6 Ways to Relieve 'Boob Cramps'

Just because breast discomfort during your period is normal doesn't mean it's any less unpleasant.

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If your breasts feel like they're achy, swollen, or extra-sensitive during that time of the month, don't worry: You're not imagining it, and it's very common.

In fact, 68 percent of women between the ages of 25 and 45 experience premenstrual breast discomfort, according to a 2015 survey conducted by Harris Poll.

"Pre-menopausal breast pain, also known as cyclical breast pain, is fairly common and is the result of a variety of physiological factors that lead to the expansion or retraction of various parts of the breast," says Lee P. Shulman, MD, chief of the division of obstetrics and gynecology-clinical genetics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

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It's still not totally clear what causes period-related breast pain in some women, but doctors do know that "period soreness" can be a result of fibrocystic breast changes — aka when breast tissue feels particularly lumpy or nodular — which more than half of all women experience at some point in their lives, according to Mayo Clinic. As hormone levels go up and down throughout the menstrual cycle, the lumpy breast tissue can change in size and thickness and cause breast pain or tenderness.

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"And these changes can scare the heck out of people, but are really not anything to be concerned about," Dr. Shulman says, adding that it's a totally normal reaction to the hormonal fluctuations that happen during your period.

6 Ways to Ease Breast Pain During Your Period

Making a few simple lifestyle adjustments can help reduce monthly breast tenderness:

Invest in better support. This one should be a no-brainer, because every lady knows better bras = happier boobs. So consider investing in some well-fitted, supportive bras, especially when it comes to sports bras. Having larger breasts that aren't properly supported can make the pain much worse, Shulman says.

Use a warm or cold compress. Applying a heating pad or a cold pack might provide some relief, as well. "I've had patients who've found improvement with both," Shulman says.

Watch your diet. Study findings go back and forth on this subject, but limiting caffeine intake and eating a low-fat diet with foods rich in vitamin E (think: nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils) may help reduce breast swelling, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Some early research also suggests that eating flaxseed might help ease breast pain, as well.

Try evening primrose oil. Your mother may have mentioned this before — some women swear by this supplement for breast discomfort. More research is needed to say for sure, but it's possible that evening primrose oil affects the balance of fatty acids in your cells, which in turn may relieve achy breasts, according to Mayo Clinic.

Consider taking birth control pills. If the pain is frequent and severe, you might want to look into going on a combination hormonal contraceptive. "The reason it works — whether it's a pill, a ring, etc. — is because it stops a woman from ovulating," Shulman explains, which means the hormonal changes that affect the breast tissue are no longer an issue.

Quit smoking. Yes, quitting smoking affects everything, including how your breasts feel. The research is mixed, but experts think the inflammation caused by smoking may exacerbate breast discomfort.

When Breast Pain Isn't Normal

Mastalgia, which is the clinical term for general breast pain, is divided into two categories: cyclical and noncyclic breast pain (aka not connected with your menstrual cycle). If your breast discomfort clearly changes during your menstrual cycle, it's cyclical mastalgia and is most likely harmless (albeit unpleasant). But if the pain is constant or lasts longer than a couple menstrual cycles, you should talk to your doctor.

Most importantly, if you're suffering from either unilateral or bilateral (one or both) breast tenderness during your post-menopausal years, Shuman strongly suggests making an appointment with your gynecologist.

"[Noncyclic breast pain] is a very different entity, one that potentially brings with it more concern," he says. "It is also far less common."

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