What can cause a sensitive breast?

Woman with breast sensitivity explaining symptoms to doctor

By Zawn Villines   

Reviewed by Valinda Riggins Nwadike

Breastfeeding Breast injury
Muscle injury Cyclic breast pain Pregnancy Benign lumps Breast cancer Seeing a
doctor Summary

Breast sensitivity is not
necessarily harmful, and there are several different potential causes. However,
sensitivity can sometimes be a sign of an underlying condition.

The breasts are complex
structures that change as a result of monthly hormonal shifts, pregnancy,
breastfeeding, and aging. Many people experience breast sensitivity, which can
increase the likelihood of breast pain. One study found that 51.5 percent of
women reported experiencing breast pain at times.
Breast sensitivity can be
beneficial, for example, by increasing pleasure during sexual activity and
encouraging people to protect their breasts. For some, however, one breast can
become more sensitive than the other. This symptom may cause concern, and it
can sometimes indicate a health problem.
In this article, we explore
some of the possible causes of a sensitive breast and discuss when to see a


Breastfeeding causes a number
of changes in the breasts. Some people report increased sensitivity in one or
both of the breasts.
If one breast suddenly feels
more sensitive than the other breast, or both are more sensitive than usual,
possible causes can include:

Blocked milk duct

Milk ducts can become blocked
if they do not drain properly during breastfeeding. Symptoms of a blocked duct
may include:

  • a small lump in the affected
  • sensitivity
  • pain
  • tightness
  • a burning sensation
It is necessary to relieve a
blocked duct as soon as possible to prevent mastitis.
People can drain a blocked
duct by continuing to breastfeed or pump as usual. Massaging the breast before
or during breastfeeding can encourage milk to flow through the duct.
Some people also find that
changing breastfeeding positions helps facilitate a better latch, which can
help drain the duct.


Mastitis is a breast infection
that most commonly occurs due to a blocked milk duct. The infection can cause
the breast to become painful, red, and swollen. Some people also feel sick and
develop a fever.
Individuals with mastitis
should continue breastfeeding with both breasts and massage the affected breast
to drain it completely. Warm compresses can help relieve the pain.
A doctor can prescribe
antibiotics if the infection does not clear on its own. It is usually safe to
continue breastfeeding while taking this medication.

Milk bleb

A milk bleb is a white dot on
the nipple or areola that may resemble a blister. Blebs can sometimes be very
sensitive to the touch.
Milk blebs often occur along
with a blocked duct or mastitis. To treat a bleb, a person should continue
breastfeeding or pumping as usual and massage the breast. Applying a warm
compress can help alleviate pain.

Other changes

The breasts can change a lot
during breastfeeding. One breast may feel different from the other depending on
how recently the person has expressed milk from each breast.
As the breast fills with milk,
some people may experience pain, swelling, or sensitivity. During letdown,
which is the release of milk, it is possible to feel unusual tingling or
electrical sensations in the breast.

Breast injury

An injury to one breast can
cause sensitivity, especially if swelling occurs. Some other signs of a breast
injury can include redness, nipple discharge, and pain.
Breastfeeding can sometimes
cause minor breast or nipple injuries. Other injuries can include blows, cuts,
and scrapes to the breast.
Minor injuries tend to heal on
their own, but applying a warm compress may help with pain and swelling.

Muscle injury

The breasts sit above the
pectoral muscles, so pain or sensitivity in these muscles may feel as though it
is coming from the breasts. Injuries to the pectoral muscles can cause sharp,
shooting pains or a dull ache.
Common causes of these
injuries include straining or overusing the chest muscles, particularly when
doing sports or heavy lifting. Gently massaging these muscles or applying ice
or heat may provide relief from pain and sensitivity.

Cyclic breast pain

Some people experience cyclic
pain or sensitivity that changes during their menstrual cycle. Cyclic pain
relates to shifting hormone levels.
A person may notice that their
breasts feel swollen, sensitive, or painful in the days before their period.
These symptoms usually occur
in both breasts, but it is possible that they will be more intense in one breast
than in the other.


Hormonal changes during
pregnancy may cause increased breast sensitivity. As with cyclical breast pain,
this sensitivity usually happens in both breasts. However, some women may find
that one breast or nipple is more sensitive than the other.

Benign lumps

Many people develop one or
more benign lumps in their breasts at some point during their lives. Benign
means that these lumps are not cancerous.
The lumps may make the breasts
feel full, sore, or sensitive. The sensitivity may be constant, or it may
change over time.
Some common types of benign
lump that can develop in the breasts include fibroadenomas and cysts.
Fibroadenomas are thick,
fibrous growths that can form in one or both breasts. These growths may feel
rubbery or hard to the touch. Although they are often painless, fibroadenomas
can sometimes cause tenderness or pain.
Breast cysts are round or oval
sacs of fluid that may feel sensitive or tender. Cysts can vary in size and may
become larger and more painful just before a person has their period.
Benign breast lumps do not
require treatment unless they are causing pain or discomfort. Some women may
find that symptoms improve if they avoid foods or beverages containing
It is essential to see a
doctor about any new lumps that develop in the breasts or any other noticeable
changes. As benign lumps in the breast can make it harder for a person to detect
other growths or changes, a doctor may recommend more frequent breast exams or

Breast cancer

Sensitivity in one breast can
occasionally be a warning sign of breast cancer. However, pain or sensitivity
on its own is unlikely to be due to breast cancer.
According to the American
Cancer Society, a new lump or mass in the breast is the most common symptom of
breast cancer.
Other symptoms that can
indicate breast cancer include:

  • changes in the size or shape
    of one breast
  • skin changes in one breast
  • new or unusual discharge from
    the breasts
  • swelling in the breast
  • the nipple turning inward
People with these symptoms
should see a doctor as soon as possible. Breast cancer is highly treatable,
especially when a doctor diagnoses it early enough.
The overall 5-year relative
survival rate for breast cancer is 90 percent. This statistic means that people
with breast cancer are 90 percent as likely to live for at least 5 years after
diagnosis as those without the condition.
For people with breast cancer
that has not spread outside the breast, the 5-year relative survival rate is 99

When to see a doctor

It is generally safe for
people to wait a few days to see if breast sensitivity goes away. However, it
is important to see a doctor immediately for symptoms of a severe infection,
such as intense pain, redness, swelling, and fever.
If breast sensitivity makes it
difficult for a person to breastfeed a baby, they should seek advice from a
doctor or lactation consultant as soon as possible.
People may also wish to
consider consulting a doctor about breast sensitivity if:

  • it gets worse or becomes
  • it comes and goes with no
    apparent cause
  • there is also swelling,
    redness, a lump, or nipple discharge
  • it occurs alongside a change
    in milk supply
  • a recent injury to the breast
    or the chest muscles does not improve

Breast sensitivity is not
usually a sign of a serious condition. Possible causes of sensitivity can
include hormonal changes, injuries, cysts, and breastfeeding issues.
Wearing a supportive bra that
does not irritate the breasts can help with many types of breast pain. Some
breastfeeding women find that avoiding tight clothes and wearing bras that do
not contain an underwire can be beneficial.
It is advisable to see a
doctor for breast sensitivity that gets worse or does not go away. People who
notice a new lump or mass in their breasts should see a doctor as soon as

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.