PMS and breast tenderness

When you have PMS breast tenderness, your breasts can feel heavy like melons!Breast tenderness may not be the most life-changing of PMS symptoms, but sore and swollen breasts can make you feel uncomfortable all the same.  Breasts so heavy and sensitive that something brushing up against you makes you wince can make you feel grouchy and vulnerable.

Breast Tenderness Is Very Common

So-called fibrocystic breasts (fibrocystic means benign breast pain that’s related to your monthly cycle, rather than something more worrying, like breast cancer) are very common in women of child bearing age, and breast tenderness is one of the top ten PMS symptoms.  Breast tenderness often goes hand in hand with feelings of bloating, swelling and fluid retention in the second half of your cycle, together with weight gain. 

It’s all because your body is getting ready for pregnancy (even if you’re not) and responding to the monthly fluctuations in hormones which are part of your cycle.  In particular, oestrogen and prolactin are significant for breast tenderness: oestrogen is what makes you curvy, creating fat around your hips, bottom and thighs for example, and prolactin is naturally produced when we breastfeed.

What Can You Do About Monthly Breast Tenderness?

The best thing to do to prevent breast tenderness is to balance your hormones throughout the month by eating whole foods and consuming essential fatty acids (like evening primrose oil, or borage oil) and fibre (like flax and complex carbohydrates), getting regular exercise and reducing stress. (I never said there was a ‘magic bullet’ for PMS!)

On top of all that, the following tips are specific to reducing breast tenderness caused by monthly hormonal changes.  (Be aware that certain medications can cause breast tenderness as a side-effect too: these include the Pill and antidepressants).

SALT Aggravates BREAST TENDERNESS (And BLoating)

Salt (sodium) is a factor in fluid retention and bloating generally.  And we all eat too much of it. 

It’s not just a case of reducing the salt you use in cooking, or what you add to your plate at the table.  Most of the salt – and sugar, for that matter – that we consume is hidden in shop bought foods.  Examples include butters and margarines, bread, canned food and ready meals – not to mention most crisps, crackers and other savoury snacks (salted nuts, anyone?). 

If you are prone to bloating and breast tenderness, try to cut down wherever you can and see if it makes a difference.  It will certainly make a difference to your health overall.

Saturated fats and dairy aggravate breast tenderness

A high consumption of saturated animal fats has been shown to increase oestrogen levels which in turn exacerbates PMS symptoms like breast tenderness.  This is probably due to the hormones used in livestock farming and milk production (basically, farmers give cows oestrogen to make them grow and get fat).

If you already have an imbalance of oestrogen – as demonstrated by PMS symptoms like breast tenderness – it doesn’t help to take on board artificial oestrogens from external sources.

caffeine aggravates Breast tenderness 

I’ve already written about why caffeine is a no-no is you’re trying to beat PMS. If you get sore breasts, you really should think about cutting down – or better still, cutting out – caffeine. Chemicals called methylxanthines are found in coffee, tea, chocolate and cola-type drinks, and they cause a dilation of blood vessels and cause fluid to accumulate.  This makes the breasts tender and painful, particularly just before your period.

Xenoestrogens aggravate breast tenderness

There are also substances called xenoestrogens in plastics and packaging, and via agrochemicals like pesticides.  Xenoestrogens mimic oestrogens and disrupt hormone balance.  You can avoid and reduce these by buying organic food and choosing glass packaging and loose unpackaged food wherever possible.

A Supportive bra really helps!

A supportive bra is vital if you suffer from the PMS symptom of breast tenderness

Photo courtesy of Less Bounce

This is important regardless of how big you are (small breasts on more petite frames still need support).  Some days the pretty, but unsupportive, frilly lacy lingerie just won’t do the job. 

A good well-fitting bra will make you feel more padded and secure and will give you support when your breasts are sore to the touch and feel like watermelons. 

And you can even sleep with a comfortable soft bra on, providing that it doesn’t restrict you.

Wearing a decent bra is of course especially important during exercise – something that will really help your anti-PMS plan.  And of course, you don’t only have to wear a sports bra for sport. 

I get my sports bras online from, run by Selaine.  Less Bounce provides a great choice, always has a wide range of sizes in stock and excellent returns service.  I also like how they use real women to model the bras on all their advertising.  [This is a personal recommendation, by the way, not in any way a paid promotion.  I've been a customer of Less Bounce for many years]

A Word About Breast Tenderness in Perimenopause

‘But’, you may be thinking, ‘I’m perimenopausal. My hormone levels are declining.  How can I be getting breast tenderness because of oestrogen dominance?’.   Well, it’s not about the absolute amount of circulating oestrogen in your body – which may well be on the wane. It’s about the level of oestrogen in relation to progesterone.  And as we get older we produce less progesterone (because we ovulate less regularly) and this can lead to an imbalance of oestrogen. 

This means breast tenderness can be a common symptom during perimenopause too, I’m afraid.

As always, thanks for reading!  Let me know your comments below, or on the PMS Warrior Facebook page.
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10 thoughts on “PMS and breast tenderness

  1. This website is just amazing! I love it! :)
    And I think this is the only place where there are pictures of the exact things we go through during PMS.
    This post is so enlightening. And exercise helps! I walk almost an hour each day in the evenings during PMS- uncomfortable? Yes. Rewarding? Very.
    Nice post.
    Thank you.

    I am feeling good about my curves too!

  2. I have a question:

    I never normally experience breast tenderness. I mean – talking here starting my period at the age of 10 and I am now 30 years old and in those 20 years, I think I have experienced breast tenderness a handful of times (pardon the pun) and only for a day or two.

    Recently, my husband and I have been trying to conceive and this month, I have breast tenderness from probably the second day post ovulation.

