Breast Tenderness in Pregnancy
Breast tenderness is one of the most common early symptoms of pregnancy. How long it lasts varies from woman to woman. In general, breast tenderness is common during both the first and last trimesters of pregnancy, due to the physical (and hormonal) changes the body is going through during those times. For some women, breast tenderness is never an issue. Others may experience breast tenderness for the duration of their pregnancy.
Breast Tenderness in the First Trimester
Breast tenderness is common during the first trimester of pregnancy, and it often is one of the earliest signs that a woman is expecting. It can appear as early as two to three weeks after conception. During the first few months of pregnancy, the body produces large amounts of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones cause breast changes. According to the Mayo Clinic, estrogen and progesterone prepare the breasts' milk ducts for milk production as early as the first month of pregnancy. This can cause the breasts to feel tender, tingly, heavy and full. The American Pregnancy Association reports that breasts may even feel hypersensitive during this time. In other words, a light touch may be enough to cause breast pain. For most women, this tenderness goes away as they enter the second trimester, though their breasts may still continue to grow in size.
Breast Tenderness in the Third Trimester
Like many other early-pregnancy symptoms, breast tenderness often returns during the third and final trimester of pregnancy. Around this time, the body begins producing large quantities of yet another hormone--prolactin. Prolactin stimulates the glands in the breasts to produce colostrum, the precursor to breast milk (which generally does not come in until after birth). As the milk glands become stimulated, the breasts continue to grow and may feel heavy and sore once again. In fact, the Mayo Clinic reports that by the end of pregnancy, a woman's breasts account for up to three pounds of the total weight gained.
Keeping Breast Tenderness in Check
While it may not be possible to avoid breast tenderness during pregnancy (after all, you can't control your hormones), there are a few things that might make the tenderness worse. One is wearing an ill-fitting bra. A supportive (and larger) bra can keep tenderness at a minimum. The Cleveland Clinic also suggests wearing bras made of natural fibers, and even wearing a bra overnight for support. Another factor that can increase breast tenderness is breast irritation. This can be minimized by avoiding the use of soap on the breasts, especially around the nipples. Cleveland Clinic suggests washing breasts gently, with water only, during pregnancy to decrease potential skin irritation.