Why do I have breast pain in pregnancy?
There are several possible causes of breast pain during pregnancy.
Causes For Breast Pain
Pregnancy is a period of high levels of estrogen and progesterone; both of these hormones have a significant influence on the breast tissue. Changes in these hormones can affect the proliferation of breast cells and milk ducts and cause pain. Prolactin levels also increase during pregnancy to prepare the breasts for breastfeeding. The changes in breast tissue from the influence of prolactin can also lead to breast pain and tenderness.1
Women undergoing fertility treatments may experience breast pain due to higher levels of circulating hormones from the drugs that they are given for conception and maintain the pregnancy. Antidepressant medications like SSRI’s are also associated with breast pain.
Breast trauma or prior breast surgery can lead to breast pain in pregnancy.
Omega 3 Fatty Acid Deficiency
Healthy fats, like omega 3’s from fish, help your body produce its own natural anti-inflammatories to reduce inflammation and pain.
Surrounding Soft Tissue Injury
A pulled muscle in the chest or a muscle that runs between the ribs may refer pain to the breast. Heavier breasts during pregnancy can put additional strain on surrounding soft tissue and cause strains or tears.
Although more common in women after pregnancy, towards the end of the pregnancy or in women whose breasts are very sensitive, you can experience excessive fullness of the breasts with milk which causes discomfort.
Also more common after pregnancy in women who are breastfeeding, infection can be caused by yeast or bacteria from the baby’s mouth on nipples that are sore.
Cysts or fibroadenomas in the breast can change in response to pregnancy hormones and contribute to pain. Breast cancer risk is low in women whose only symptom is breast pain; however, it’s wise to consult with your medical doctor, particularly if you have additional symptoms or feel a lump in your breast(s).
Natural Treatments For Breast Pain
Natural treatment for breast pain during pregnancy involves addressing the root of the problem as best we can, while taking into consideration what is safe to do during pregnancy.
Keep Hormones Under Control
It is perfectly natural to have higher levels of estrogen, progesterone and prolactin during pregnancy. However, imbalances in these 3 hormones may be contributing to breast discomfort. There are 3 excellent and safe ways to keep these hormones balanced.
- Maintain a stable blood sugar level. This is mainly accomplished through a healthy diet of moderate amounts of protein, lots of vegetables, nuts and seeds and legumes and moderate amounts of whole, unprocessed grains.
- Vitamin B6 has multiple hormone balancing effects: it helps the liver remove excess estrogen and normalizes progesterone and prolactin production. You could take 10-30 mg per day of active B6, which is called pyridoxal-5-phosphate or P5P.2
- Healthy levels of Vitamin D help maintain hormone balance and are protective against breast disease and cancer. Get outside for at least 30 minutes a day to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D.
Check Your Medications
If you feel that your breast pain is related to a medication, discuss this with the prescribing physician. Do NOT discontinue medication without discussing with your doctor.3
Massage therapy, acupuncture and hydrotherapy can help heal breast tissue. Hydrotherapy involves topical application of hot and cold water to stimulate circulation and immune system function in the breast. Apply a hot water bottle or a cloth soaked in hot water to the damaged area for 3 minutes, follow by 1 minute of a cloth soaked in ice water, repeat this cycle 3 times, ending with the cold cloth. Calendula oil can be massaged into the breasts to aid healing (avoid ingesting, if breastfeeding, only apply immediately after breastfeeding and stay away from the area of the nipple).
Include Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Eating fish 2-3 times per week or supplementing with fish oil may help reduce inflammation and pain. Fish oil also helps baby’s brain development. If supplementing, ensure that the product you are taking meets the highest standards for purity, freshness (tested for peroxide and anisidine levels) and is a natural triglyceride form.
Wear Supportive Undegarments
Massage therapy, acupuncture and hydrotherapy would also help heal surrounding soft tissue damage. Due to the extra weight of the breasts in pregnancy, more supportive undergarments may be necessary to prevent muscle strains.
Maintaining a healthy balance of hormones through diet, stress reduction, exercise and supplementing with pyridoxal-5-phosphate (active B6) may help maintain healthy hormone levels throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding.4
Avoid Antimicrobial Herbs
Most antimicrobial herbs are not safe in pregnancy and should be avoided. Depending on the type and severity of infection, your doctor may prescribe an appropriate antibiotic, such as amoxicillin.
Reducing or eliminating caffeine can help where breasts are lumpy or fibrocystic. Iodine deficiency can contribute to fibrocystic breast disease by causing the breasts to be more responsive to estrogen. Use a little iodized sea salt or sea vegetables like kelp each day to maintain adequate iodine.
Iodine excess can be hazardous to your health so iodine supplementation is NOT recommended at any time but especially in pregnancy except under supervision by a physician.5
|↑1||Salzman, Brooke, Stephenie Fleegle, and Amber S. Tully. “Common breast problems.” American family physician 86, no. 4 (2012).|
|↑2||Wetzig, Neil R. “Mastalgia: a 3 year Australian study.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Surgery 64, no. 5 (1994): 329-331.|
|↑3||Preece, P. E., R. E. Mansel, P. M. Bolton, L. E. Hughes, M. Baum, and I. H. Gravelle. “Clinical syndromes of mastalgia.” The Lancet 308, no. 7987 (1976): 670-673.|
|↑4||Eliassen, A. Heather, Erica T. Warner, Bernard Rosner, Laura C. Collins, Andrew H. Beck, Liza M. Quintana, Rulla M. Tamimi, and Susan E. Hankinson. “Plasma 25-hydroxyvitamin D and risk of breast cancer in women followed over 20 years.” Cancer Research 76, no. 18 (2016): 5423-5430.|
|↑5||Ghent, W. R., B. A. Eskin, D. A. Low, and L. P. Hill. “Iodine replacement in fibrocystic disease of the breast.” Canadian journal of surgery. Journal canadien de chirurgie 36, no. 5 (1993): 453-460.|