Many women describe a tingling sensation in their breasts, especially around their periods, early in pregnancy, or if they are breastfeeding or taking drugs with hormones. The feeling, which can be in one breast or both, can resemble “pins and needles” on the skin or have burning characteristics. Some also refer to it as a “zinging” pain. It may be localized to the nipples or be felt in the fleshy areas of the breast.

The tingling is rarely associated with breast cancer, but you should get checked out immediately if the feeling interrupts your normal activities or you experience any of the following breast cancer warning signs:

According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, tender, swollen, or even tingly breasts and nipples are some of the earliest signs of pregnancy, occurring even before a period is missed. Breastfeeding moms also report tingling nipples.

Hormonal fluctuations

Estrogen and progesterone, the female hormones that surge during pregnancy, help stimulate milk ducts and increase blood flow to the breasts, producing tingling sensations. The feeling is most pronounced in the first trimester, as breast glands and tissues are first stretched. Breasts are full of nerve endings and may also feel warmer, fuller, and more sensitive to the touch.

Mastitis

Mastitis is a breast infection that can occur in breastfeeding women, usually in the first 6 to 12 weeks after giving birth, according to the Mayo Clinic. The infection stems from stagnant milk clogging a duct or from bacteria that is introduced into the breast through a crack in the nipple. In can produce a tingling or burning sensation during feedings, and even when not nursing. Other symptoms are:

  • fever
  • warm, red, or swollen breast
  • fatigue

Thrush

Thrush is a fungal infection caused by candida and can produce sharp, burning pain in one or both breasts of a nursing mom. According to the U.K.’s National Health Service, the pain can last up to an hour following a feeding. Thrush often occurs after you’ve taken antibiotics (which can disrupt the body’s delicate balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria) or when the candida enters the breast through cracks on the nipples or skin. It can also produce:

  • shiny and flaky nipples and areola (the darkened area around the nipple)
  • sore, tender breast lumps

Let-down reflex

Many nursing women feel a tingling in the breast when the baby latches on and begins to suck, causing milk to flow or “let down.”

Nipple vasospasm

This is a condition in which the blood vessels of the nipple constrict in response to breastfeeding. It can produce a burning, needle-like pain during and between feedings. It’s more likely to occur:

  • in cold weather
  • with a baby who doesn’t latch properly
  • in women who have Raynaud’s phenomenon, an autoimmune disorder; in addition to the constriction and pain, a woman might notice a temporary blanching of her nipples

While breast tingling is often associated with hormonal issues, it can have other causes as well.

Paget disease of the breast

This rare type of breast cancer affects the skin of the nipple and areola and can produce:

  • tingling, flaky, itchy, flattened nipples
  • nipple discharge

Ruptured silicone breast implant

One of the symptoms of a ruptured implant, as reported by the Food and Drug Administration, is breast tingling. Other signs are:

  • decreased size of breasts
  • numbness in breast
  • uneven appearance of breast
  • hard knots in breast

Shingles

If you notice a burning, blistering rash on your breast, chances are you have shingles. This is a viral infection (caused by the same virus that produces chickenpox) that can lie dormant in your body for decades. The infection invades the sensory nerves of the skin and, in addition to pain, tingling, and a rash, can cause:

  • fever
  • fatigue
  • joint pain
  • chills
  • nausea

Breast surgery

In some cases, surgery on a breast (for example, a mastectomy or lumpectomy) can damage nerves in the area, resulting in pain or tingling in the chest wall. According to the American Cancer Society, up to 30 percent of women getting a mastectomy develop what’s called post-mastectomy pain syndrome. Other symptoms include:

  • numbness
  • itchiness
  • shooting pain that can start in the chest wall and travel to the armpit and arm

Costochondritis

This is an inflammation of the cartilage that attaches a rib to the breastbone. The pain, which comes from the chest wall and not the breast, is often described as sharp. Arthritis and physical strain might be to blame. The pain of costochondritis often occurs on the left side and intensifies with deep breathing or coughing.

Medications

Because they can affect levels of circulating hormones (which, in turn, can affect breast tenderness and sensitivity), certain medications may make the breasts feel tingly. These drugs include:

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction to skin creams, soaps, or laundry detergent that can produce a rash that leaves your skin feeling:

  • prickly
  • itchy
  • swollen
  • uncomfortable

Breast pain (called mastalgia) generally falls into two categories. Cyclic breast pain is caused by the normal rise and fall of your sex hormones (namely estrogen and progesterone) that occurs with your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and even the onset of menopause. The other type of pain is breast pain that is unrelated to hormones, called noncyclic breast pain. Knowing the difference between the two is important in terms of treatment.

Cyclic symptoms

  • usually begin a few days before your period starts
  • occur in both breasts
  • produce a dull, heavy, achy pain
  • can cause breast lumps
  • diminish once your flow begins and during pregnancy and menopause
  • occur even if you aren’t having your period
  • often affect just one breast
  • can feel tight or burning
  • may be related to an event or injury

Noncyclic symptoms

If you don’t notice any breast changes like lumps or skin changes, and if your pain is intermittent or mild, you can try managing the discomfort at home. Remedies include:

Ask your doctor for recommendations and guidelines before trying home remedies.

Seek medical attention if you notice breast changes such as:

  • lumps
  • skin dimpling
  • nipple discharge
  • uneven appearance in breasts
  • severe, long-lasting pain that interferes with your normal activities
  • pain related to breastfeeding that is making feeding difficult

Breast tingling is a common sensation, especially in women who are menstruating, newly pregnant or breastfeeding. In most cases the cause is not serious and is often linked to normal hormonal fluctuations. But don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor if the pain is intense, unrelated to hormonal events or is accompanied by other breast changes.