    NOW I know that this is probably the progesterone / oestrogen hormone playing it's awful tricks, I take Evening Primrose Oil – not for any other reason than it's supposedly meant to help with conception stuff.

    So why NOW are my breasts all tender? I've had severe fibroids where I took progesterone pills for a year to stop me haemorrhaging and my breasts didn't feel this tender.

    Can hormones be having a go? Is there anything I can take to level them out? Any idea, Oh Great and Powerful PMS Warrior?

    PS Great blog :D

    • I am 48 and I swear by eating 2 tbsp's of ground flax seed (any health food store should have it) every day in my yogurt 1 tbsp. in the a.m. and 1 tbsp in the p.m. My breast tenderness possibly from the birth control pill and my age (the pain started over the last few years) no longer exists….it was very very painful to touch at all midway through my cycle… posting this I hope I can relieve at least one more persons pain, until you have breast tenderness you have no idea the discomfort it can cause……I am so thankful for Flax!! (I am not sure how this would affect pregnancy, so I would recommend talking to your physician first).

      • I am going to try this … thanks for the tip. I get sore breasts starting a few days after my period and progressing in agony until the day I actually get my period again. I actually look forward to getting my period just so I don't have to suffer. At my age (51) I should be looking forward to NOT getting my period but I welcome it with open arms, just so I can get relief from the pain and tenderness. I have been like this for years. It can be very, very depressing.

  3. Hi Jo,

    Thanks for your kind words *blushes*.

    You sound like you are in tune with your cycle and noting various signs and symptoms throughout the month, including ovulation. Not surprising if you are set on having a baby :-)

    Breast tenderness can be a sign of either PMS or pregnancy. The root of both is the same as it's the woman's body preparing for a baby (having a period gives the message that there is no fertilised egg and hence no baby – this time).

    I know it's a first for you, but it's not uncommon for women report breast tenderness during or immediately after ovulation.

    While breast tenderness (including sore nipples often) is a common early sign of pregnancy, it usually happens a couple of weeks rather than days post ovulation. So in your case, it's only a remote possibility.

    On the other hand, PMS-related breast tenderness often goes hand in hand with bloating (see my separate post), fluid retention and weight gain. Are you experiencing those PMS symptoms too?

    A change in lifestyle can contribute to hormone changes that lead to breast tenderness. Have you recently upped your intake of salt, sugar, caffeine or foods high in animal fats (as livestock are often fed growth hormones to make them fatter)? Reducing your intake of magnesium and potassium from fresh foods (= minerals which minimise the effects of sodium) can also aggravate breast tenderness. Stress seems to have an impact too, though it's not clear how or why.

    If you're not pregnant, and nothing in your diet and lifestyle has changed (and you don't mention suffering much in the way of other PMS symptoms), it may just be you and your body changing. You're entering your thirties: women often find their periods, ovulation and PMS takes on a different character as they get older. There's a long way to go until menopause (average age 52) and everything changes as we get older in some way, including our menstrual cycles.

    But in any case, a single month's observation isn't enough of a trend to know anything for sure. Keep tracking all your symptoms (physical and psychological) together with any lifestyle changes via a menstrual diary.

    At the end of the day, there are so many factors, plus we are all slightly different to start with anyway (for instance, you are quite young to have already experienced severe fibroids – something that normally older women have). It's hard to say, but I hope I've given you some things to think about.

    Best of luck getting pregnant and thanks for visiting PMS Warrior.

  4. I will take your advice and monitor what's going on. I am fairly in tune with my body – I do know most of its nuances and I am almost quite certain that I am not pregnant (this time). I find it strange that my breasts are tender and have been for about 10 days now.

    Fibroids I got at the rather young age of 27! There were two of them – 5cm and 8cm and were nicely cut out. I know the theory is that high levels of oestrogen could be a cause and the reason you get them when you're older is because your body has had more years to grow the oestrogen level. The theory is that if you hit puberty before the age of 12, you would be more inclined to have fibroids at a younger age. If you get them at the normal time – pre-menopuase, the decline in oestrogen stops feeding the fibroids and they shrink on their own!

    We've been trying for 5 months and this is the first month I had noticeable breast tenderness. Some months I don't seem to ovulate, others I do – but my body is and always has been like clockwork.
    Stress impacts everything but my stress levels have dropped in recent months. Life is settling down into a routine and things are calming down post wedding / across-country move / new job hunt / new house hunt etc etc so it could possibly be the flip side of stress – the coming down of the other side.

    Thanks for your advice though. I will certainly take it :)
    I quite enjoy your blog. And you seem like a nice person. I will probably hover here for a while… :D

  5. @jothelong, hello I have also been experiencing very sore and tender breasts around a week or 2 before my periods. For years I had only had a few odd pains in the breast just a day or 2 before the period. Since having a baby, getting married and moving country I have started to have the pms more regularly. I think it may be due to a change in lifestyle and stress. Also what I don't get is why I have sugar cravings too. I have never been a sweet tooth. During pregnancy I was the same and I guess my body is just acting like its pregnant.

    I am so pleased I came across this website, it's such a relief to know others get the same problems.

    Thanks x

  6. Thank you for you very informative post. Ive had ocassionsl pain over the last 10 years, very minimal. I’ve had breast soreness for the last few days and this is by far the lworse ive experinced. To the point even wearing a bra, i’ve found myself holding my breasts to help relieve that sore heavy feeling. Reading the above I wonder if its my intake of caffeine. I’ve recently quit smoking and seem to have latched onto coffee, I’ve been having coffee 1-2 a day from a local coffee shop and having doubles aswell. Where before hand I might have had coffee every few days to once or twice a fortnight depending on weather and what’s happening in life. I think I might lay off the coffee and she what happens.


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