By Melanie Haiken, M.J.
Why are my breasts so sore?
When you become pregnant, your body produces higher levels of estrogen and progesterone, the workhorses that help make your pregnancy possible. These hormones prepare your breasts for nursing -- and they can also make them sore and sensitive, just as they are around your period.
Some women find their breasts are so sensitive in the early days of pregnancy that they can't stand having anything touch them, even fabric. Your breasts may also feel heavier than usual, and you may notice more discomfort when you walk or run. You may also notice that your nipples and areolas (the areas around the nipples) are darkening and that your nipples are becoming more prominent. More bluish veins may appear under the skin, an indication of increased blood flow.
All these changes show that your breasts are getting ready to produce milk so you can nurse your baby. Throughout your pregnancy they will increase in size as estrogen and progesterone hormones surge, causing milk ducts to grow, extra blood to flow, and glandular tissue to expand.
How long will the soreness last?
Most women find their breasts are most sore and sensitive very early in pregnancy; in fact, for many women, sore breasts are one of the first signs they are pregnant. The sensitivity will decrease and be much less noticeable during the second and third trimesters. Your breasts will continue growing throughout your pregnancy, however. The increase is more or less noticeable depending on how big your breasts were before, how much weight you gain, and factors such as heredity. It's common to increase as much as two to three bra sizes, although not everyone does.
What can I do to decrease this tenderness?
Try to avoid anything that causes you discomfort. If you don't like your partner touching your breasts during sex right now, say so. If rough fabrics such as woven blouses are irritating, switch to soft knits for the next couple of months.
But the most important thing you can do for your own comfort is find a good, supportive bra. If your bras feel tight and restrictive, go up a size. If underwire bras are bothering you, switch to the soft cup kind. If you can, take the time to get fitted by a lingerie professional in a department store or maternity shop. Maternity bras generally have wider straps for greater support and comfort. They also offer a little more coverage in the cups and extra rows of hooks so you can adjust the bra as your ribs expand with your growing baby.
If you don't have a department or specialty store near you, take the time to measure yourself carefully. If you were a 34B last month, you may be surprised to find you've become a 36C. Make sure you measure around the fullest part of your breast to get your cup size, and just under your arms for the chest size. Your breasts will continue to grow, so be prepared to have another fitting in a few months.
If breast tenderness is bothering you at night as well as during the day, try a sleep bra -- a type of lightweight cotton bra sold primarily at maternity stores -- to protect you while you sleep.
When it comes to exercise, it's even more important to choose a sturdy bra. Invest in a couple of high-quality exercise bras, and you'll be much more comfortable when you work out. Even if you are small-breasted, look for bras that are marked "full support."
Lastly, remember that breast tenderness is primarily a problem in the first trimester. As your hormone levels even out, the unusual sensitivity will decrease and that "don't come near me" feeling will go away.
Eisenberg, Arlene, Heidi E. Murkoff, and Sandee E. Hathaway. What to Expect When You're Expecting. Workman Publishing Company. Fourth Edition.
University of Maryland, Center for Studies in Reproduction. Laboratory of Developmental and Perinatal Endocrinology. http://csr.umaryland.edu/faculty/albrecht.htm
American Pregnancy Association. Breast Changes During Pregnancy. http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/breastchanges.htm
Stony Brook University Hospital. General Breast Health. http://www.stonybrookhospital.com/index.cfm?id=1368
Anti-Cancer Council of Victoria. Common Breast Problems -- Breast Pain. http://www.nevdgp.org.au/geninf/aca_htm/ac_mastalgia_breastpain.htm
Pregnancy Weekly. Maternity Bras. http://www.pregnancyweekly.com/pregnancy_information/maternity_bras.htm
Maternity.com. Bra Fitting Guidelines. http://www.maternity.com/infopages/brafit.htm