I am a nervous nelly. During my pregnancies, I evaluate every feeling, every symptom, every roll and kick from every possible angle, and I know that I'm not alone in that. One of the more infuriating phenomena of pregnancy is how frequently symptoms shift and change. Seriously, they're downright fickle and it gives many pregnant people the fits. Take for instance breast discomfort. Does breast tenderness come and go in early pregnancy? Because it's a little disconcerting.
I contacted Michelle Wong, MD, an OB-GYN with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth and UT Physicians in Houston to find out. She confirms for Romper that “breast tenderness during pregnancy is caused by changing hormonal fluctuations. It can cause increased nipple sensitivity and increased pain due to changes in the size of breast tissue."
She says that this is incredibly common during pregnancy, with many pregnant persons' breasts growing significantly during their pregnancy. But Wong notes, "Since the hormones fluctuate throughout the entire pregnancy, tenderness can occur during all three trimesters and can come and go throughout the pregnancy."
Any general fluctuating symptoms in early pregnancy are absolutely normal, and breast tenderness certainly falls in that category, according to The Archives of Medical Science. The issue, as with everything during pregnancy, comes down to hormones, just like Wong says. The hormones in your body undergo constant shifts, and they ebb and flow during key points of your pregnancy. This can have many unexpected consequences from waxing and waning sexual interest, fluxes in depression, and yes, the relative tenderness of your breasts, according to the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
The Journal of Clinical Nursing found that well over 75 percent of women experience some form of breast pain or tenderness during their pregnancy. This is especially the case in early pregnancy, when breast tenderness is often the first symptom women notice.
Alicia Johnson, a certified nurse midwife at Lone Tree OB-GYN in Colorado tells Romper that while breast tenderness "is much more common in the first trimester, the breast continues to grow throughout the pregnancy, and actually breasts go through their last stage of life development when a woman is pregnant for the first time."
No one tells you that pregnancy is your boobs' last trip down puberty, but here we are. One day, you have barely B cups. The next? You'd think your body had been re-drawn to comic book proportions. It is jarring.
On top of that, it can feel like your breasts are incredibly flaky, shifting emotions as much as you do during those long 40 weeks. "Every woman may experience these changes differently, depending on their own hormonal changes, and they may differ in each pregnancy," Wong says.
There may be days you might not be able to handle standing beneath the hot steam of the shower for the intense prickling and discomfort it might cause, and other days, it might feel pretty good. It's a balancing act, and you'll probably have to be careful about which bras you choose, and also remember that your breasts might not be as fun to handle in intimate situations. But this too shall pass. (Unless you breastfeed, and then you might still not want them to be played with. It's OK)
Wong notes that most breast tenderness is normal, but if you notice any lumps, redness, or bloody discharge, you should see your provider immediately. Otherwise, good luck, and happy bra shopping. (Soft bras without underwires are your friends if you don't mind a little less support.)
This post was originally published on July 19, 2018. It was updated on Aug. 7, 2019.