While sore breasts is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy most women experience, it is not always a surefire symptom. In fact, if most women experience breast pain or soreness each time Aunt Flo makes her monthly visit. Your fluctuating hormones are to blame for the breast pain and soreness, both before your period arrives and directly after it's left the building.
You also might notice that your breasts become bigger in the days leading up to your period—this is the result of an increase in the amount of estrogen your body is producing. Progesterone takes over once your period has come and gone, which also causes breast soreness.
Some feel this symptom as a heaviness or tenderness in the entire breast, while others feel a tingling in the area around the nipple. This very same symptom, however, is one of the very first that most women experience when they're pregnant, which can lead to confusion for those actively trying—or trying not—to get pregnant. Here's everything you need to know:
If you are pregnant—congrats!—your reason for dealing with pesky breast soreness is slightly different, though also caused by a surge in hormones. After the egg is fertilized, your body begins to produce pregnancy hormones, namely estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin, that stimulate your breasts and cause the milk glands inside them to grow to prepare for their starring role in feeding your newborn. (FYI, this also what's behind that wow-cleavage you're likely experiencing these days.) What you're feeling is actually growing pains as your breasts prepare for lactation, and the discomfort may come and go over the course of your pregnancy. "Most women experience tissue swelling in the first trimester, which causes breasts to become sore and tender," says James E. Ferguson II, M.D., professor and department chair of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. And all that ruckus in your chest can be blamed on your ever-changing body chemistry.
First, the pregnancy hormones progesterone and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) cause an increase in blood volume throughout the body and make your girls plump up. Next, hormones trigger changes in the melanocytes, or pigment cells, that give your nipples their color. Pale cells slough away and darker ones rise to the surface, making your nipples more pronounced, which will ultimately help your baby see them more easily. "This could explain why some women experience sensitive nipples during pregnancy," says Sharon Phelan, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico Health Science Center School of Medicine.
Then, still more hormones signal the milk ducts in your breasts to activate around your third month of pregnancy. "Estrogen and progesterone made by the placenta promote the development of the ducts within the breast tissue," says Patrick Duff, M.D., an ob-gyn at the University of Florida, Gainesville. "The ducts get larger and begin to produce and store colostrum, the early form of breast milk," says Duff. This can cause your breasts to ache because those cells have to stretch out to make room.
All of these rapid changes result in your breasts feeling rather uncomfortable—tender to the touch, prickly, and just plain sore. But luckily, the pain eases up as pregnancy progresses. "Most women get used to the discomfort after the first few weeks and don't even realize it when the pain goes away completely later in their pregnancy," says Phelan. This means you should have some time to enjoy your new ample bosom for a bit before the little one arrives.
The good news is the soreness will likely ease up as your pregnancy progresses, but in the meantime there's not all that much you can do about sore breasts in early pregnancy. Luckily, there are a few tricks of the mom-to-be trade that can help ease your discomfort.
Ah yes—you thought you'd finally escape breast pain now that you delivered your beautiful baby. Sadly, this is not the case, as during the days that your milk comes in (usually starting three or four days after the birth) tend to be associated with full, even rock-hard, and painful breasts. This is known as engorgement and is normal and fortunately, temporary, and is a mere response to all that extra milk filling your breasts.
It's normal for your breasts to swell for up to two to five days after you give birth (this is called engorgement). It happens because your body is figuring out how much milk you need to produce and when, and this can make your breasts swell or feel rock-hard. Most women can tell when their milk comes in—your breasts might feel like foreign objects attached to your body.