Breast Feeling Ever: Relieving Breast Tenderness While on Birth Control
Breasts. They can be big, they can be small, they can be all over the place. But when they hurt, that’s a different story. Wondering (and worrying) why your breasts are tender after starting your birth control? You’re not the only one.
My boobs hurt, what’s up?
If your breasts feel swollen, lumpy or heavy when starting oral contraceptives, it’s completely normal. Breast tenderness is just one of the common side effects of birth control pills.
Find out more about other common birth control symptoms on our blog addressing them!
Why does birth control cause breast tenderness?
Like many of the adverse side effects of birth control, sore breasts are caused by hormone fluctuations. Introducing synthetic hormones to your bloodstream can cause your estrogen and progesterone levels to go a little crazy, and the ups and downs of these levels can make our breasts tender.
Combination pills contain two synthetic hormones: estrogen and progesterone. Combination pills work to boost your hormone levels and aim to keep them steady before, during and after the time that you would normally ovulate. When you first start the pill, these levels fluctuate before stabilizing, and the fluctuation can cause breast pain. The pain can range from annoying to completely achy according to your pre-existing levels of sex hormones. (Some women even feel pain relief when going on the pill. Every body is different.) One of the downsides of the combination pill? While your risk for ovarian cancer may go down, your risk of estrogen-positive breast cancer goes up, pain or no pain.
Progestin-only pills, sometimes known as minipills, contain no estrogen. Most progestin-only birth controls have slightly lower doses of progesterone in them, and they can maintain and even out your progesterone levels if taken correctly. While your progesterone levels are evened out, your estrogen levels still rise and fall, and it’s all about those fluctuations.
If you’ve just started birth control, you’ll be okay: expect your breast tenderness to subside after a few months on the pill. If the pain persists, however, you should call your doctor.
How do I know its not cancer?
If your breast tenderness is cyclical, it’s probably not breast cancer. Your pain is cyclical if it occurs around the same time every month or every menstrual cycle. During this time your breasts will feel sore or lumpy. This breast soreness typically resolves after menstruation, and nearly 75% of all breast pain is cyclical.
So what does non-cyclical pain look like? If your pain seems to be unrelated to your menstrual cycle, it’s most often non-cyclical. This pain can affect one or both breasts and can be either constant or intermittent. Non-cyclical tenderness often leaves your breasts feeling tight, sore and sometimes burning. It’s important to track your breast pain so you can determine whether or not your pain is cyclical. Though pain isn’t always a symptom of breast cancer, if your pain is non-cyclical, you could be at risk.
What should you look for if you think you have breast cancer? Always look for lumps in the breast. If these don’t go away after menstruation, you should be concerned. With that, any nipple discharge, either bloody or clear, could be a sign that something’s not right. Also, if only one breast hurts, you may be wise to check in with your doctor as pain due to hormones usually affects both breasts not just one.
If you’re in constant pain, you also may be at risk for a breast infection. If you’re feeling feverish, your breasts are red or producing pus, call your doctor, something could be amiss.
If it’s not my birth control, what else could it be?
When your breasts feel sore, several factors maybe be at play:
Pregnancy.In a perfect world with perfect conditions, hormonal birth control is over 99% effective when preventing pregnancy. With that being said, the world isn’t perfect and there’s a slight chance you could get pregnant on the pill. Progesterone levels rise in the early weeks of pregnancy, and this can cause your breasts to become tender. While unlikely, if you’ve missed your period or show other signs of pregnancy symptoms like nausea and vomiting, you may be pregnant. If you’re worried this could be the case, a pregnancy test or a trip to your doctor will clear up any confusion.
Your bra.Bras can make or break your boobs. If you’re wearing an ill-fitted bra, your breasts probably will not be happy with you. Bras can poke and pinch causing discomfort, and bras without adequate support can seriously hurt your breasts and other parts of your body. So if you’re breasts are spilling out over the top of your bra or your bra is riding up your back, get a new one.
Caffeine.This may sound like a weird one, but caffeine could be the underlying reason for your pain. If you’re a hardcore espresso fanatic, you may be affecting more than just your energy levels. Pay attention to your caffeine status: too much can cause random aches and pains in your chest.
