If you're trying to conceive, you've probably already used an ovulation calculator and tracked your dates on an app to help you get to know your menstrual cycle and when best to get baby-making. But did you know that your body may also offer its own indications that you're ovulating? That's why it's helpful to swot up on ovulation symptoms, to help give yourself the best chance of conceiving.
If you've noticed that you're experiencing breast pain, you may be wondering if this is a sign that you're ovulating. We spoke to Dr Shazia Malik, Consultant Gynaecologist and Obstetrician at The Portland Hospital (part of HCA Healthcare UK), to find out more.
Effects of ovulation on your body
Ovulation symptoms can include:
• Light bleeding or spotting
• Increased sex drive
• Changes to vaginal discharge
• Sore nipples and breasts
While it's helpful to take note of these symptoms to help work out when you're ovulating, signs can vary and may be side effects of other things, so it's worth monitoring these alongside something like an ovulation test kit.
How common is breast pain during ovulation?
Breasts, and specifically nipples, can feel tender and sore around ovulation. This pain can occur at various times throughout your cycle but is most commonly caused by the hormonal changes when the egg is released from the ovary. The pain will differ from person to person, with the extent of the discomfort ranging from mild to severe.
How is breast pain related to ovulation?
Every woman is different, but generally, it is common to experience some degree of breast pain during ovulation. Sore breasts tend to be an indication of an increase in oestrogen and a sign that the body is at its most fertile. If anovulation occurs (anovulation happens when an egg doesn't release from your ovary during your menstrual cycle), and there is a hormonal imbalance between progesterone and oestrogen, this can also cause sore breasts.
Causes of breast pain during ovulation
The changing hormone levels responsible for ovulation typically cause sore nipples and tender breasts. Pre ovulation, oestrogen levels are higher than normal, which for some women can stimulate the breast tissue, resulting in breast pain.
Breast pain can also occur after ovulation when the oestrogen levels drop, and progesterone levels rise.
Breast pain ovulation symptoms
Breasts can be sore for various reasons, however, if you experience the following symptoms around halfway through your menstrual cycle (approximately day 14), then you might be experiencing pain due to ovulation:
• Breast sensitivity and tenderness
• Nipple sensitivity
• Swollen and heavy breasts
• Underarm sensitivity and tenderness
It is important to seek medical advice if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above for a prolonged period of time, if symptoms are new to you, or if symptoms are severe. It is usually nothing to be concerned about, but it is worth speaking to a medical professional if you are concerned.
Over-the-counter medications, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can help to reduce painful breasts. Applying painkilling gel over the tender areas can also help to provide more immediate respite from the pain. Comfort is also key, wearing a properly fitted bra and comfortable clothes to sleep in can help ease the discomfort.
Please see a GP if the breast pain is not improving and the painkillers are not helping, or if there is a chance you might be pregnant as painful or tender breasts can occur during pregnancy.
How long do your breasts stay sore after ovulation?
Breast pain typically begins around the time that the progesterone levels peak, this is usually about a week before menstruation. Although every woman’s cycle is different, breast pain may occur around day 21 if experiencing a 28-day cycle. As hormone levels decrease and return to normal, the pain should subside.
What else can cause breast pain?
While you may be hopeful that the breast pain you are experiencing is to do with ovulation, there are other potential factors to consider. These include:
Pregnancy - Breast changes, such as tenderness or swelling, are one of the first early signs of pregnancy. Other symptoms include sickness, tiredness and a missed period.
Breastfeeding - Experiencing breastfeeding pain when feeding your little one is very common, especially when you first start. This may be due to the latch, positioning, a blocked duct or inverted nipples. Breast pain while breastfeeding can also be down to an infection known as mastitis.
Menstrual cycle - Leading up to your period, you may notice that you have tender breasts or nipples.
Skin problems - Certain skin conditions like eczema, can cause dry skin that can become irritated, potentially resulting in sore boobs.
How to distinguish breast pain from pregnancy or ovulation
Symptoms of ovulation can appear very similar to those experienced throughout the stages of early pregnancy. Please note, as the differences are very subtle, it’s important to remember that these differ from woman to woman.
Breast pain during ovulation:
• Tenderness and swollen breasts tend to occur throughout the latter part of ovulation.
• The pain can range from mild to severe, but the pain tends to be the most severe just before ovulation.
• The breast can feel lumpy, dense, and tender but symptoms usually improve immediately after ovulation has ended.
Breast pain during pregnancy:
• Breasts might feel sore, tender, fuller and heavier.
• These symptoms will usually happen 1-2 weeks after conception and will last longer than symptoms experienced during ovulation. Whereas in ovulation the progesterone levels reduce, in pregnancy this hormone continues to rise throughout the course of the pregnancy.