Why You’re Experiencing Breast Tenderness in Pregnancy

Sore breasts are par for the course in early pregnancy. The discomfort will come and go but likely last, to some degree, for the next nine+ months. Here’s what to know.
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Updated February 8, 2023
pregnant woman relaxing on couch at home; sore and tender breasts during pregnancy
Image: Tatiana Bobkova | Shutterstock

It’s no secret that your body goes through some major transitions during pregnancy—and you’ll feel a lot of these physical changes before you see them. One of the first things you may notice: breast tenderness. It tends to start early in the first trimester; in fact, it’s often one of the first signs of pregnancy. But what causes breast tenderness in pregnancy, how long will it last and what can you do to ease any discomfort in the meantime? Read on to learn how to handle having sore breasts in pregnancy.

What Causes Sore Breasts in Pregnancy?

Throughout the next nine+ months, your breasts are going to change—a lot. They’re growing and stretching and evolving to prepare for breastfeeding after birth. (And, FYI, even if you’ve already decided that breastfeeding isn’t for you, your breasts won’t get the memo!) In the meantime, this transition can cause some significant discomfort. According to the American Pregnancy Association, increased blood flow to your chest (caused by surging hormones) is probably to blame for making your breasts swollen and sensitive to the touch.

Can Sore Breasts After Ovulation Be a Sign of Pregnancy?

If you experience sore, tender breasts right after you ovulate, it’s likely a response to the surging levels of progesterone that occurs during ovulation, and not pregnancy, says Amy Wetter, MD, an ob-gyn at Northside Women’s Specialists in Atlanta. But if you notice increased tenderness about a week or two after ovulation instead of a return to normal, it may point to pregnancy. “The tenderness you’re experiencing at this point could mean that progesterone levels are increasing due to pregnancy, rather than dipping, like they normally would,” she adds. To know for sure, take a pregnancy test one day after the expected start day of your next period.

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When Does Breast Tenderness Start in Pregnancy?

For some expecting parents, breast tenderness in pregnancy begins almost right away, says Wetter. Your breasts can be sore as early as two weeks after conception. “This is due to a surge in pregnancy hormones and increased blood flow to the breasts that stimulate the breast tissue,” she says. With breast pain this early, it’s easy to see why some people experience this pregnancy symptom before they even take a pregnancy test and get a positive result.

What Part of the Breast Hurts in Early Pregnancy?

According to Michelle Wong, MD, an ob-gyn with UTHealth Houston, breast pain in early pregnancy isn’t localized. It occurs in the glandular breast tissue, so it may feel similar to the soreness you can experience before getting your period. That means you’ll probably feel an overall sensation of breast tenderness. Other common sensations include a feeling of tingling or heaviness, and some pregnant people experience itchiness, as their breasts begin to grow and expand.

On top of that general discomfort, you may experience nipple tenderness early on too, says Wetter. So if you find yourself cringing when anything (even a soft shirt) rubs up against your nipples in early pregnancy, don’t be surprised. This sensation usually subsides as your pregnancy progresses.

How Long Do Your Breasts Stay Sore in Early Pregnancy?

It’s not uncommon for your breasts to be sore during the entire first trimester, Wetter says. But there’s a wide range of normal here. Some pregnant people experience breast tenderness throughout their entire pregnancy, while others have very little if any discomfort. The pain can be intermittent, or it can be persistent—and it’s fairly subjective.

What Does Decreased or No Breast Tenderness in Early Pregnancy Mean?

Breast tenderness can come and go in early pregnancy (and beyond). You may initially have significant soreness and then wake up to find it’s mostly resolved. In fact, some moms-to-be won’t experience any breast pain during pregnancy—similar to how many moms won’t have morning sickness; pregnancy symptoms vary from person to person.

“Absent or decreased breast tenderness isn’t usually a cause for concern. It can be normal, as hormones fluctuate during pregnancy,” explains Wetter. What’s more, your perception of pain can change as you get used to the feeling. That said, if decreased tenderness is also accompanied by loss of all other previous pregnancy symptoms (nausea, vomiting, etc.), and/or you’re experiencing bleeding or cramping, Wetter advises calling your doctor for an evaluation.

How to Ease Breast Tenderness During Pregnancy

Breast pain during pregnancy certainly isn’t the only annoyance you’ll deal with in the coming months. It may not be the biggest among your complaints, but that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t welcome relief. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to lessen the soreness:

  • Wear a well-fitted bra like a maternity, compression or sports bra
  • Try a cold compress
  • Take a warm shower or bath
  • Wear loose fitting clothes
  • Take a pain reliever like acetaminophen (be sure to discuss this with your doctor first)

What to Do for Sharp Breast Pain During Pregnancy

Breast tenderness in pregnancy is one thing, but you might feel taken by surprise if you start to experience sharp breast pain. While this is less common than a dull overall ache, it’s still a possibility. “Sharp breast pain during pregnancy is most likely a normal physiologic change that is due to hormone changes (hCG, progesterone and estrogen in the first trimester, and prolactin in the third trimester), an increase in blood flow to the breasts and an increase in breast size and fat deposition,” says Wetter. Try to relax, and put on a comfortable bra and clothes. That said, if it’s pervasive and intrusive, reach out to your doctor or midwife.

Breast tenderness in pregnancy is par for the course. Try to stay comfortable, and remind yourself that your body is doing amazing things to get ready for baby’s arrival.

About the experts:

Amy Wetter, MD, is an ob-gyn at Northside Women’s Specialists in Atlanta, Georgia. She earned her medical degree from the University of Louisville.

Michelle Wong, MD, is an ob-gyn with UTHealth Houston. She earned her medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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