Medically reviewed

Cyclical breast tenderness: Are my hormones making my boobs sore?

JULY 27, 2021

Breast tenderness is super common. But how do you know when (or if) it's a cause for concern? Read on to hear how it might just be your fabulously fluctuating female sex hormones that are bringing on your breast tenderness and what you can do to reduce any discomfort

Key Takeaways

  • There are two general categories for breast tenderness and pain—cyclical and non-cyclical 

  • Cyclical breast tenderness is more common and is caused by fluctuating hormone levels (1)

  • Non-cyclical pain is caused by anything else (like inflammation, lumps or cysts etc).

  • After ovulation, fluctuations in our sex hormones cause cells in our breasts to grow and their water content to increase, which can cause tenderness (2,3)

  • Certain types of birth control can help reduce symptoms of breast tenderness, but finding the right one for you and your symptoms is essential (4)

  • There are other tried and tested (by Tuune team members) tactics for reducing cyclical breast tenderness

Editor's note: Throughout this article, there are many instances where we have referred to ‘our breasts’, ‘our boobs’, ‘our female sex hormones’, etc. We don’t assume, as one of our wonderful readers, that you have any certain body parts but are simply speaking from the first-person perspective of our editorial team. 

Melons, coconuts, knockers—whatever you call them, this week we’re talking about our tits. Specifically, tender tits. 

Opinions of our oompa loompas are often divided—some of us love ours, others aren’t fussed either way— but for many people, breasts can be a downright source of genuine discomfort and pain. 

Breast tenderness and pain affect about 70% of women at some point in their lives (5) and the most common type of breast pain is caused by hormonal fluctuations (6).

We all know that our breasts change during and after pregnancy when they start producing milk, but what most of us don’t know is that our boobs are actually changing all of the time—monthly in fact (1). 

So, whether you’ve got itty bitties or big bazoombas—read on to hear how your hormones can affect your humps. Plus, what you can do to treat any breast tenderness symptoms or soreness.

What causes breast pain?

There are two broad, general categories for breast tenderness and pain, cyclic and non-cyclic (6). This is essentially a fancy way of saying that it’s either related to your hormones and menstrual cycle (cyclic) or not (non-cyclic). 

Cyclic breast pain (clinically known as mastalgia) is the most common (6). You’re most likely experiencing breast tenderness that’s caused by hormonal fluctuations if:

  • You experience pain in both breasts at the same time (1)

  • Your breast tenderness kicks in at the same time in your cycle each month (usually either mid-cycle and/or just before your period) (1)

  • Any pain or tenderness alleviates after your period has started (1)

Non-cyclic breast pain is basically anything that isn’t related to your monthly menstrual flux. It can appear at any time in no particular pattern, it might be constant or come and go, and normally only affects one breast at a time (6).

Non-cyclic breast pain can be caused by many factors such as pregnancy, medications, breast or muscle injury, mastitis (inflammation), thrush, cysts or lumps (6). If your breast pain is worrying you or not going away, it’s worth getting it checked out by a medical professional.

How do hormones cause breast tenderness?

As our female sex hormones fluctuate throughout our menstrual cycles each month, the ebbs and flows of estrogen and progesterone cause many, many changes to both our bodies and moods—among them are changes to our breast tissues (7).

After ovulation, our estrogen levels dip out and it’s progesterone’s time to join the party. It’s this hormonal switch up, especially high progesterone, that causes cells in our breast tissues to start multiplying (2).

No, this doesn’t mean we’re going to be busting out a 3rd nipple anytime soon, but it’s this growth of what’s known as epithelial cells that can cause breast tenderness during the latter half of our cycle (2) (see graph 1). 

High progesterone triggers this growth of epithelial cells because it’s literally prepping our bodies for pregnancy—and it’s our epithelial cells that secrete prolactin, the hormone for milk development (2,8).

By now, our boobs might be feeling somewhat sore. But oh happy day, our hormones aren’t done yet. Just before our periods, estrogen rises again and all those new epithelial cells kick into action, releasing prolactin from the glands in our breast tissue (8). 

Prolactin stimulates our breast glands, causing them to swell and increase in size and water content (3,8). This is why our boobs might feel more ‘full’ just before our periods (yep, in other words,  literal jugs). 

When both estrogen and progesterone levels drop during our periods, any of these additional cells that have grown die (don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds) and our boobs literally shrink as their water content reduces (2). After this, any pain or tenderness should stop. 

Breast tenderness and hormonal birth control

Cyclical breast tenderness, like all hormonal symptoms, may either get better or worse on hormonal birth control (4)(helpful we know). 

Any positive or negative effects are dependent on the individual and all of our phenomenally unique natural levels of estrogen and progesterone (something we like to call our ‘hormonal profiles’) (2,4). 

