Breast Tenderness During Pregnancy Vs. During PMS

Breast tenderness is more severe during pregnancy.
Breast tenderness is more severe during pregnancy. (Image: "Blue" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: Arwen Abendstern (Kate Weber) under the Creative Commons Attribution license.)

Breast tenderness is a painful symptom of both pregnancy and PMS. While some women do not experience painful breasts, many find that the tenderness that occurs during pregnancy is much worse than in PMS. Breast tenderness is primarily caused by hormonal changes that take place in the body, and during pregnancy there are heightened levels in hormones.

Causes During PMS

Breast tenderness during PMS occurs due to increased production of estrogen and progesterone. These hormones increase just before menstruation begins, causing growth of the milk glands in the breast. This results in painful tenderness or swelling. Pain begins just before menstruation and disappears either during or right after the menstruation is complete. The condition worsens if there is a family history of painful breast tenderness, or if your diet consists of high levels of fat or caffeine. (See References 1)

Causes During Pregnancy

After conception, milk ducts begin to form in the breast and they will increase in size due to fat buildup. This will cause the breasts to change shape and be tender, sore and swollen. The breasts will continue to grow throughout pregnancy, sometimes increasing two cup sizes. The increasing milk glands and extra weight will contribute to breast tenderness. Hormonal changes are also to blame, causing more blood flow and altering the breast tissue. (See References 2)


During PMS, the breasts feel dense and tender. The pain is anywhere from mild to severe. They may feel heavy and be sensitive to the touch. All of these symptoms occur during pregnancy as well, except with the added discomfort of sensitive nipples and itching. There will also begin to be veins visible on the breast as well as a bigger and darker areola, the area around the nipples. There may be noticeable bumps on the areola as well, as the breasts are preparing for breastfeeding.


The breast tenderness that is experienced during pregnancy and PMS are very similar. The tenderness resulting from pregnancy is usually more intense than the tenderness resulting from PMS, and it is combined with visible changes to the breast. Typically, if breast tenderness does not go away after two weeks, it is likely the result of pregnancy or a serious condition.


To relieve sore breasts during pregnancy, wear a bra with good support. Dietary changes will help as well. Limit your intake of fat and chocolate and eat high-fiber foods. For women who are not pregnant but still suffer from breast tenderness during menstruation, pain relievers may also be an option. Some doctors may prescribe birth control pills to help with hormonal balance. Taking water pills before menstruation may also help to reduce swelling.

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