Cysts.Breast cysts are harmless fluid-filled sacs that can grow within breast tissue. How do they occur? As we girlies age, our breasts can experience changes known as involution. What’s involution? It’s when your breast tissue is replaced by fat, and a side effect of involution can be breast cysts. Breast cysts often feel squishy, like a water balloon, and can change in size during menstruation. Cysts can occur near the surface of the breast or deeper in the tissue. They usually hurt just before your period hits, and if they are enlarged, they can press on tender areas causing pain. How do you know if you have a cyst?
You’ll need to have an ultrasound. Are cysts permanent? No. You can get cysts drained. If the fluid released is non-bloody, you’re not to worry: cysts resolve completely once the fluid is released. If the fluid is bloody, your doctor will know the next steps.
Smoking.Like caffeine, nicotine can cause breast tenderness in both breasts. Smoking ups epinephrine levels in breast tissue, which can cause pain.
Pulled muscle.Have you been working out hardcore lately? If so, your breasts could be sore from muscle strain. Any exercise that involves your chest muscles can be the source of your pain. If this is the case, your pain may feel like it’s radiating from inside the breast, but it’s usually the muscle below your breast tissue that’s doing the damage. Similarly, if you’ve been involved in an accident, your chest muscles can also strain. Pulling the muscle below your breast tissue is fairly rare, but it could require surgery. So call your doctor if you think you’ve broken your boobs.
Your make-out partner.Though we’re being partly playful here, if you’re hooking up with a guy and you’re not into him, your breasts can actually start to ache. Women’s nipples are supremely sensitive to touch, and become enlarged and erect when we’re turned on, but if they feel weird or painful during a hookup, they may be trying to tell you something. Your breasts can be a good indicator of what and who you’re into.
What can I do?
If you’re experiencing breast tenderness, there are several things you can do:
See your doctor.If you are feeling tenderness that you think is abnormal, seeing a doctor should be one of your first steps. Is your breast pain keeping you from daily activities? Has it lasted for more than two weeks? Do you feel a lump? Is the pain specific and getting worse with time? If you answered yes to any of those questions, make an appointment. There are several tests that your doctor can take to check for trouble including:
- Mammogram. Mammograms can help identify abnormalities in your breast tissue.
- Ultrasound. Ultrasounds can penetrate the breast tissue and can help detect lumps and cysts without radiation.
- MRI. An MRI can create detailed images of breast tissue and can spot potentially cancerous lesions.
- Biopsy. A biopsy is the removal of breast tissue that a doctor can then examine under a microscope and look for cancerous cells.
Get a new bra.Seriously, a new bra can be a life changer. Most women (around 80% of us!) actually wear the wrong bra size and never think to fix it. But consider these factors: If your bra is too big, your breasts can move around all day and get sore. If your bra is too small, you can put too much pressure on your breasts and get sore. Get yourself to a lingerie or specialty bra shop and get fitted.
Change your diet.Sometimes all we need is a change in food. To reduce breast pain, doctors advise cutting down the fat in your diet as well as refined carbs. Reducing your salt-intake can also help. And caffeine? Cutting down your caffeine intake can help relieve soreness, so unless you don’t mind living in discomfort, skip the extra shot.
Use OTC pain medications.
Just your regular Advil and Tylenol can work magic for breast tenderness.
Stress can make any pain worse. To release stress, make sure you get enough sleep and try something like meditation or mindfulness. Less stress, less aches.
Switch birth control methods.
If your breast tenderness is getting in the way of your everyday life, try switching to a copper IUD. Copper IUDs release no hormones so there are no crazy fluctuations. You can also try skipping the placebo in your pill pack to skip your monthly visit.
Sore breasts are no fun. Not only do they hurt, but they can also can cause us major worry. One option? Try our Top Up Tonic. Top Up Tonic replenishes your body with everything that The Pill is known to strip away. It contains the essential nutrients we women need to be our most vibrant selves. Curious? Discover more about the tonic here.