Progesterone is one of the most important female fertility hormones. This hormone, in conjunction with the another female hormone, estrogen, are believed to be responsible for many of the changes women feel in their breasts throughout their lives, according to Johns Hopkins 1.
If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
Progesterone and The Menstrual Cycle
Progesterone is secreted by a temporary gland (the corpus luteum) that forms after ovulation during the second half of the menstrual cycle, according to Hormone.org 2. Progesterone prepares the lining of the uterus (endometrium) for the implantation of a fertilized egg. Progesterone also prompts the body to create milk glands in the breasts, per Johns Hopkins. This can cause swelling in the breasts as well as soreness and pain.
If a woman doesn't become pregnant, the corpus luteum breaks down and progesterone levels decrease. As a result, the uterus releases the endometrium, causing menstruation, per Hormone.org. Breast will also reduce in size.
- Progesterone is secreted by a temporary gland (the corpus luteum) that forms after ovulation during the second half of the menstrual cycle, according to Hormone.org for the implantation of a fertilized egg.
Progesterone and Fertility
Do Breasts Get Sore When Ovulating?
If a woman does become pregnant, the corpus luteum will continue to produce progesterone for about another 10 weeks, according to the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) 35. This stimulates further breast growth, per Johns Hopkins. As during the second half of the menstrual cycle, progesterone causes the formation of milk glands during pregnancy. This can cause breast soreness, swelling, and nipple tingling. After about 10 weeks, the placenta takes over the production of progesterone.
As described, progesterone is critical for successful conception. So much so that the National Infertility Association refers to progesterone as "the pregnancy hormone." But, for a variety of reasons, some women can struggle to conceive 4. Assisted Reproductive Technology such in-vitro fertilization (IVF) often requires progesterone hormone supplementation in the form of vaginal gels, inserts or injections 25. These can have a number of side effects including breast pain, swelling and tenderness. Other common side effects include headaches, mood changes, stomach discomfort and cramps, according to the University of Michigan 5.
Read more: Tips on Achieving Pregnancy at Age 38
- If a woman does become pregnant, the corpus luteum will continue to produce progesterone for about another 10 weeks, according to the University of California, San Francisco.
- As described, progesterone is critical for successful conception.
Progesterone and Birth Control
A form of progesterone-- progestin-- can also be used for birth control 26. There are two types of progestin birth control pills: A combination of estrogen and progestin and progestin-only, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists 6. Progestin-only pills are sometimes referred to as mini-pills.
Both estrogen/progestin and progestin-only pills can cause breast tenderness or swelling, according to Drugs.com. Other common side effects include fluid retention or weight gain, nausea, spotting between periods, and mood changes.
If you're worried about the side effects of birth control pills, discuss your concerns with your doctor. There are many contraceptive options, including birth control skin patches, injections, or vaginal rings.
Read more: The Side Effects of Stopping Birth Control
- A form of progesterone-- progestin-- can also be used for birth control 2.
- Both estrogen/progestin and progestin-only pills can cause breast tenderness or swelling, according to Drugs.com fluid retention or weight gain, nausea, spotting between periods, and mood changes.
Progesterone After Menopause
Menopause and Nipple Soreness
HRT may carry some risks. According to MedlinePlus.gov, these include:
- an increased chance of heart attack
- blood clots,
- breast cancer
However, there is controversy as to whether or not HRT is actually a risk factor for these conditions. The Cleveland Clinic notes that women who start HRT at in their 50's are less likely to be at risk conditions like heart disease versus women who start HRT in their 60's 7. Additionally, the Cleveland Clinic cites studies which found that HRT does not increase the risk of heart disease or breast cancer 7.
Is There A Progesterone-Cancer Link?
Roshni Rao, MD, Chief of the Breast Surgery Program at Columbia University Medical Center, tells LIVESTRONG.com that, "Most of the studies show that progesterone does not increase the risk of breast cancer 5. [However], there is a very small, increased risk with birth control pills, especially combination birth control [progestin and estrogen]," says Rao. But the risk is so small, Rao considers progesterone-related treatments to be safe. She says studies of progesterone on its own-- that is, without estrogen-- have not found a breast cancer risk. "The risk of being overweight and breast cancer is much, much, higher than birth control and breast cancer," says Rao.
- However], there is a very small, increased risk with birth control pills, especially combination birth control [progestin and estrogen]," says Rao.
Do Breasts Get Sore When Ovulating?
Menopause and Nipple Soreness
Normal Progesterone Levels During Breastfeeding
Do Birth Control Pills Increase or Decrease Estrogen Levels?
What Causes a Thickening Endometrial Stripe?
Causes of Post Menopausal Breast Pain
Signs & Symptoms of Uterine Fibroids Vs. Ovarian Cancer
Four Essential Hormones for Breast Development
Progesterone Deficiency Symptoms
What Is the Endometrial Stripe?
- Johns Hopkins: "Normal Breast Development and Changes"
- Hormone.org: "Progesterone and Progestins"
- University of California, San Francisco: "The Menstrual Cycle"
- The National Infertility Association: "Progesterone and Pregnancy: A Vital Connection"
- University of Michigan: "Progesterone Vaginal"
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "Progestin-Only Hormonal Birth Control"
- Cleveland Clinic:"Hormone Therapy"
- MedlinePlus.gov: "Estrogen and Progestin (Hormone Replacement Therapy)"
- Reed BG, Carr BR. The Normal Menstrual Cycle and the Control of Ovulation. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc. 2018
- Kumar, P., & Magon, N. (2012). Hormones in pregnancy. Nigerian Medical Journal : Journal of the Nigeria Medical Association, 53(4), 179–183. doi:10.4103/0300-1652.107549
- Norwitz ER, Caughey AB. Progesterone supplementation and the prevention of preterm birth. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2011;4(2):60–72. PMID: 22102929
- Macias, H., & Hinck, L. Mammary Gland Development. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews. Developmental Biology, 1(4), 533–557. 2012 doi:10.1002/wdev.35
- Regidor PA. Progesterone in Peri- and Postmenopause: A Review. Geburtshilfe Frauenheilkd. 2014;74(11):995–1002. doi:10.1055/s-0034-1383297
- Regidor PA. The clinical relevance of progestogens in hormonal contraception: Present status and future developments. Oncotarget. 2018;9(77):34628–34638. Published 2018 Oct 2. doi:10.18632/oncotarget.26015
- Chandra V, Kim JJ, Benbrook DM, Dwivedi A, Rai R. Therapeutic options for management of endometrial hyperplasia. J Gynecol Oncol. 2016;27(1):e8. doi:10.3802/jgo.2016.27.e8
- Backstrom T, Bixo M, Stromberg J. (2015). GABAA Receptor-Modulating Steroids in Relation to Women's Behavioral Health. Curr Psychiatry Rep.17(11):92 doi: 10.1007/s11920-015-0627-4
Melissa Lingohr-Smith is a freelance medical writer with over 10 years experience in research science, teaching and scientific writing. She has published scholarly articles, received grant funding in diabetes research and is experienced in biochemistry, molecular biology, endocrinology, physiology, toxicology, pharmacology, clinical studies and FDA approvals. She has a Ph.D. in pharmacology/toxicology.