Why Do My Boobs Feel Full and Painful?

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If your breasts feel full and painful, it could be a sign of engorgement. This happens when your breasts produce too much milk, and the nipples become firm and hard.

Eat foods with high amounts of water to help you feel full. Choose foods like watermelons, oranges and leafy vegetables. Also, take time to chew your food more so your stomach can send satiety signals.

1. You’re pregnant

It’s no secret that the body goes through a lot while preparing to grow another human. And while everyone experiences pregnancy differently, the onset of sore breasts is typically one of the first (and earliest) signs of an expecting mama.

The heaviness and tenderness of your boobs in early pregnancy are often the result of hormone changes that occur as you begin to produce milk for your baby. Your nipples will start leaking a watery fluid called colostrum, which gradually turns into mature milk over the course of three to five days. This period of intense fullness and heaviness is known as physiological engorgement.

In some cases, however, your boobs may feel full and heavy even if you aren’t pregnant (or, as is more likely, have no children). This could be because of an increased level of estrogen or progesterone in the body, which can lead to fluid retention.

Or, your nipples could be feeling full and tingly because of PMS or other symptoms that overlap with the symptomatic experience of pregnancy. This is known as pseudocyesis and occurs when a woman believes she’s pregnant (or has similar symptoms to pregnancy) but isn’t actually. If you are unsure whether or not your boobs feel sore because of pregnancy or something else, consult with your medical provider for more information and a diagnosis.

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2. You’re breastfeeding

On average, breastfeeding moms feel a little sore, full and tight in their nipples after the birth of their baby. This is due to the fact that your breasts are pumping out milk and there’s extra blood flow in the area to help the process. However, this sensation usually subsides once your body learns how much milk your baby needs to feed from each one.

Occasionally, your breasts may feel a lot fuller than usual, and this is also known as “breast engorgement.” This feeling is triggered when your body produces more milk than your baby requires. Often, you will notice this around the 2nd or 3rd day after birth and it usually lasts a few days.

When you feel a lot of pressure in your breasts, it’s important to try and empty the excess fluids as quickly as possible by either feeding your baby or using a manual pump or a breast pumping device. By doing this, you will reduce the chances of getting a painful, clogged milk duct which can be uncomfortable and even dangerous for your baby.

If you’re having trouble emptying your breasts, try to nurse more frequently and lay back, as this makes it easier for the fluids in your breast to move around. You can also use a warm compress or massage your nipples gently to release the excess fluids.

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3. You’re engorged

Breast engorgement happens when your breasts feel hard, heavy and painful — like they’re ready to burst. This is normal, especially in the first few days after giving birth. Breasts become engorged when they produce enough milk to fill them up and the hormone changes that occur after delivery make them swell.

The best way to prevent breast engorgement is to feed your baby regularly, at least 8 times per day. This ensures that your body is getting the nutrients it needs and helps keep your milk supply flowing (and the engorgement down).

Your breasts are likely to become engorged again as they transition from producing colostrum into breastmilk. This usually occurs in the first few days after your baby’s birth, but can happen anytime you start breastfeeding. You may also experience engorgement if your baby sleeps through nursing sessions or starts eating solid foods, which lowers your supply.

Symptoms of engorgement include tender, swollen and hard nipples that feel tight or lumpy and look up to a few cup sizes larger than they should. You may also see visible veins protruding from the surface of your breasts, which can be painful and cause your skin to appear shiny. You can try a few different things to ease your discomfort, such as expressing some milk or using reverse pressure to soften the nipples before nursing.

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4. You’re experiencing fibrocystic breast changes

Many women experience fibrocystic breast changes, which is the medical term for areas of lumpy and tender breast tissue. They often feel rope-like or rubbery, and can also be painful. These changes are due to fluctuating hormone levels in your body. They can occur at any time but are most common in women of childbearing age. Symptoms can include breast pain and discomfort that gets worse before your menstrual period or the formation of cysts in your nipple. Cysts are fluid-filled, round or oval lumps that can be felt and are usually painful. These symptoms are caused by monthly hormonal fluctuations and don’t increase your risk of cancer.

If you are experiencing fibrocystic breast changes it’s important to see your doctor for a clinical breast exam. Your doctor will feel (palpate) your breasts, neck and underarm lymph nodes to check for abnormal changes. You may also have an ultrasound to help confirm the diagnosis. If the fibrocystic changes are causing pain and tenderness, you can try to relieve the symptoms by wearing a well-fitted bra both day and night, applying heat or taking over-the-counter pain medication with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Avoiding caffeine is also a good idea as it can trigger fibrocystic breast symptoms.

If you have fibrocystic breast changes it’s still important to perform regular breast self-exams and to get annual screening mammograms if you are over 40. You can also help prevent uncomfortable symptoms by drinking plenty of water, wearing a supportive bra and exercising regularly.