1. You’re about to start your period. Your boobs change throughout your cycle, but when period is coming, they tend to get really swollen and sore. In some women, this continues while their period is actually happening—which can be a pain in the butt (or boob, technically speaking), but it’s also totally normal and not usually a cause for concern. Coming on and off the pill can have the same effect too.
2. You’re pregnant. Seeing as your boobs give you a heads up when you’re definitely not pregnant, it makes sense that they indicate when you are pregnant as well. In the beginning of your pregnancy, it’ll probably be like an extreme version of the feeling you get pre-period, but then they’ll also begin to grow, in terms of your actual cup size and the size of your areolas too.
3. You need a new bra… If your underwire is stabbing you, your boobs are spilling over, or you get back, neck, or shoulder pain on a regular basis, your body could be crying out for a new bra. Having a proper fitting and choosing a style that’s practical and supportive, rather than just pretty, will give your boobs the right provision, preventing aches and pains and—yes, improving your posture and silhouette to boot.
4. Or you need to wash it. We both know you’re not going to hand wash it, but it really does need washing all the same. Slipping into the same bra for weeks on end means sweat and bacteria collect in the fabric, which can cause fungal infections (yuck) and lead to that itchy, irritated skin you might be experiencing.
5. You’re losing weight. When you’re losing (or gaining) weight, your boobs are often the first area to respond. This is because they’re made up of a combination of breast tissue and fat tissue, and the higher your personal ratio toward the latter, the faster they’ll shrink or grow. You might also notice you get stretch marks during this process, and that’s no big deal—they might appear pretty red and angry at first, but as time passes, they’ll fade to nothing, and in the meantime, Bio Oil is a lifesaver.
6. You’re eating too much salt. Battling painful breast swelling even when it’s not that time of the month? Water retention may be to blame. Oh yes, that bloating little bastard’s not just limited to your tummy, and comfort-eating salty foods makes your booby symptoms even worse. Sad news: It’s good-bye to chips, but the silver lining is that when you cut down on processed options and choose fresh, whole foods instead you should see a fairly fast improvement.
7. You’re drinking too much coffee. Sorry to rain on another of your delicious parades, but a study by Duke University in California showed that 61 percent of women who cut out caffeine had reduced pain in their boobs, and previous research agrees that for an estimated 25 percent of women, it can stop it altogether. Caffeine causes the blood vessels in your boobs to dilate, leading to that swollen, heavy feeling, so if you suffer from regular breast pain and can bear to switch to decaf, it might be worth doing.
8. You’re overdoing it at the gym. “But exercise is good for me!” you say, and you’re not wrong—it’s just that your breasts don’t always agree. Not wearing an adequate sports bra and working out too hard are two really common causes of breast pain. In fact, 1 in 3 of us feel some degree of pain during exercise, and it gets worse the bigger your bust is. To prevent this, be sure to strap ’em up securely, and don’t be afraid to take a break, especially during a really high-impact workout—switching to yoga one day a week, for instance, can really help.
9. You’re deficient in iron. The connection comes from the fact that iron is essential for your thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that produces hormones that control the growth and metabolism of your body. In 2004, researchers found that adding iodine supplements to a woman’s diet significantly reduced breast pain in half of their participants—and while supplements may help your boobs throb a little less, you should still seek advice if you have any concerns about the health of your thyroid, as you may need medication or further investigation into the causes.
10. You might have PCOS. Polycystic ovary syndrome has many noticeable symptoms, including irregular periods, excess facial or body hair, oily skin and acne, and weight gain—but if you don’t already know that you have it, your breasts might be trying to tell you too. Women with PCOS are at increased risk of water retention and breast tenderness, so if that sounds like you and other solutions haven’t worked, it’s worth getting checked out just incase.
11. You need to see a doctor. The younger you are, the less likely it is, but breast cancer is still a very real possibility for every woman. As soon as you find any of the known symptoms—a lump in your breast or armpit, changes in the shape or size of your breasts, dimpling of the skin, etc.—you must speak to your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment could save your life.