind different types of breast cancer tend to produce different symptoms and some might not be painful at all.
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor immediately so they can arrange a mammogram or an MRI to work out what is causing them.
The Bottom Line
Breast soreness when you are pregnant is perfectly normal, and usually nothing at all to worry about. It can take many different forms, and as long as your doctor or midwife is not worried and your pregnancy is carrying on normally, whatever you are experiencing is probably normal for you.
That’s comforting to know, but does nothing to take the soreness away. Try out some of the above remedies to help you through it.