Why Your Breasts Can Feel So Painfully Sore Before Your Period
In this edition of Ask Hole, an endocrinologist explains why your breasts are as painful as an Adam Sandler film right before you get your period.
Photo by Susana Ramírez via Stocksy
Here's a true story: Every month, right before my period, I drag myself out of bed in the middle of the night and strap my boobs into the trusty bra I've worn since I was 14 (yes, my tits have not grown in that time).
Many women suffer similarly. Scroll through pretty much any health forum online and you'll find commenters complaining of pre-menstrual breast sensitivity (often compounded by oafish partners who'll grope away regardless). "It's like all the nerves are screaming at me and almost under my armpit, dread taking my bra off at night because it hurts so much," one woman writes.
Most people agree that breast sensitivity is at its height right before your period, but how alarmed should we be by pain? "I'd say this is a very natural and common phenomenon that women experience," explains Dr. Channa Jayasena of the Society for Endocrinology. Dr. Jayasena explains it's due to the way women's hormones are released.
Read more: How Your Boobs Are Supposed to Feel
Whereas for men the sex hormone—testosterone—is released all the time, women have a tightly regulated pattern of hormonal release during the menstrual cycle. During the first half of the cycle, Dr. Jayasena explains, estrogen is released. This stimulates the growth of breast tissue, particularly the ducts (which produce milk). In the latter half of the cycle, you make a hormone called progesterone. Progesterone has a different effect on the breast—promoting the breast to make milk (although you need other hormones to actually produce milk).
"Both of these hormones work on the breast in different ways," Dr. Jayasena explains, "and because they're altering in dominance every few weeks, there are cyclical changes in how the breast feels. That can cause tenderness."
I ask Dr. Jayasena why my boobs are now screamingly sore every month like clockwork, whereas five years ago I had about as much physical sensitivity as an expensively medicated Republican politician's wife.
"There's still so much we don't know," Dr. Jayasena responds truthfully. "Women react to hormones in different ways, and everything in life—whether it's body weight, age, psychological stress—all of these things affect our hormones and the symptoms you feel." In particular, changes in body weight, general health, or just getting older and more decrepit, can all affect how sore your tits feel.
The solution? "Have a well-fitting and supportive bra and take painkillers," Dr. Jayasena advises. In more extreme cases, you may want to take a contraceptive pill to regulate your hormones. "This can help in the short term until things settle down," he says. If your nipples change color, become lumpy, or produce a brownish discharge—see your physician as soon as possible, particularly if it's just one boob affected.
Also, here's a tip from me to get over the pain: Always sleep in your bra. You can have that one for free.