Pregnancy Breast Tenderness Explained

Learn why your breasts may be feeling sore.

pregnant woman Fancy Photography/Veer

Breast tenderness is often one of the first pregnancy symptoms women experience when they've got a bun in the oven, and unfortunately it's not something that can be prevented. After the egg is fertilized your body begins to produce pregnancy hormones that make your breasts bulge, getting them ready for their starring role in feeding your newborn. "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.

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