Why Do We Get Sore Nipples Before a Period?

A woman in a black tank top is holding her left breast with both of her hands.

A common symptom of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) and a sign you’re about to start your period is sore nipples and breast tenderness. It usually starts in the weeks before your period is due. You’ll know it’s arrived when that dull aching makes its way back into your chest. 

But why do we get sore nipples before a period? What causes it to happen? Are treatments available, or can we make it go away ourselves without help? We’ve answered these questions and more below, so you can keep yourself informed and comfortable.

What is cyclic breast pain?

Cyclic breast pain, also called cyclic mastalgia, is the breast soreness we get before a period is due. It’s linked to the menstrual cycle and how our hormones change during this time. You may experience sore nipples, which is common, or pain in other parts of your breasts.

During a menstrual cycle, the levels of hormones oestrogen and progesterone go up and down. which can be one of the reasons that you experience short-term breast pain. You will usually find the pain will stop again just before you start your period. 

What are the causes of premenstrual breast pain? 

The main cause of sore nipples and breast pain before a period is the rollercoaster ride your hormones will be on. But this isn't the only cause behind breast tenderness before a period. We’ve listed a few other causes here:

Hormone levels 

We’ve already mentioned the two hormones involved here: oestrogen and progesterone. The first of these, oestrogen, causes the breast ducts to enlarge. The second, progesterone, causes the milk glands to swell. Both of these can give you sore breasts during the second half of your menstrual cycle.

Both oestrogen and progesterone increase during the second half of your menstrual cycle. This is usually from around day 14 to day 28 in a typical 28-day cycle. For most people, oestrogen levels will peak half-way through their menstrual cycle, while progesterone levels rise about a week before a period starts. 

With that kind of overlap, it’s no wonder we can get sore boobs before our periods!

Medication with oestrogen in it

If you’re taking medication to boost your oestrogen, you might also notice changes in your breasts. These include the swelling, soreness, and tenderness that you might think of when you’re nearing your more delicate days.

The National Health Service (NHS) frequently warns women that use hormonal birth control, like the combined pill, that they may experience a range of side effects, which includes sore breasts and sore nipples.

Fibrocystic breast disease

When the oestrogen and progesterone levels in your body rise and fall, they also cause your milk glands and ducts to get bigger. Sometimes, this leads to benign but painful cysts in your breasts.

Cysts from fibrocystic breast disease will move around when pushed, and will shrink once your period ends. Often, lumps in breast tissue are harmless, but if you find one, it’s always best to have it checked by a medical professional. Bring it up with your GP, and they will be able to examine you, or refer you to a specialist if needed.

Again, these can be a harmless symptom of PMS, or a benign lump, but it’s always best to check — even if the thought feels daunting. Reach out to a friend or trusted family member for support, but always consult with a doctor if you find a lump in your breast. 

Too much caffeine

Coffee lover? Then we’re sorry to say that your favourite morning drink might contribute to your breast tenderness every month. A study carried out by the Duke University in North Carolina found a link between caffeine and breast soreness. 

The women in the study, who had breast pain before their periods, were asked to drink less caffeine over a year. The results found that there was a noticeable reduction in how much pain they experienced. Some even found that cutting down on the coffee stopped their breasts from feeling hard or sore completely!

You can experiment with cutting down on caffeine from fizzy drinks, tea, or coffee for a couple of cycles, to see if this helps. 

Other lifestyle factors 

Other studies have suggested that lifestyle factors, including a high-fat diet and poor mental health, could make breast pain worse. In an observational study examining the relationship between mastalgia (the clinical term for breast pain) and experiences of anxiety and depression, researchers found that women who suffered from poor mental health were also more likely to experience breast pain.

Meanwhile, a  meta-analysis combining research by 15 different sources found a positive correlation between high-fat diets and the development of breast cancer in women. For many women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, unexplained breast pain is a common symptom.

Although many women suffer with PMS symptoms, including sore nipples, the NHS recommends maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle, which many women find can help to reduce their PMS symptoms, and improve their overall health.

What are the symptoms of premenstrual breast swelling?

If your boobs hurt and your nipples feel sore before your period every month, then the pain is likely cyclical. The most common symptoms with cyclical breast pain include:

  • A sore, dull aching in the upper and outer areas of both your breasts or chest wall
  • The feeling of hard, heavy, or swollen breasts just before your period
  • Hard nipples before your period
  • Pain that begins around two weeks before menstruation and goes away when it starts
  • Pain that affects both your boobs and (in some cases) also spreads to your armpits

When to talk to your doctor:

You should always talk to your doctor if anything changes, or if there’s anything worrying you. Most of the time there won’t be anything wrong, but you should rule out potential infections or other medical conditions.

Get in touch with your GP or health provider if you notice:

  • New lumps in your breast, or lumps that are changing
  • Unilateral lumps (lumps only in one breast)
  • Breast pain that’s interfering with your daily life or ability to sleep
  • Discharge from your nipple, especially if it’s brown or looks bloody
  • Redness in your breast
  • A change in the skin around your breast that has the consistency of an orange peel

Your doctor should carry out a physical examination, including a breast exam, and will ask about the symptoms you’ve had. Questions they might ask you include:

  • Have you noticed any discharge from your nipples?
  • Does the breast pain or tenderness come before your menstrual period?
  • Are you experiencing any other symptoms?

During a breast exam, the doctor should feel for lumps and take notes about their physical quality, if there are any found. 

