Why do my boobs hurt every month?
Breaking down breast pain: What’s normal & what’s not
Boobs. Why do your boobs hurt every month? For something that is essentially fatty tissue (like many other parts of our bodies), boy do they come with a lot of baggage! However you feel about them, though, if you’re a menstruating person, odds are they’ve caused you pain or discomfort at some point in your life.
Let’s talk through your boob pain and one significant cause: Hormones.
Hormonal breast pain
70% of people with breasts experience breast pain, also referred to as mastalgia, at some point.1 This pain can be linked to the menstrual cycle (cyclical breast pain) or, well, not (non-cyclical). Right now we’re going to be talking about breast pain thanks to the menstrual cycle!
What causes hormonal breast pain?
Throughout the menstrual cycle, hormone levels and ratios fluctuate (read more about how the cycle works here). The two key hormones in the menstrual cycle are estrogen and progesterone, and it’s the ups and downs of these hormones that can cause your breasts to feel painful, lumpy, and swollen.2
Why the pain? The sensation you are feeling is the stimulation of your duct and milk glands: They are increasing in size and number in case lactation may become necessary.3 This makes the breasts swell and retain water, hence the pain and tenderness you feel.
Fibrocystic breast changes
While your period may be the real culprit, your hormonal breast pain may be exacerbated due to something called fibrocystic breast changes, which can cause cysts to develop in the breasts. Don’t freak out: it’s not as bad as it sounds.
These cysts can fill up with fluid. More fluid = more stretched tissue = more discomfort.4
Here’s the thing: Fibrocystic breast changes happen to about half of AFAB stands for “assigned female at birth.” (assigned female at birth) in their 20s through 50s and is generally not dangerous. It’s just uncomfortable and can sometimes cause nipple discharge.4 Of course, it’s always a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider if you’re concerned.
So, how do you know if your breast pain is hormonal?
Track it, baby! Cycle tracking is an awesome way to better understand your unique body. Because oftentimes the breasts are left out of the period convo, you may need to create your own section in the tracker to make a note of how your breasts feel over time.
After a handful of cycles, you might notice a clear pattern like, ohhh my boobs KILL because I’m about to ovulate. COOL!
Okay. So you’ve tracked your symptoms, and yes, those painful boobs are because of your menstrual cycle. What’s a menstruator to do?
How to cope with hormonal breast pain
Always talk to your healthcare provider, first, if hormonal breast pain is starting to interfere with your day to day life. Your provider might recommend:
- Breast support (i.e. a specialized bra)
- NSAIDs or over-the-counter painkillers
- Cutting out the caffeine
- Dietary changes, such as reducing sodium intake
- Vitamin E and/or Vitamin B-6
- Ice or heat therapy
In some cases, you may have a benign cyst that needs to be drained or removed. Check in with your provider if you think this could be the case.
Could it be cancer?
While we are used to pain = something really, really bad, breast pain actually isn’t typically the first sign of cancer.5
Generally, the first symptom of breast cancer is a painless hard lump (like a frozen pea), which is why it is so important to do monthly breast checks.6 When doing a breast self-exam, remember to start at the armpit – you have breast tissue there!
If you ever do find a lump or aren’t sure if what you’re feeling could be a lump, check in with your health team. While pain typically isn’t the first symptom, if you do have pain that is unaccounted for and not cyclical, and/or located on a very specific area of your breast, it’s always better to play it safe: Go get checked out.
Written in partnership with: Allbodies.com
This article is informational only and is not offered as medical advice, nor does it substitute for a consultation with your physician. If you have any gynecological/medical concerns or conditions, please consult your physician.
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