Painful nipples can occur in many women at various moments of their lives, no matter what age they are. They may have different causes, such as puberty, PMS, menstruation, post-ovulation, pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause.

Although painful nipples are a quite common problem, and usually no object of concern, they may sometimes be symptoms of more serious health conditions. If you experience any nipple discharge, accompanied by a more severe and prolonged nipple pain and fever, consult your doctor to find out the cause.

Listed below are some of the most common reasons why your nipples may hurt.

Breast Development and Puberty

Breast development is one of the first signs of puberty, which is the time of growth and great hormonal changes in the girl’s body. The breast glands and the fat tissue begin to grow and the nipples start to expand and swell.

These hormonal and physical changes may cause breasts and nipples to become very sensitive and painful. When first menstrual periods occur, pain can even increase.

Ovulation

self breast exam

Ovulation usually occurs in the middle of a woman’s menstrual cycle, although it may vary from woman to woman. Many women experience breast and nipple soreness before, during and after ovulation, due to increased levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones.

1. During ovulation, the body begins to prepare itself for possible pregnancy by enlarging the mammary glands (glands that produce milk), and this can cause breast and nipple tenderness and soreness.

2. The raise of the post-ovulation progesterone hormone instead causes water retention in the body. The main reason for this is to prepare the uterus for possible conception and pregnancy and make it ready to host the embryo. In this period the uterus, in fact, becomes full of water and food. Unfortunately, the water is retained also in breast tissues, causing them to stretch and hurt. This is the reason nipples become sore and painful.


Pregnancy

pregnant woman in field

During pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone levels continue to increase and this also causes breasts and nipples to become more sensitive and painful.

In fact, high levels of estrogen cause breast enlargement by increasing the amount of breast tissue, while high progesterone levels make breasts fill up with water. All these changes help prepare breasts for lactation.

Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)

Estrogen dominance and progesterone deficiency are main causes of breast and nipple pain during the PMS. In this period, the progesterone levels in your body are not high enough to balance the estrogen hormones, and this may lead to many physical and psychological disorders.

Elevated levels of estrogen are, in fact, responsible for many PMS symptoms such as mood swings, bloating, cramps, headache, and breast and nipple tenderness.

Menopausal Syndrome

senior female patient

The menopausal syndrome is caused by wildly fluctuating hormone levels, which may lead to many physical and psychological conditions such as breast tenderness, irregular menstruation, hot flashes, headaches, weight gain, bloating, mood changes, etc.

Menopause occurs when the woman permanently stops menstruating and ovulating. In this period of her life, very little amounts of progesterone are produced in the body, while the estrogen overload is quite common. This can cause very painful breast and terribly sore nipples.

However, huge changes that occur in the woman’ body during later menopause will also lead to a significant decrease of estrogen levels, causing other physical and mental stresses that will disappear over time.

Other Factors that May Cause Your Nipples to Hurt

  • Jogger’s nipple:

Continuous movement of breasts, as well as the friction of fabric against the nipples may also cause dryness and soreness of nipples. You should always wear bras with proper support!

  • Breastfeeding
  • Fatty acids imbalance:

An imbalance of fatty acids within cells may lead to breast tissue sensitivity and cause breast pain. In fact, fatty acids imbalances can greatly affect hormonal levels in your body, which in turn can significantly increase breast tenderness.

  • Medications (contraceptives, hormone replacement drugs, and certain antidepressants)
  • Pain in the heart and chest
  • Stress

More serious causes:

More serious causes of nipple pain include specific health disorders such as certain inflammations and infections, and in more severe cases even Paget’s disease and cancer.

Paget’s disease of the breast, also known as Paget’s disease of the nipple, is a rare type of breast cancer that is characterized by soreness, redness, pain and itching of the nipples and the surrounding area. It is often associated with an underlying breast cancer and it rarely affects only the nipple. It is a rather rare disease, but if you however experience any of the above mentioned symptoms, you should consult your doctor immediately.

Hopefully this post has helped you learn a little bit more about possible causes of breast and nipple pain, as well as understand that it is a very common and normal problem among many women. In most cases, it is really no cause for worry. If you have any thoughts or concerns to share, please let us know in the comment section below.