A woman may experience many symptoms of the body’s changes during pregnancy, from stuffy noses to backaches. One common effect of pregnancy is breast pain.
Pregnancy causes hormonal changes, which can affect the breasts. For many, breast pain is most common in the first trimester, though it can occur at any stage during pregnancy and lactation.
While pregnancy can be the source of breast pain, other possible causes include:
- fibrocystic breasts, which are lumpy with fluid-filled cysts and can be more tender before the start of a menstrual period
- premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- mastitis, an infection of one or more mammary glands
- puberty (in boys as well as girls)
- some medications
Note that breast pain is very rarely due to breast cancer. It most likely results from hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle.
The most telling sign of pregnancy is typically a missed period. But some indications can appear even sooner.
For some women, breast pain is the first noticeable effect of pregnancy, and it can show up within 2 weeks of conception.
Other early effects of pregnancy include:
- more frequent urination
- changes in tastes for food and drink
Women who experience these signs and breast pain should consider taking a pregnancy test.
Pregnancy and PMS can have some of the same effects on the body.
The Office on Women’s Health report that 90% of all menstruating people develop some symptoms of PMS, including swollen or tender breasts. These symptoms usually occur 7–14 days before a period starts.
Pregnancy can also cause breasts to be swollen, sore, and tender. In addition, both PMS and pregnancy can cause the nipples to be more sensitive.
However, breast pain and soreness from pregnancy can be much more intense than that caused by PMS. Pregnancy-related breast pain is also likely to last longer.
When pregnancy is causing breast soreness, the veins on the breasts may be more visible than usual and the areolas may be larger and bumpier.
Sensitivity or pain in the breasts is a common effect of pregnancy.
Researchers found that 76.2% of women who participated in the study experienced it. Breast pain and sensitivity was the third most common experience, after nausea and fatigue.
Breast changes by trimester
During the first trimester, which runs from the first week after conception to the 12th week, hormones fluctuate, changing the body in many ways.
Shifts in levels of the hormones progesterone and estrogen, which prepare a woman’s body for breastfeeding, bring noticeable changes to the breasts. These changes can include swelling and soreness, and the nipples may become more erect.
In the second trimester, which runs from weeks 13–28, the skin around the nipples can darken.
In the third and final trimester, running from weeks 29–40 or delivery, the breasts may start hurting again. As the body prepares for breastfeeding, small amounts of colostrum, a forerunner to breast milk, may leak from the breasts.
The nipples and breasts can also become bigger just before a woman goes into labor.
Before starting any treatment for breast pain, discuss the issue with a healthcare provider.
The most effective treatment will depend on the underlying cause. If a doctor finds that pregnancy is likely the cause of the pain, treatments that they might otherwise recommend, such as birth control pills, would be inappropriate.
A pregnancy bra can help keep larger, more sensitive breasts as comfortable and supported as possible. Sleeping in a bra can also help reduce discomfort.
Wearing a sports bra can also help when breasts are swollen or sensitive. Hot or cold compresses may provide some relief, as well.
For people who experience breast pain due to their menstrual cycles, the following practices may also help reduce discomfort:
- adopting a low-fat diet
- limiting or eliminating caffeine
- taking certain supplements, such as calcium and vitamins B-6 and E
- exploring complementary or alternative treatments, such as evening primrose oil
- using over-the-counter or prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications — NSAIDs — to reduce pain
- taking medication to block or increase levels of specific hormones
While breast pain can result from pregnancy, it is also a common symptom of PMS.
Anyone who suspects that they may be pregnant should take a pregnancy test. Learn more about when to take a pregnancy test here.
Breast pain linked to the menstrual cycle often fades when a period starts and resolves completely after menopause. In the meantime, over-the-counter pain medications, supplements, and other treatments can help.
Pregnancy may narrow treatment options, but certain strategies, such as sleeping in a pregnancy bra and using compresses, can help.
Anyone who experiences severe or persistent breast pain should speak to a doctor about treatments.