It would be too easy for your period to *just* sabotage your pelvic region. Way too easy. Because having female hormones often feels like being on a roller coaster from hell, your menstrual cycle can also wreak havoc on your boobs. Breast pain pre-period is extremely normal, if not incredibly unfair. Here's everything you need to know about that fun time of the month when your boobs double in size and feel like they were pummeled by a power drill.
Why your boobs feel like sandbags
After ovulation—which happens about midway through your menstrual cycle, or two weeks after your period—the hormone progesterone starts to rise. Around day 21 of a standard, 28-day cycle, progesterone peaks, and as Rebecca Brightman, an ob-gyn in New York City explained, one of the rude symptoms of progesterone is that it can cause the ducts in your breasts to expand. Progesterone can also cause increased water retention. So between expanded breast ducts and water retention in the breast (and all over your bod), it's very normal for your boobs to feel heavy and painful before your period.
Brightman said that when this happens varies a lot from woman to woman, and even from month to month. "Some women say, 'Two weeks before I get my period, I'm dying,'" Brightman said. "Other people say, 'A couple days before, I'm really uncomfortable.'" It's a full spectrum of breast experience. Some women may feel their breasts are dense, full, and swollen a week or two before their period, others may just feel immense pain a few days before—it can be anything. And the symptoms you experience one month may not be the symptoms you experience the next month. Why? Because hormone levels are always fluctuating. One menstrual cycle may produce more progesterone than another, resulting in different types of boob agony.
What isn't normal
Normal period boob pain radiates evenly throughout both breasts. You can also expect nipples to be sore or extra tender, and swelling should be equal among your breasts as well. Basically, you want equal opportunity boob misery. Aside from that, the spectrum of period boobs is expansive. It's normal to have dense, heavy breasts that don't feel painful, and it's normal to have regular sized boobs that hurt like crazy. Even a bit of lumpiness—which is typically alarming—is to be expected in the week or two leading up to your period. The thing you're really looking for is both boobs feel the same way, and the symptoms subside when your period starts.
What's abnormal is for the pain to persist long past the start of your period, or for one boob to hurt and the other to be totally fine. Brightman said uneven swelling is to be expected—no two boobs are the same size! But one-sided breast pain can be indicative of a cyst or other types of benign lumps like infections or a bruise. "Cancer, which is everyone's fear, would be extremely rare," she said. As far as lumps go, those should also go away within the first few days of your period. If you're in the habit of doing regular, at-home breast exams, feel to make sure those are gone once your period is over. If any lumps persist, it doesn't hurt to see your doctor.
Breast pain isn't a common symptom of breast cancer, but there are a few things to look out for. Brightman said to watch for pain associated with a lump in only one breast, pain that persists after your period is over, or uneven swelling or pain. If any of those things are happening to you, or if you just feel your breast pain is severe or causing an inordinate amount of discomfort, talk to your doctor.
For some women, breast pain and swelling is the first sign of pregnancy. If your period is particularly late and your boobs are killing you, persistent boob pain may be an early sign of pregnancy.
How you can (sorta) fix things
Though this sounds counterintuitive because bras are basically small prison cells for your boobs, Brightman said a lot of women find significant pain relief from wearing a really supportive bra—even a sports bra that really holds things in place. All that jostling and motion may only be making you painfully more aware of your boobs, which, if they're already throbbing, is a bad thing. Some of Brightman's patients even find that sleeping in a bra (sacrilege!) brings significant relief to their period boobs.
All the other remedies are also anecdotal, so really it's just about finding something that works for you. Some women find out that cutting out caffeine reduces breast pain, and others find that taking vitamin E, B6 supplements or evening primrose oil is the true cure. For some, it's as simple as popping a couple of ibuprofen or acetaminophen pills as if the breast pain is just another headache (which, honestly, it really is). The only thing Brightman wouldn't recommend for calming down your swollen boobies is taking a diuretic, or some sort of water pill—they can cause dehydration, and shouldn't be relied upon.
This particular period symptom is really annoying because it's so unpredictable. Some months your boobs may be tiny angels that don't cause you a single problem, and other months they could be the bane of your womanly existence. The best thing to know, really, is that you're far from alone in the urge to hold your boobs to your chest every time you walk down the stairs for a week out of every month. Just like our big, swollen period boobs squished together in a restrictive sports bra, we're all in this together.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.