You might be familiar with “period boobs”, the painful sensation you feel in your breasts, days before your period starts. It’s usually caused by hormonal changes and is often part of what we call premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
As you go through menopause, you may also notice that your breasts feel tender and achy at unexpected times. The drastic shift in your hormones could be the reason behind this. However, breast tenderness in menopause has a different sensation compared with PMS. Instead of a dull ache, you may experience sharp and throbbing pain, in either one breast or both.
But here’s the good news – breast tenderness in menopause is normal and nothing to be scared about. Although sore breasts are uncomfortable, they are often considered harmless. However, in rare cases, this symptom could mean something else and it’s your job to listen. In this article, let’s explore why breast tenderness in menopause happens and what you can do to ease the pain!
The Breasts and What They Do for You
Why do we have breasts in the first place?
Breasts are part of the reproductive system and are also called accessory organs. They come in different shapes and sizes, but women have more developed breasts than men. This is because we have more estrogen and progesterone, hormones that are responsible for breast growth. While our breasts only have a few functions, they are essential for the survival of humanity.
The breasts’ primary function is to produce milk to nourish infants and babies. As we go through pregnancy, certain hormones stimulate the milk-making tissue in our breasts to grow and begin producing breast milk.
Aside from lactation, breasts also serve as sex organs. They contain thousands of nerve endings, making them one of the most sensitive parts of the body. Although they don’t take a big role in reproduction, they are specialized organs that make sex a pleasurable experience.
Our breasts undergo a lot of changes throughout life. They are dependent on our fats (weight gain or weight loss), muscle mass, hormones and aging. It is important for us to know the normal structure and function of our breasts, so we can detect abnormalities.
I Have Breast Tenderness in Menopause! Why Is This Happening?
Breast tenderness, also known as mastalgia, is a condition that occurs due to hormonal changes and breast structure. It can also be caused by pain in nearby organs, like the joint and bones, or it may be due to external factors.
There are basically two kinds of breast tenderness in menopause:
If you get breast soreness around your period every month, you are experiencing cyclical mastalgia. This is also known as fibrocystic breast change, which is a normal phase in our menstrual cycle caused by hormonal shifts. So, what happens to your hormones exactly?
Your estrogen levels increase in the first two weeks of your cycle to trigger ovulation. In the second half of your cycle, your progesterone levels go up. These changes make your breast swollen, heavy and sore. These hormonal shifts also make your breast tissues clamp together, forming benign cysts which may feel lumpy.
Cyclical breast soreness usually occurs in both breasts. Its pain characteristic is usually dull, achy and heavy. As your menstruation comes to an end and your hormones start stabilizing, the breast soreness and swelling will also disappear.
If your boobs hurt and your period is still far or is over, it’s called non-cyclical mastalgia. Non-cyclical breast tenderness happens intermittently. You may experience pain at one or both breasts. The pain may also be felt in one central location or in the entire breast. This type can be caused by several reasons:
- Pregnancy. During pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone go up to ready your uterus for the fertilized egg. These hormones also enlarge the breast, causing pain.
- Weight gain. The extra weight can put pressure in your breast as small nerves and fibers are pulled.
- Injuries. Stress on your chest muscles and nearby body parts – like the armpits, arms and neck – may also cause pain in your breast.
- Wrong bra. Wearing a wrong-sized bra gives your breasts inadequate support, making them feel worse. For example, wearing the wrong sports bra when doing a lot of high-impact activities can result to painful breasts and even soft tissue damage.
- Medical conditions. Costochondritis, arthritis of the neck or upper back, mastitis and shingles are some examples of disorders that can cause breast pain.
- Medication side effects. Birth control pills, HRT, antidepressants, antipsychotics and anti-hypertensives usually have breast tenderness as a side effect.
The characteristic of pain in non-cyclical type is usually sharp, tight and burning. This type of breast pain is also common in women aged 30 to 50.
What Causes Breast Tenderness in Menopause?
