What have breasts got to do with it?

What have breasts got to do with it?Since I spend half of each month poking and prodding my breasts in the two week wait to see if they are more tender than usual, I thought it was about time I wrote a post about breasts.

Some months I get breast pain, some months I don’t.  Sometimes they are painful, and sometimes it’s more like a slightly swollen feeling, or a feeling of slight tenderness.  They seem to have a mind of their own and I’ve never quite got my head round why it happens or what it means.  Over the months I’ve often wondered if I’ve had anovulatory cycles or have conceived but failed to implant, solely because of my various breast twinges or size changes.  So, I’ve been doing a spot of research into cyclical breast pain and pregnancy.

Preparing for pregnancy

As you know each cycle our body is effectively preparing for pregnancy, for which the breasts play a vital role (i.e. breastfeeding).  Put simply, each month the breasts are getting “prepared” until your period arrives.  When it arrives, your breasts reset and it all starts over.

Premenstrual breast pain

This how the breasts respond to monthly changes in hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone).  The breasts may become sore just before your period because tiny cysts form, collecting fluid causing lumpy, tender, swollen or painful breasts.  These are called fibrocystic breast changes.  This type of breast pain and swelling usually ends when menstruation is over.

TMI and going off topic a little here, I have fibrocystic breasts (thankfully mostly painless) and have had a couple of scares with unusual lumps in the past.  These specific lumps were not linked to my cycle and stayed large all month.  So I just want to add (and stress) that you should always see a Doctor if you have any concerns about lumps in your breasts.  Most lumps are nothing, but it’s best to get checked out.

Ovulation 

According to Jerilynn Prior, M.D., a Canadian clinician, researcher, and professor of endocrinology at the University of British Columbia:

Breast tenderness that occurs at the sides of the breast under the armpits suggests that ovulation has occurred during that cycle.  If the breasts are sore up front and over the nipples, it tends to suggest high estrogen, or estrogen dominance, which can indicate a lack of ovulation.

Soreness on the sides and the front may indicate that ovulation occurred but that not much progesterone was produced three or four days after ovulation and thus estrogen dominance is occurring

Pregnancy

As your body gears up to support your growing baby, you produce more of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone.  A similar hormone surge happens to you before a period, so this tenderness is probably an exaggerated version of how your breasts feel then.

Along with the effects of a hormone surge, your breasts are likely to be getting bigger. The fat layer in them thickens, milk glands multiply, and blood flow increases. As uncomfortable as it may feel, these changes are preparing your breasts for the important role of feeding your baby.

Quoted from Baby Centre

Most people have tender breasts during pregnancy, often saying it was their first real pregnancy symptom.  In my two brief experiences of pregnancy (even before I got BFPs) a big clue was my swollen, tender breasts (and more specifically, tender nipples).  This started a good few days before my period was due when I’d normally have no breast pain at all before my period.

I have heard many people say that “different” is a good sign (and we’re all looking for signs… let’s be honest).  So if you usually have breast pain before your period and one month you don’t, it might be your month, or vice versa.  Alternatively, it might just be an usual cycle.  So, sorry about that, once again, no clear cut answers there.

Start a log

If you have ever wondered about what your breasts are doing, then start a monthly log.  A while ago I started writing down lots of things about my cycles each month.  I write a quick note when my breasts feel different – what it’s like, where the pain is etc.  Now instead of wondering if the pain is something new (and thinking I must be pregnant this time) I can see if a similar thing happened last month.  I’ve found that I often have tenderness for a few days after I’ve ovulated.  The first couple of times I had it (before I’d started logging), I was certain I was pregnant… but nope, it’s just my body’s cyclical breast pain!

Next time

So next time your feeling your breasts for the hundredth time wondering if they are really tender or if it’s just all the prodding you’ve been doing, have a think about where you are in your cycle, what your breasts are doing and what hormones are coursing through them.  Give them a break, they know what they’re doing and you’re going to need them one day…

Read more about breast pain.

photo by: -mrsraggle-

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