A really common PMS symptom and a sign that you’re about to start your period are sore boobs and nipples, or “cyclic breast pain” as it might also be called by some of the experts. It’ll usually start a couple of weeks or so before your period is due and you’ll know it’s arrived when you start feeling uncomfortable and that dull, heavy feeling makes its way back into your chest.
But why do we get sore nipples before a period? What causes it to happen? Are there treatments available, or can we make it go away ourselves without help? We’ve answered these questions and more below, so you can keep yourself informed and get yourself feeling comfortable again, no matter how long it is until your next flow arrives.
What is cyclic breast pain?
Cyclic breast pain, which might also scientifically be called “cyclic mastalgia”, is the breast soreness some of us are likely to get the weeks and days before a period is due. It’s wholly linked to the menstrual cycle and the way our hormones change at this time.
As we make our way through a menstrual cycle, levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone in us will rise and fall. This is what makes the pain disappear and reappear every month, and you should find that it’ll go again just before you start your period.
What are the causes of premenstrual breast pain?
The main cause of sore breasts and nipples before a period is due is the rollercoaster ride your hormones will be going on. But there are deeper reasons within that fact that can help you to understand why, and they aren’t the only cause behind breast pain when you’re heading for your period. We’ve listed a few of the other causes here:
We’ve already mentioned the two hormones involved here: oestrogen and progesterone. The first of these, oestrogen, causes the breast ducts to enlarge. The second, progesterone, causes the milk glands to swell when it’s produced. Both of these happening at the same time can give you sore breasts during the second half of your menstrual cycle.
Both oestrogen and progesterone increase during the second half of your menstrual cycle (from around day 14 to day 28 in a typical 28-day cycle). For most people, oestrogen levels will peak near enough exactly half-way through, while progesterone levels rise about a week before a period is due to start.
With that kind of overlap, it’s no wonder we can get sore boobs before our periods!
Medication with oestrogen in it
If you’re taking medication that helps to boost your oestrogen, you might also notice changes in your breasts. These include the swelling, soreness, and tenderness that you might think of when you’re nearing your more delicate days.
Fibrocystic breast disease
When the oestrogen and progesterone levels in your body are busy rising and falling, they’re also stimulating your breasts to enlarge the milk glands and ducts. Sometimes, this leads to the creation of benign but painful cysts in your breasts.
You’ll be able to tell if you’ve got these, rather than some other kind of lump in your breasts. Cysts from fibrocystic breast disease will move around if they’re pushed on, and will usually shrink once your period is finished.
Too much caffeine
Coffee lover? Then we’re sorry to say that your favourite morning (or afternoon, or even evening) drink might be contributing to your breast tenderness every month. A study conducted by the Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, USA, found that there was a link between a high caffeine intake and breast soreness.
The people who took part in the study, who’d originally suffered mild to severe breast pain and tenderness just before their periods, were asked to reduce caffeine intake over the course of a year. The returned results found that there was a noticeable reduction in how much pain they experienced. Some even found that cutting down on the coffee stopped their breasts from feeling hard or sore completely!
Other lifestyle factors
It’s been suggested in a number of studies that some other lifestyle factors, including eating a high-fat diet and chronic stress, could play a part in making your breast pain worse.
What are the symptoms of premenstrual breast swelling?
If your breasts and nipples get sore on a regular basis every month, and it’s usually just before your period, then the pain is most likely cyclical. The most common symptoms you might find with cyclical breast pain include:
- A sore, dull pain in the upper and outer areas of both your breasts
- The feeling of hard, heavy, or swollen breasts just before your period
- Pain that begins around two weeks before menstruation and goes away when it starts
- Pain that affects both your boobs and (in some cases) also spreads to your armpits
When to talk to your doctor
You should always talk to your doctor if anything suddenly changes, or if there’s anything about your breasts that’s worrying you. Most of the time there won’t be anything wrong, but you should want to rule out potential infections or other medical conditions.