More so, it can really depend on what type of hormonal birth control you decide to take, what synthetic hormones it contains and the dosage (4). 

If you’ve got tender tattas and want to find or switch to hormonal birth control that could help, Tuune can help you decipher which one is going to be best for you and your unique hormonal profile.

Treatments for breast tenderness 

In addition to female sex hormone flux, other factors can contribute to cyclical breast pain and make it worse.Here are a few tried and tested tactics to get you through to your period and reduce discomfort:

The right support

It might seem like an obvious one, but a comfy bra that’s the right size goes a longggg way (trust us, we’ve lived this one). One study (9) revealed that up to 80% of people are walking around wearing the wrong size bra… if wearing one is your jam, get em sized.


Heightened levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) can also contribute to breast tenderness (10), so reducing as much stress as possible pre-period may help those sore spots (plus, the myriad of other health benefits that can come about from less stress).

Reducing caffeine & alcohol

Both caffeine and alcohol increase fluid retention (hello pre-period bloat), and can increase your stress hormone levels too (10). Reducing your intake of caffeine and alcohol before your period can help reduce any additional water retention that might be making you tender (11).

Reducing or stopping smoking

Smoking does all kinds of disastrous things to our bodies (but we’re not here to lecture you on your life choices). If you smoke, you might see improvement if you cut down on the cigs during the second half of your cycle (6).

Other meds

There are prescription medications available that can help too—chat to your doctor about these.

Don't suffer in silence

So there you have it, a whistle stop tour of what might be causing you any breast tenderness. 

Remember, you shouldn’t EVER ‘just deal with’, or ‘put up with’ pain. If you’re experiencing regular breast tenderness or pain that’s becoming an issue for you (emotionally or physically) seek medical guidance or get in touch with Tuune—we’re always here to help.

  1. Potten CS, Watson RJ, Williams GT, Tickle S, Roberts SA, Harris M, et al. The effect of age and menstrual cycle upon proliferative activity of the normal human breast. Br J Cancer. 1988 Aug;58(2):163–70.

  2. Arendt LM, Kuperwasser C. Form and function: how estrogen and progesterone regulate the mammary epithelial hierarchy. J Mammary Gland Biol Neoplasia. 2015 Jun;20(0):9–25.

  3. Smith RL, Pruthi S, Fitzpatrick LA. Evaluation and management of breast pain. Mayo Clin Proc. 2004 Mar;79(3):353–72.

  4. Kataria K, Dhar A, Srivastava A, Kumar S, Goyal A. A Systematic Review of Current Understanding and Management of Mastalgia. Indian J Surg. 2014 Jun 1;76(3):217–22.

  5. The Prevalence, Severity, and Impact of Breast Pain in the General Population - Scurr - 2014 - The Breast Journal - Wiley Online Library [Internet]. [cited 2021 Jul 21]. Available from:

  6. Tahir MT, Shamsudeen S. Mastalgia. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 [cited 2021 Jul 21]. Available from:

  7. Kwan I, Onwude JL. Premenstrual syndrome. BMJ Clin Evid [Internet]. 2015 Aug 25 [cited 2021 May 11];2015. Available from:

  8. Al-Chalabi M, Bass AN, Alsalman I. Physiology, Prolactin. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 [cited 2021 Jul 1]. Available from:

  9. Wood K, Cameron M, Fitzgerald K. Breast size, bra fit and thoracic pain in young women: a correlational study. Chiropr Osteopat. 2008 Mar 13;16:1

  10. Anjum S, Mahmood S, Raza A. Effect of Caffeine Intake on Mastalgia. :4.

  11. Eren T, Aslan A, Ozemir IA, Baysal H, Sagiroglu J, Ekinci O, et al. Factors Effecting Mastalgia. Breast Care. 2016 Jun;11(3):188–93.

Written by
Annalisa Hayes (she/her)

Copywriter at Tuune, Annalisa has worked for various pioneering health-tech startups and healthcare companies with purpose-led missions. Driven by empowering people to take control of their health, she helps make the science behind hormones accessible for our community, so they can make clued-up choices about their healthcare.

Medically reviewed by
Dr. Alejandra Elder Ontiveros, MD, PHD (she/her)

Ale is a PhysicianScientist with a doctoral degree in Development Biology and Embryology and is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar at UCSF. Ale believes that the union of academia and business can lead to transformative discoveries for women’s health.

Scientifically researched by
Hannah Durrant (she/her)

Hannah is a Biomedical Content Writer at Tuune, with a BSc in Biomedical Sciences from University College London. She is passionate about bringing together the scientific community and the general public by disseminating modern science via digestible, engaging and thought-provoking content.


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