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Breast Tenderness and Pain—Is Your Coffee to Blame?

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Why are my boobs sore? Is coffee the reason? via Unsplash

May I ask you a personal question? Do your breasts hurt?

If you answered “yes,” you are not alone. According to research, many women say "my boobs hurt" or "my boobs are sore" at some point or another. For many of us, this pain will come around menstruation, when breasts tend to be bigger and more sensitive anyway. But for other women, these uncomfortable feelings just don’t want to go away.

Since I asked the personal question it’s only fair that I answer it too so here goes—yes, they sure can and do! And I have a young son who loves to crawl up on my lap and too often I have to sort of move to one side to make sure he’s not bumping up too hard against “the girls”.

Not too long ago, I got to thinking about the situation and why breasts can so often get sore and painful for so many women, myself included. It struck me how when I was pregnant, rather than have the increased sensitivity and pain that so many women report during this time, mine actually felt better. Then I got to thinking—what, besides the pregnancy itself, was different during those two times I was expecting? And before long it hit me—in both pregnancies I almost completely eliminated caffeine.

This epiphany got me to thinking even more, and then it got me doing research. What I realized is that now that I’m a busy mom of two boys who works from home and tries to keep an average of about 25 plates in the air at all times, I have upped my caffeine intake more than ever. Just ask the friendly baristas at my neighborhood Starbucks—they’ll tell you. I love my caffeine and I have two big doses of it a day—at home in the morning, and at Starbucks literally every afternoon.

So could this increase in my beloved coffee be the reason for my sensitive girls? I got on the computer and did some research, and lo and behold, there is a direct connection between caffeine and breast tenderness.

For example, in a study conducted by researchers at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, 61 percent of women with breast pain had a reduction in breast tenderness when they cut out caffeine. Although the study was not completely conclusive, it seems like cutting back on caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea, and soda that contains caffeine wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Another article I found said that cyclic breast pain (or pain related to the menstrual cycle) can be made worse by certain foods and beverages and medications. Caffeine, they said, is one of the worst. Caffeine apparently contains a chemical called methylxanthine that causes blood vessels to dilate. This swelling can then cause the breasts to distend and become more painful. The article stressed that the effect that caffeine has on our breasts does not cause or lead to cancer, and that each woman has to weigh the discomfort against her love for coffee.

As much as I adore coffee, I think it’s time to cut back a bit, at least on the caffeine. Over the next few weeks I’ll gradually cut back on my regular coffee, substituting decaf instead for part of it. I’d like to see what happens if I halve my caffeine consumption, and I’ll be sure to let you all know what happens.

Add a Comment26 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

I'm menopausal and on HRT. I used to get breast tenderness all the time. I cut down my coffee because I have an anxiety disorder and I finally decided to stop pretending coffee wasn't making it worse. I gave up filter coffee altogether, and now have one cup of instant cappucino a day (withdrawal was pretty bad for a a few weeks - headache, sleeplessness, irritability). But I feel better for cutting down. And the breast tenderness has absolutely vanished. I didn't cut down caffeine for that reason, but it was a very welcome side-effect.

April 2, 2013 - 3:19pm

This is interesting...I've seen a lot of discussion of different risks and drawbacks associated with heavy caffeine use. I am male (and thus obviously not pregnant), so I can't comment about breast pain, but I have noticed that in general, on days in which I drink large amounts of caffeine, I notice aches and pains all throughout my body a lot more than I normally would. It is well-known that high doses of caffeine can greatly increase stress, and stress is not only universally hard on the body, but it also can make us feel pain and other uncomfortable sensations more intensely.

Do you have a link to the original study that this article was written about? I looked in google scholar and found a number of different articles relating to this topic, but most of them were substantially older than this article. At RateTea.net, we have been working on an article on tea and pregnancy, and this might be a relevant issue to add there if there are any solid studies on it. Women interested in reducing their caffeine intake during pregnancy might also want to read that article.

It is worth mentioning, for people who do feel a need for some sort of caffeine throughout the day, that tea offers a good low-caffeine alternative to coffee. The current scientific consensus, as we discuss in our article, and as is mentioned here in this article here on empowher, is that moderate (<200mg / day) caffeine intake during pregnancy is completely safe. Two cups of strong coffee can place you over this limit, but three or more cups of tea is safe, unless the tea is brewed exceptionally strongly. Also important, tea has also been shown to boost alertness equally well will coffee, even though it contains caffeine, because it also contains other alertness-boosting substances. See this study for more info about that.

I think the important thing here though is to practice moderation. An excess of anything is going to be unhealthy, whether you are pregnant or not. If you live a balanced lifestyle, without excess of caffeine or anything else, you have nothing to worry about!

August 3, 2010 - 11:38am

Hi! Thank you for your comment! I did see a decrease in pain from cutting back on caffeine. I confess that I'm drinking more caffeine again but my experiment did work. It's definitely worth a try I think--if it works for you too will you please let me know? thanks for reading the article!

July 14, 2010 - 10:20pm
EmpowHER Guest

I would like to know you results. Have you seen a decrease in pain from a decrease in caffeine consumption? I'm having the same problem and thus found your article. Thanks.

July 9, 2010 - 1:04pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

My doctor actually mentioned that my breast pain may be caused by consuming caffeine (black tea, chocolate, etc.). I am a big black tea drinker and had to readjust my routine, switch to herbal and decaffinated teas and cut chocolate from my diet :(. No pain with the new diet, however, it does come back every time I slip.

February 22, 2013 - 8:26pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I also have pain in and swelling above both breasts and pain at certain points in my body. This all goes away/stops when I drop the caffeine.

May 23, 2014 - 1:32pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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