If there are any unusual changes in your breast, your doctor may decide on a mammogram or ultrasound to look at what’s happening inside your breast. In some rare cases, they may also take a tissue sample from the lump.

Treatments for breast pain and sensitive nipples before a period

Most premenstrual breast pain can be treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that you can buy in any supermarket or pharmacy. The most common one you’ll probably find is ibuprofen, which is also fantastic for relieving other period and PMS symptoms.

You might also find that hormonal birth control, including the pill, helps reduce your symptoms.

If your pain is severe, or if you’ve found the methods above aren’t working for you, talk to your doctor. They can recommend a stronger medication that will suit your needs better. If you’re receiving hormone replacement therapy (HRT), they may also talk to you about lowering the dosage if it’s causing you pain.

What about itchy nipples just before a period is due?

If you often find you get itchy nipples (or even itchy breasts in general) just before your period, then this is probably related to PMS.

In an article by Dr Aliabadi in Women’s Heath magazine, this expert in gynaecology  explained that itchy nipples are a fairly common PMS symptoms and “some women experience itchy nipples due to a hormonal influx of estrogen prior to their periods,”.

As your hormonal changes enlarge your milk glands and ducts, it also makes your breasts slightly bigger during this part of your cycle. This stretches out the skin, which might also give you itchy nipples. 

For some of us, there’s also a possibility that the itchiness is caused by a premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). This is a more serious type of PMS that sometimes causes inflammation in the body. As a result, it can also make you itchy all over. For more information on PMDD, we recommend visiting the NHS website, which includes expert information on both PMS and PMDD, and the treatments that are available.

Can breast pain and sore nipples before a period be signs of pregnancy?

We totally understand how you could wonder if your sore boobs are a sign of early pregnancy. The same hormones are involved, and you can have the same symptoms. There are a few ways to tell the difference between the two, though.

  • If it’s PMS that’s making your breasts feel sore, the pain will probably be at its worst right before menstruation. It should also go away quite quickly; a day or two after your period has started.
  • If your sore breasts are a pregnancy symptom, the sore, hard, heavy feeling should last for a lot longer. It might end up going on for months, and could even stay until you’re ready to deliver your baby. As well as the soreness and stinging sensation, you might also develop blue veins near the surface of your breasts.

If you don’t know whether or not you’re pregnant, the best thing to do is take a pregnancy test ‒ it’ll be more reliable than going by how your boobs are feeling!

How can I get rid of breast pain before a period?

Boob soreness before your period will usually go by itself once your period starts, but you might want to find a way to make yourself feel better before this happens. Here are some easy-to-implement lifestyle changes and home remedies that can help relieve breast soreness:

  • Consider wearing a larger or more supportive bra, or try a different cup size for better comfort.
  • Try wearing a supportive bra at night to provide relief during sleep.
  • Limit the intake of caffeine by reducing coffee, soda, energy drinks, and tea in your diet. This can help manage breast tenderness.
  • Reduce salt consumption to alleviate water retention, which may contribute to breast discomfort.
  • For immediate relief, try hot and cold therapy using ice packs or heating pads on the affected area.

In a study published by the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, certain supplements like vitamin E or vitamin B-6 have also been found to reduce breast pain.

Engaging in low-impact exercises can also be beneficial, but it's best to avoid high-impact activities like running or jumping, as they might worsen breast soreness.

Remember, trying out these simple remedies may offer some relief and improve your comfort. Always speak with a doctor if you have persistent or severe breast pain.

Stay as comfy as possible when you’re heading for your cycle

Four women with different body shapes and sizes stand together and model fluxies period pants.

We know how uncomfortable a cycle can be, both in the lead up to a period and when it actually arrives! If those telltale signs, including breast pain and sore nipples, have come around again and you know your period will soon be on its way, why not make sure you’re ready to see it through with fluxies period pants?

With a range of modern styles, from Hipster to Brief, you're bound to find period pants that suit you. Our comfortable period underwear is moisture wicking and super absorbent to keep you leak free and worry free, all day long. They’re also reusable, making them much better for the environment. Simply chuck them in the wash when you’re done, and get them ready for next time! 

Sore nipples on my period: FAQs

How many days before my period will my boobs get sore?

The timing of when your boobs might get sore before your period can vary from person to person. For some people, tender breasts can start a few days before their period. For others, sore breasts can begin a week before their period.

It's important to remember that every woman's menstrual cycle is different. Having tender breasts on your period is completely normal. However, if you have any concerns, it's always a good idea to speak with your doctor.

Why do my boobs hurt on my period?

Experiencing breast pain during your period is common and is due to hormonal changes in your body. As your menstrual cycle progresses, your hormone levels, particularly estrogen and progesterone, fluctuate. These hormonal shifts can cause your breasts to become more sensitive and sore. Just like period pain, sore boobs is a common PMS symptom.

Why do my boobs feel heavier before my period?

Your body retains more water during your period, which can cause your breasts to feel heavier and more sensitive.

I got my period, but my boobs are still sore. Why?

In most cases, breast soreness after your period is normal. This pain should fade as your hormone levels return to their usual levels. However, if the pain is severe or lasts for a long time, speak with your doctor.

Why do I have hard nipples before my period?

Nipples can become erect for a number of reasons, but when women experience sore nipples on their period, this may be one of the reasons why. When nipples are erect, they are more sensitive, and can become painful due to rubbing or chafing against clothing. Your nipples can become hard due to hormonal changes, which are common before, during, and after your period.