Breast tenderness in menopause normally begins during the perimenopause stage. Perimenopause usually starts 8 to 10 years before the menopause stage, and at this time you may experience erratic periods.
Perimenopause is an unpredictable time. Your hormones are confused (as you are) and they go up and down as they please. In perimenopause, estrogen is produced by your ovaries and adrenal glands at normal rates. It may also gradually decline but not as much as progesterone, which is why, you still have periods at this time.
Progesterone is the first hormone that goes down first. This scenario may cause an imbalance in your estrogen to progesterone ratio, leading to a condition called estrogen dominance. As the name implies, estrogen tends to dominate more because there’s less progesterone in the body.
Estrogen loves water, making your body absorbs more fluids. As a result, you become bloated, including your breasts. Estrogen also stimulates breast cells to grow. Excess fluids plus breast enlargement compress your nerves and puts on more weight, causing breast tenderness in menopause.
Chronic stress during menopause can indirectly contribute to breast pain. Aside from muscle tension caused by high levels of cortisol, stress can further suppress progesterone (which we direly need because it controls the effects of estrogen). How does this exactly happen?
Progesterone can be converted to cortisol. When you’re under constant stress, your body needs more cortisol. But the adrenal glands can’t make enough anymore because they’re tired. As a result, the body is forced to convert progesterone into cortisol.
Without adequate progesterone, your estrogen levels skyrocket. In addition, our environment and foods are loaded with estrogen mimickers, called xenoestrogens, which our body processes the same way as natural estrogen.
9 Natural Ways to Manage Breast Tenderness in Menopause that Work!
Breast tenderness in menopause can be quite uncomfortable, but good news is, it’s highly manageable. Here are 9 things you can do to reduce the soreness!
1. Give your boobs some loving attention.
When one or both of your “girls” feel tender, one way to calm them down is through breast massage. Breast massaging has many benefits, including:
- Improves blood circulation
- Reduces swelling
- Promotes lymphatic drainage and flushing out toxins
- Releases tension and tightness
- Maintains the shape of the breasts and increases their size
- Helps in pain relief, easing soreness
- Increases your sensitivity, intensifying pleasure and improving orgasm
- Stimulates the release of youthful hormones
- Triggers the production of oxytocin (love hormone), reducing stress and depression
In addition to these benefits, doing self-massage may also help you detect unusual lumps in your breasts. Here’s a simple guide to breast self-massage by the Toronto Breast Health Clinic [5:36]:
2. Use essential oils.
To add more positive effects to breast massage, use oils with essential fatty acids to help decrease breast pain. Olive oil, coconut oil and primrose oil are rich in gamma-linolenic acid (an essential fatty acid), which have anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. Just take a few drops of this oil and apply it gently on your breasts for pain relief.
3. Fill your body with vitamins and minerals!
Vitamins B, C and E have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. They also have balancing effects, which can immensely help your hormones in correcting PMS. Here are some foods rich in these vitamins:
- Vitamin B – salmon, chicken breast, avocado, spinach and hazel nuts
- Vitamin C – citrus fruits like orange, lemon and cruciferous veggies
- Vitamin E – sweet potato, sunflower seeds, olive oil and butternut squash
Calcium, magnesium and selenium may also help. Calcium and selenium relax the muscles and maintain nerve health. Magnesium is especially helpful in the production of progesterone. Foods high in these minerals include:
- Magnesium – Swiss chard, figs, pumpkin seeds and dark chocolate
- Calcium – chia seeds, leafy greens, hemp milk, almond milk, sesame seeds, fennel, artichoke, broccoli
- Selenium – Brazil nuts, shiitake, lima beans, sunflower, flax and sesame seeds, cabbage, spinach
Iodine is another mineral that you want to fill your plate with because it has good effects on breast cells. A lack of this mineral can cause fibrocystic breasts. Iodine also helps in regulating estrogen in the body. Seaweeds, shrimps and tuna are some of the best sources of iodine.
