If you regularly experience tenderness, swelling, or even pain in your breasts, you’re not alone. Most women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) will experience breast pain, also known as mastalgia, at some point in their lives. These breast changes are frequently the result of fluctuating hormone levels during the menstrual cycle, but may also arise from injury to the breasts, underlying medical conditions, or other factors.
Breast pain related to the menstrual cycle is known as cyclic breast pain. It tends to feel like a dull ache and usually affects both breasts, particularly around the upper and outer parts of the breasts. Cyclic breast pain usually intensifies immediately prior to your monthly period and gradually goes away on its own. This pain, while uncomfortable, is normal and not a cause for concern by itself.
Meanwhile, noncyclic breast pain is the term used to describe mastalgia unrelated to the menstrual cycle. It’s often felt as a tight, burning sensation in one spot on only one breast. This type of breast pain may be the sign of an underlying condition and therefore necessitate a visit to the doctor, especially if the pain interferes with your daily functioning.
What steps you can take to manage your breast pain will depend on what’s causing it in the first place. If what you’re experiencing is clearly cyclic breast pain, or if your doctor has already ruled out a serious illness as the cause, the following tips may help you keep the pain from getting worse:
Adjust Your Diet
Certain diet or lifestyle choices may make you more susceptible to breast pain or worsen existing pains. For example, eating a high-fat diet and consuming a lot of caffeine may exacerbate mastalgia. Other food and drink items that you might want to avoid if your breasts are aching include chocolate, wine, meat, cheese, and other dairy products. It may be a good idea to try a low-fat diet composed of tofu, fish, and non-fat dairy instead.
Excess sodium in salty foods may also cause the body to retain too much water. This is why consuming too much salt before or around your monthly period may cause breast pain and bloat. Thus, it’s best to cut down on salt, particularly in the days and weeks leading up to your period.
Increase Your Vitamin B6 and Vitamin E Intake
Some studies have shown that vitamin B6 and vitamin E can help relieve cyclic breast pain. You can get vitamin B6 naturally from a wide variety of plant and animal foods, including:
- Beef liver
- Certain fruits and vegetables, including bananas, oranges, papayas, cantaloupe, and dark leafy greens
Food sources of vitamin E include nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, and plant-based oils, such as the following:
- Peanuts and peanut butter
- Sunflower seeds
- Wheat germ oil
- Red bell pepper
You may also consider taking vitamins or dietary supplements, but it’s always best to consult a doctor before you do so. A healthcare professional will be in the best position to advise you on proper dosing and preparation for any possible side effects.
Try Relaxation Techniques
Stress and anxiety tend to aggravate body pains, including pain in the breasts. After all, pain and stress affect the body in similar ways. They make one’s heart rate and blood pressure rise, for one. Pain and stress can also cause accelerated breathing and tighter muscles. The longer your stress lasts and the more severe the stress is, the tenser and more painful your breasts and the rest of your body are likely to be.
Taking concrete steps to lower your stress levels can do wonders for both your body and your mind. Choose whatever relaxation techniques work for you, which can include journaling, gardening, listening to music, praying, or talking on the phone with friends and loved ones. Some people benefit from more structured relaxation activities, such as guided meditation. Above all, don’t stress yourself out trying to find a “correct” way to de-stress—simply choose some calming activities you enjoy, and the emotional and physical relief will follow.
Take Over-the-Counter (OTC) Painkillers
OTC pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen can help with breast pain. Before you pop a pill, however, make sure to ask your doctor what dosage you can safely take. Long-term use of painkillers can lead to liver issues and other adverse side effects.
Get Well-Fitted Bras
Poorly fitted bras are among the most common causes of noncyclic breast pain. Bras that are too tight will not only compress your breasts but will also dig into your chest and back, causing aches and discomfort. Always try new bras on at the store so you can make sure that they fit you comfortably and provide just the right amount of support you need. Asking for advice from a salesperson can also be helpful if you’re unsure about the correct size to get.
There are many health and lifestyle factors that can contribute to breast pain. The best course of action is to first figure out the primary causes of the pain—with help from a doctor, if necessary. From there, you can take the appropriate steps to relieve your discomfort.