Get in touch with your GP or health provider if you notice:
- New lumps in your breast, or lumps that are changing
- Unilateral lumps (lumps that are only in one breast)
- Breast pain that’s interfering with your daily life or ability to sleep
- Discharge from your nipple, especially if it’s brown or looks bloody
- Redness in your breast
- A change in the skin around your breast that has the consistency of an orange peel
Your doctor should carry out a physical examination, including a breast exam, and is likely to ask about the symptoms you’ve had. Questions they might ask you include:
- Have you noticed any discharge from your nipples?
- Does the breast pain or tenderness come before your menstrual period?
- Are you experiencing any other symptoms?
During a breast exam, the doctor should feel for lumps and take notes about their physical quality if any are found.
If there are any unusual changes in your breast, your doctor may decide on a mammogram or an ultrasound to take a look at what’s happening inside your breast. In some very rare cases, they may also take a biopsy (a tissue sample from the lump) if they feel it’s necessary.
Treatments for breast pain and sore nipples before a period
Most premenstrual breast pain can be treated just fine with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that you can buy in any supermarket or pharmacy. The most common one you’ll probably find is ibuprofen, which is also fantastic for relieving other period and PMS symptoms.
You might also find that going on hormonal birth control, including the oral contraceptive pill, helps to reduce your symptoms and any discomfort you’re having before your period starts.
If your pain is above mild, or if you’ve found that the methods above just aren’t working for you, you may want to think about having a talk with your doctor. They may be able to recommend a stronger medication that will suit your needs better. If you’re undergoing hormone replacement therapy (HRT), they may also talk to you about lowering the dosage if it’s causing you pain.
What about itchy nipples just before a period is due?
If you often find that you get itchy nipples (or even itchy breasts in general) just before your period, then this is also probably related to PMS. When your hormones are fluctuating and making your breasts more sensitive, it’s also been suggested that they could be more prone to irritation and itching.
As your hormonal changes enlarge your milk glands and ducts, it also makes your breasts slightly bigger during this part of your cycle. This stretches out the skin, which might also give you itchy nipples.
For some of us, there’s also a possibility that the itchiness is being caused by a premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). This is a more severe kind of PMS that sometimes causes inflammation in the body. As a result, it can also make you itchy all over.
Can breast pain and sore nipples before a period be signs of pregnancy?
We totally understand how you could be wondering if your sore boobs are a sign of early pregnancy. The same hormones are involved and both can have roughly the same symptoms. There are a few ways you can tell the difference between the two, though:
- If it’s PMS that’s making your breasts feel sore, the pain will probably be at its worst right before menstruation. It should also go away quite quickly a day or two after your period has started.
- If your sore breasts are a pregnancy symptom, the sore, hard, heavy feeling should last for a lot longer. It might end up going on for months, and could even stay until you’re ready to deliver your baby. As well as the soreness and a stinging sensation, you might also develop blue veins near the surface of your breasts.
If you don’t know whether or not you’re pregnant, the best thing to do is take a pregnancy test ‒ it’ll be more reliable than going by how your boobs are feeling!
How can I get rid of breast pain before a period?
Cyclical breast pain and soreness will routinely go by itself once your period starts, but it’s also natural that you might want to find a way to make yourself feel better long before this happens. There are a few things you can do that don’t involve advice from your doctor or medical treatments, too:
- Reducing or eliminating your caffeine intake
- Switching up your diet (replacing some of the high fat foods with high fiber alternatives, like whole grains and vegetables)
- Find your ideal relaxation technique (like gentle exercise, or breathing exercises) to reduce stress
- Wear a firm, supportive bra to make sure your breasts are getting the support they need
Stay as comfy as possible when you’re heading for your cycle
We know how uncomfortable a cycle can be, both in the lead up to a period and when it actually arrives! If those telltale signs, including breast pain and sore nipples, have come around again and you know your period will soon be on its way, why not make sure you’re ready to see it through with some super-soft period pants?
We’ll be happy to help you find your perfect fit here at FLUX Undies, in a range of fashionable, discreet styles that you’re bound to love in a series of materials that’ll feel great against your skin. They’re even completely eco-friendly; just put them straight in the wash when you’re done and get them ready for next time!
When you sign up with us to get all our latest news and info you’ll even get 10% off your first order, so why wait? Buy now and change into a new set of our period-proof undies, and get set for comfortable cycles for ages to come!