Watch this interesting video by Dr. Berg as he explains the iodine and estrogen connection [2:44]:
4. Start a hormone supporting diet.
What you eat affects every aspect of your health and lifestyle. If you’re dealing with hormone imbalance, making small changes in your diet can go a long way, not only in easing breast pain but making your menopause journey so much better! Here are some of my tips for a hormone-supporting diet:
- Eat high fiber foods. Berries, vegetables, legumes and whole grains promote excretion of excess estrogens, fake estrogens and toxins.
- Try the anti-inflammatory diet! Avoid gluten, dairy, sugar and processed foods. These foods can cause inflammation and upset your body’s hormonal balance.
- Decrease caffeine consumption. Coffee is good and I’m not saying to totally get rid of it. How about going decaf or replacing your warm coffee with lemon honey water? A compound called methylxanthines are present in coffee which may contribute to inflammation.
- Avoid smoking and alcohol consumption. Cigarette smoke breaks down elastin, a type of protein that maintains firmness of the skin and tissues. For this reason, it is common for the breasts to feel sore when women smoke or consume alcohol.
5. Wear supportive bras.
Wear well-fitted and supportive bras instead of underwire bras. To choose the right bra, make sure it cups your breasts well. If you feel tender breasts at night, you may want to wear a bra to bed if it feels comfortable for you. Get rid of old and stretched-out bras because they no longer provide enough support.
6. Move more and maintain your weight.
Do you know that estrogen is also produced in your fats? To counter this effect, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight. The excess weight may also add more pressure to your breast which can cause more breast soreness. Having a healthy weight also promotes hormone balance, helping you go through menopause better in general.
7. Warm and cold packs for immediate relief.
For quick relief from breast soreness, you can use moist warm packs on your breasts for a few minutes. You can also take a hot shower to ease the pain. A friendly reminder, don’t use your warm packs for more than 5 minutes because it can increase the swelling. Warm packs will open your blood vessels, release excess fluids and improve blood circulation to the breast area.
After using warm packs, use cold compress for about 10 minutes to constrict your blood vessels and reduce the amount of fluids going in.
8. Consider using natural progesterone cream.
Natural progesterone cream can relieve breast tenderness in menopause by regulating the amount of estrogen in your body. For menopausal women, Dr. Axe recommends ¼ teaspoon which you can apply to the skin and forearms 2 or 3 times daily. For PMS, he recommends using ¼ teaspoon applied to the skin daily starting after ovulation until your menstruations starts.
Dr. Axe has a good article about natural progesterone cream that you can read about.
9. Free your breasts!
Free your breasts from time to time. There’s a lot of conflicting studies about whether bras can cause cancer or not. Let’s clear this up once and for all – bras do not increase your risk for breast cancer! However, wearing tight bras, which are not your size, can increase the incidence of breast cancer, and this is according to a study from the Journal of Oncology Research and Treatment.
Although bras can be quite helpful, they can also impede your lymph from flowing freely, which is why you need to give your breasts time to breathe! When you sleep at night, you can go braless but still support your boobs with a soft pillow. You can also elevate your head a little. This increases blood flow and reduces swelling. A French study even believes that young people should stop wearing bras because it can cause sagging.
When Should I Go to the Doctor for Breast Tenderness?
When women hear about breast tenderness in menopause, they immediately think breast cancer. But good news is, breast soreness is rarely a symptom of breast cancer, and this is proven by the Harvard Health Publications. With that said, what are some warning signs that you need to go to your doctor?
- Severe and frequent pain with fluid discharge
- Breast pain that doesn’t go away which isn’t connected to your period
- Unusual symptoms, like lumps, nipple discharge, severe swelling and redness
- Orange-peel skin
- Dimples in the surrounding area of your breast
- Numbness in hands or fingers
- Chest pain
I know many women are afraid of breast cancer, but you can take part in your own assessment. A good way to do this is to practice the self-breast exam which you can learn on your own. Here’s a great video that demonstrates how to do this [2:53]:
Breast tenderness in menopause isn’t a cause of concern. It rarely needs medical attention but always remember that you know your body more than anyone else. If you feel like something is not right, check it out the soonest!