What Are Sore Breasts in Pregnancy?

Breasts and nipples are tender as they prepare for lactation in pregnancy

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When your period’s late and your breasts are swollen and tender, two main possibilities come to mind: Either you’re experiencing a common symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or one of the first signs of pregnancy.

Sore breasts in pregnancy

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Whether or not you’re actively trying to conceive, knowing the difference between the two can be helpful. Typically, your breasts become sore three to five days before the beginning of your menstrual cycle (if at all) thanks to an uptick in the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Once your period starts, any breast soreness should fade. 

If you’re pregnant, your breasts might feel more sensitive than the usual soreness that comes with PMS. You may also notice your nipples are more tender or sensitive.

As your due date approaches, you can expect your breasts to go up in size and fullness. All of the above are the result of different hormonal changes as your body prepares for breastfeeding

During pregnancy, there are many personal, emotional, and physical changes ahead. These include uncomfortable symptoms like ever-growing breasts and ultra-sensitive, leaky nipples. Moving forward, it helps to understand why your breasts are changing, what’s normal (or not), and how to deal with discomfort.

Here, learn what you need to know about sore breasts during pregnancy and how to cope with them. 

Causes 

From the beginning, you can thank your hormones for breast soreness during pregnancy. After conception, your body launches into hyperdrive to prepare for breastfeeding with surges of pregnancy hormones including estrogen, progesterone, and prolactin.

As a result, blood flow to your chest goes up. Your milk ducts begin to grow, and your breasts take on extra fluids, tissue, and fat. This could mean going up a cup size—or a few. Your nipples also become larger and change in color to become easier for a baby to see and latch on to (if you choose to breastfeed). 

Considering just how many rapid changes your body is undergoing, it’s no wonder many pregnant people experience growing pains. The presence of these hormones can also just make your breasts and nipples feel more sensitive. 

Timing 

You may notice soreness in your breasts and nipples as soon as one to two weeks after conception. Here’s what to expect from trimester to trimester.

First Trimester: Weeks 1 to 12 

In the first handful of weeks post-conception, you may experience more tender, tingly breasts and nipples. You might notice your breasts are becoming fuller and your nipples are sticking out more, too.

Because your entire body is in the midst of a major transformation, you can also expect to be hit with some serious fatigue. The good news: Breast tenderness and exhaustion often fade as your pregnancy progresses.

Second Trimester: Weeks 13 to 28

During the second trimester, your breasts continue to become bigger and heavier—so much so that you may need to purchase larger, more supportive bras. You could also notice more visible veins under your skin, darker nipples and areolas (the area around your nipples), and stretch marks developing on your breasts, abdomen, and thighs.

As early as 16 to 19 weeks in, your breasts could begin to leak colostrum, a watery, yellowish “pre-milk” of sorts. Something to look forward to: You should start to feel your baby moving. 

Third Trimester: Weeks 29 to 40 

As you get closer to the big day, you can expect more of the same—tender breasts, sore nipples, and an ever-growing body and baby or babies. If your breasts haven’t yet, they could begin to leak colostrum. However, sometimes they don’t—and that’s OK, too. Either way, it has nothing to do with your ability to breastfeed.

When Should I Call a Doctor?

Some breast and nipple discomfort is normal with pregnancy. However, seek medical care as soon as you can for these symptoms:

  • Life-disrupting breast pain
  • Bloody or clear discharge coming from your nipple
  • A lump in your breast
  • Signs of infection such as redness, pus, or a fever

Coping 

Sore breasts and nipples are a really common experience when you’re expecting, so there’s no shortage of home remedies to consider.

Here are a few to try out:

  • Buy a new bra. For extra support, swap lacy underwire bras for full-coverage soft cotton bras with wide shoulder straps, a thick band below the breasts, and easy-to-adjust back closures. Your bra size could go up a few times, so don’t hesitate to ask a bra fitting specialist for help to make sure you’ve got the right size and style for your needs.
  • Sleep in your bra. If movement is especially irritating for your tender breasts and nipples, consider wearing a sports bra or sleep bra when you go to bed for 24/7 relief.
  • Leave ’em alone. Chances are, you’re already doing your best to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on your breasts. But make sure your partner or partners are in the loop, too. Let them know when you’re hurting and what they can do to help relieve discomfort or at the very least avoid further irritating your breasts or nipples in the bedroom.
  • Consider cold therapy. Applying a frozen gel or ice pack to your breasts can help relieve swelling and pain by temporarily reducing blood flow and dialing down nerve activity in the area. Just make sure to keep a thin towel between your breasts and anything that is frozen to protect yourself from skin damage.
  • Take a soothing shower or bath. Sometimes warmth can help relieve tension and relax sore chest muscles. If possible, adjust the showerhead to a “gentle” setting or use a washcloth to block water splashes from hitting sore nipples. Only wash your nipples gently with warm water. Avoid harsh soaps that could dry your skin and further irritate the area.
  • Add breast pads. If the lining of your bra is bugging you or your nipples have begun to leak, try protecting them with breast pads. Made from disposable paper or washable cotton, they could create a helpful buffer between your breasts and bra.
  • Ask about over-the-counter (OTC) options. If these solutions aren’t cutting it, ask your healthcare professional about taking an OTC pain reliever such as Tylenol (acetaminophen).

Summary

Like fatigue, stretch marks, and hemorrhoids, sore breasts are a common part of pregnancy. Tender breasts and hypersensitive nipples are uncomfortable and to some extent unavoidable. But the discomfort can be manageable with some tips from people who have been there before.

A Word From Verywell

As you navigate pregnancy, lean on your support network. Or join a support group for expectant parents if you’re feeling lonely or in need of someone to vent to.

If you're concerned about any changes or pain in your breasts or nipples, don't hesitate to contact your healthcare professional. While some discomfort is to be expected, there’s no need to suffer in silence, either.

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Article Sources
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