The 5 Best Ways to Deal With Swollen and Achy Period Boobs, According to Ob-Gyns
How to cope with your twins' monthly temper tantrum.
Dealing with cramps, diarrhea, and other below-the-belt period side effects are bad enough. But your menstrual cycle can be hell on your boobs as well—which explains why they feel like heavy boulders sitting on your chest even before you even start bleeding (and throughout your period, too, because of course).
“The medical term for premenstrual breast swelling and tenderness is cyclical mastalgia,” Kecia Gaither, MD, an ob-gyn, maternal-fetal medicine doctor, and the director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, tells Health. Like everything else period-related, it's the result of normal hormonal changes.
“Towards the end of a menstrual cycle and during the period, the ratio of the two reproductive hormones, estrogen and progesterone, change,” Prudence Hall, MD, founder and medical director of The Hall Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Health. “That’s when estrogen falls to its lowest levels in the menstrual cycle, while progesterone is still quite high, causing fluid shifts and tenderness in the breasts.”
Estrogen actually causes the breast ducts to enlarge, while progesterone makes the milk glands to swell—resulting in lumpy, swollen, tender, and/or heavy breasts, adds Dr. Gaither. These hormones also promote extra water retention in the breast and abdominal area, which can make your boobs feel bloated and popping out of your bra. Fun! But luckily, you don’t have to suck it up. Here’s how to give your period boobs relief.
Take the right vitamins
Consuming 400 international units (IU) of vitamin E and 400 milligrams of magnesium daily can help soothe PMS symptoms, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. Those PMS symptoms include the ones that are making your set feel so swollen and sensitive.
“Vitamin E has been implicated in reducing breast pain by effectively assisting in reducing inflammation,” says Dr. Gaither. Magnesium helps to "maintain healthy hormone levels, which can decrease breast tenderness, and serotonin levels, which modulate our perception of pain,” explains Dr. Hall. It also helps maintain normal fluid balances, which eases breast tenderness as well, she adds.
Don't skip your workouts
You may not feel like dragging yourself to the gym when your chest is hurting. But exercise helps with everything in the body, and breast pain is no exception. “It has to do with increasing healthy muscles and reducing fat cells, which produce inflammation,” says Dr. Hall, who adds that inflammation is a primary cause of pain.
As we all know from Legally Blonde, exercise cranks up production of endorphins, chemicals that are natural painkillers. It also increases blood oxygenation and circulation to your tissues, which can feel invigorating, says Dr. Gaither. “Moderate aerobic exercises are helpful: Think swimming, jogging, or walking about 30 minutes a day,” she adds.
Wear your sturdiest sports bras all day
Squashing your boobs down in a sports bra may seem counterintuitive (was there ever a better time to just let them hang free?). But a really supportive, non-underwire bra might actually be your best friend during your period. “Close-fitting sports bras are helpful in keeping the breasts close to the body, which keeps their movement at bay, and thus decreases the pain associated with unrestricted movement,” says Dr. Gaither.
Even a soft non-underwire bra can help. Explains Dr. Hall: “If the breast ligaments are stretched due to increased breast size, a soft bra relieves that strain on the ligaments."
Cut out salt and caffeine
Obviously, potato chips and lattes are the things you’re probably craving most during your period. But salt can increase fluid retention, says Dr. Hall, leaving your boobs feeling waterlogged. And many doctors recommend that women who suffer from PMS should cut their caffeine intake as well, as this stimulant appears to intensify the side effects. Instead, try to eat a diet with high concentrations of protein, fiber, and minerals (ahem, magnesium) to decrease symptoms, says Dr. Gaither, so your boobs will no longer feel like balloons.
Try a natural remedy
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications like Ibuprofen can help reduce breast achiness. Not a fan of popping pills? You have other options.
“Dandelion root has also been noted to be a help with breast pain—it's a natural diuretic and contains potassium to assist in ridding extra bodily fluid,” says Dr. Gaither. Brew dried dandelion in tea, or take it as an herbal supplement. (Don’t rely too much on diuretics, though; they can lead to dehydration, which will just cause more discomfort.) Another option: primrose oil. This oil "contains gamolenic acid, which has anti-inflammatory properties,” she adds. You can take an extract orally, or rub it directly onto your breasts. As with any supplement, though, check with your doctor first to make sure it's safe for you.