Getting your period is already A Whole Thing. And having to deal with breast tenderness before your period is just the cherry on top of the PMS sundae. After all, it’s zero fun to go about your day feeling like you’ve been punched in the boobs or can’t do jumping jacks without tripling up on sports bras.
But while having breast tenderness before your period can be rough, it’s generally not something to worry about. “A lot of women come in to the office with breast tenderness and are very worried about it, but it’s very common,” says Dr Taraneh Shirazian, an ob-gyn with NYU Langone Health.
Of course, if you deal with period-related breast tenderness, you probably have some questions about what’s going on here and why you, of all people, have to deal with it. Keep these answers — and treatment tips from experts! — to your burning boob pain questions in mind the next time yours start to feel sore.
Is breast tenderness before my period normal? What causes it?
For the record, having breast tenderness before your period is normal, says Dr Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynaecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School.
There are a few reasons why this might happen. One is that your hormones change after you ovulate (about two weeks before your period arrives), Dr Shirazian says. Levels of progesterone, a hormone that prepares your body for pregnancy, increase after this time and levels of estrogen, which helps regulate your cycle (among other things), are high. All of this hormonal activity contribute to the sensations of soreness and pain in your breasts.
You might also experience fibrocystic breast changes, meaning you develop fluid-filled sacs in your breasts before your period—and those can also feel sore, Dr Minkin notes.
How can I tell if breast tenderness is period-related or not? Can it be a sign of pregnancy too?
Yup, you’re on the money: You can also get sore boobs when you’re pregnant. “For many women, breast discomfort is one of the early notifications of a pregnancy,” says Dr Minkin.
That makes the whole pre-period breast tenderness a little confusing, even for doctors. “It’s hard to tell the difference, to be honest,” says Dr G. Thomas Ruiz, lead ob-gyn at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.
That said, there are a few key differences to look out for. When breast tenderness is related to your period, it’s cyclical, meaning it usually comes on during specific times within the month and then gets better after your period wraps up, Dr Ruiz explains. “If you’re pregnant, it’s not going to go away and it will get more progressive,” he points out.
If you’ve been trying to get pregnant and you’re curious if this is a sign you might be, you’ll still, unfortunately, have to wait for your period to arrive (or not to arrive) to have a better idea. “If the tenderness is unrelenting and you don’t get your period, you could be pregnant,” Dr Shirazian says.
How long will my breasts typically hurt before my period?
Every woman is different. You might start to experience it as early as two weeks before you get your period, around the time that you ovulate, Dr Shirazian says. For others, it can come on a week or so before your period arrives, Dr Ruiz says.
Okay, tell me: How can I ease this pain?!
You don’t have to lie in bed, groaning, with an ice pack strapped to your boobs (although that’s definitely an option). Instead, there are a few easy things you can do to try to make yourself a little more comfortable until the discomfort subsides.
- Pop a pain reliever. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen are best for this, Dr Shirazian says.
- Wear a comfy AF sports bra. Certain bras (like those with underwire) can dig into your boobs and make you feel even more uncomfortable. But a sports bra can offer support while keeping you comfortable, Dr Shirazian says.
- Cut back on caffeine if you can. Many women have breast changes that are sensitive to caffeine. “Caffeine is [in general] a stimulator — it stimulates many different cells,” Dr Ruiz says. “It can make breast tenderness worse in women who are sensitive to it.”
- Try a “cocktail” of vitamins. Dr Minkin specifically recommends that her patients take a combination of 100-200 milligrams of vitamin B6, 200 units of vitamin E, and two capsules of evening primrose oil. “This doesn’t cure 100 percent of folks, but my success rate is about 70 percent,” she says, adding that she has her patients take the combination until the pain has cleared up.
- Yup, ice your boobs. Seriously, it can help, Dr Shirazian says. If an ice pack is too much, putting a cool washcloth over your chest can also do the trick.
If my breast pain seems random, what are the other reasons that might be at play?
If you’re dealing with breast pain that doesn’t seem to be cyclical and get better after your period, there could be a few potential causes:
- You’re having too much caffeine on the reg. Again, caffeine can stimulate your breast cells, and put you in pain. Try scaling back and little and seeing where that gets you.
- It’s related to medication you’re on. Certain medications can cause your boobs to be sore. “One of the most common is an asthma medication called aminophylline, which is a sister of caffeine,” Dr Minkin says.
- You have fibrocystic breasts. Fibrocystic breasts have tissue that feels lumpy or rope-like in texture. “It means your breasts are prone to cysts,” Dr Shirazian says. And those cysts can be pretty uncomfortable at times.
The bottom line: If you’re experiencing breast soreness and you’re not sure why, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about it. They can do an evaluation to determine whether it might be period-related or something else — and offer you tailored solutions.