As a person with breasts and a period, there are usually a few days in the month where I can’t get away with not wearing a bra, or I find myself cupping my breasts in my hands as I walk down the stairs. Breast swelling, and tenderness is something that many people with breasts have felt around and throughout their menstrual cycles, as a normal and expected Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptom.
Whilst this is a normal symptom related to your cycle, do you wonder what processes in your body are causing the pain? Are there things you can do in your diet and routine to minimize breast pain during your cycle? If I have had a breast reduction or top surgery, will I still experience period related chest pain? What type of breast pain is normal and when should you seek some medical attention?
Understanding period related breast pain can be an important but often overlooked part of understanding and connecting with your unique cycle, and your body's overall well-being.
THE LANGUAGE: Cyclical Mastalgia
First and foremost, premenstrual breast swelling and tenderness, is scientifically known as cyclical mastalgia. It can be helpful to use this language when doing your own research or referencing your PMS breast pain symptoms within clinical spaces, to get a more specific diagnosis and search results.
WHAT CAUSES Breast Tenderness Around and Throughout Your Cycle
As per usual, hormones have a lot to do with it. The tenderness you may feel in your breasts around your period is due to increased estrogen and progesterone in your body. These hormones increase in the second half of your cycle, from days 14 to 28.
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Specifically, estrogen, which peaks in the middle of the cycle, causes the breast ducts to enlarge. Progesterone, which starts to rise during the week before menstruation, causes the milk glands to swell.
If you are currently taking any medications that contain estrogen, they too can also cause breast changes such as tenderness and swelling.
WHEN is it Normal to Feel Period Related Breast Pain?
As mentioned above, breast pain and tenderness is due to the rise of estrogen and progesterone, which happens in the last half of your cycle, anywhere from day 14 to 28. Therefore, the weeks leading up to your period and near the beginning of your bleed, are normal times to feel tenderness and swelling in your breasts.
WHAT Kind of Breast Pain is NORMAL?
Common period related breast pain is usually a dull pain or ache. Your breasts may be slightly sore to the touch, and feel larger than normal. The breast tissue might feel dense, bumpy and “cobblestone-y” to the touch, especially around the armpit. You may notice that your breasts are more sensitive to running, jumping, prancing, or whatever other energized movements you may make in your day to day.
WHAT Kind of Breast Pain is NOT NORMAL?
First and foremost, if your breast pain interferes with your ability to sleep, and perform daily, non-exertive tasks, that is not normal. Don’t be afraid to feel your breasts for abnormalities if your breasts are feeling particularly painful. A new or changing breast lumps may be a sign that something else has manifested in your body and that you should seek medical support.
Additionally, if you notice any discharge from your nipples, don’t panic, but consider seeking medical support and attention, as discharge for individuals who aren’t breastfeeding can be a sign of a minor or serious condition.
HOT TIP: At home breast exams can be a great regular practice to evaluate your health and well-being around and outside of your menstrual health. Here’s a comprehensive and illustrated how-to.
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Since most of the tenderness of PMS breast pain is related to the inflammation and swelling of the chest tissue (breast ducts and milk glands), the symptoms will be significantly diminished or completely gone following chest reconstruction. For those who have had breast reductions, you may still feel some tenderness and swelling during your cycle.
How Can I Relieve or Ease My Breast Tenderness and Swelling During my Cycle?
In terms of what you consume, anything you know to cause inflammation or water retention, you may want to ease off during the last half of your cycle.
These items may include the common culprits:
Foods high in fat
Foods high in salt
To help ease your symptoms, consider including some of these practices into your routine:
Vitamin E, which has been known to maintain hormone levels, normal fluid balances and serotonin levels, which modulate our perception of pain.
Dandelion Root: which is a natural diuretic and high in potassium (be wary of dehydration that can come with diuretics)
Easy movement, such as yoga or pilates, to stimulate endorphins as well as increase blood circulation
Non-underwire bra, which can help relieve the strain on ligaments.
If I’m at home, drawing a hot bath and rubbing some somedays magic mud on my breasts, as well as everywhere else, can relieve some swelling. In a pinch, somedays cramp cream feels great, just avoid the nipple, to avoid any irritation. And as per usual, any kind of heat, whether it’s a heat pad, or just holding your breasts in a cupped embrace, can ease some swelling.
Overall, period related breast pain is common, but is a symptom to keep tabs on, as it can be a sign for other conditions such as early pregnancy, or, if the pain is intense, fibrocystic breast disease. So feel your boobs when you can, because you and they are worth it.