breastfeeding pain

Breastfeeding Pain

woman wincing in pain from breastfeeding

By Samantha Sorden

Establishing a breastfeeding routine is extremely important for both you and your baby, though it’s not always easy. Only 14 percent of infants born in 2006 were breastfed exclusively for the first six months, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Women discontinue breastfeeding for a number of reasons, especially if they experience pain during feeding. Most of the time, breastfeeding pain stops completely once a routine is established. In the meantime, apply a warm water compress or tea bag to effectively relieve sore nipples. Lanolin creams also provide relief for cracked nipples and chapped skin.

If you continue to experience pain while breastfeeding, speak with a lactation consultant. There are a number of issues that could cause your breastfeeding pain.


The average human has somewhere between 2 and 10 million bacteria just between the fingertip and elbow. No wonder bacterial infections like mastitis can develop in your breast tissue if you have cracked nipples. Bacteria enter through cracks in your nipples and cause the breast tissue to swell, pushing on the milk ducts.

Breastfeeding women who suffer from mastitis may experience pain, breast lumps, breast enlargement on one side, fever and flu-like symptoms including nausea and vomiting, itching, nipple discharge that may contain pus, changes in nipple sensation, swelling, tenderness, redness and warmth in breast tissue, and/or tender or enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit.

To relieve these irritating symptoms, apply a warm moist compress to the infected breast tissue for 15 to 20 minutes four times a day. Your physician may also prescribe antibiotics, which are usually effective and help clear the infection quickly. You may continue breastfeeding or pumping while receiving treatment, but make sure to get some rest.

If you continue to experience symptoms after taking antibiotics, seek medical attention. Sometimes an abscess can develop in severe infections. In this case, the abscess needs to be drained and you should temporarily stop breastfeeding to give your body time to heal.

To avoid mastitis all together, you should prevent nipple irritation and cracking so bacteria cannot sneak inside your breast tissue. Products like Fairhaven Health’s Nipple Nurture Balm are designed to soothe, protect and heal sore, cracked nipples. Proper feeding techniques and good hand washing before feeding or pumping can also prevent the spread of bacteria. You should feed or pump often to prevent engorgement and completely empty breast milk during each feeding.

Raynaud’s Phenomenon

Raynaud’s phenomenon, first described by Maurice Raynaud in 1862, affects approximately 20 percent of women of childbearing age.

Cold temperatures can cause blood vessel spasms in breastfeeding women, limiting blood flow to the nipple. Your nipple may turn white, commonly referred to as blanching; it may even turn blue, red or purple due to the sudden loss of blood flow, also known as vasospasm. The loss of blood flow results in shooting or burning pain throughout the breast. These symptoms are often mistaken for Thrush, a parasitic fungus that can infect the nipple and areola.

To avoid these symptoms, make sure you stay warm and bundled up, and avoid nicotine and caffeine because they may trigger symptoms. Some people say that herbal medicines, exercise and dietary supplements may help alleviate symptoms, but many women need immediate relief in order to continue breastfeeding successfully. Your physician may prescribe Nifedipine, a calcium channel blocker, which helps increase blood flow and is safe for breastfeeding moms.

Damage from Pumping

Many women use breast pumps because they are returning to work, will be away from their baby for an extended period of time, or to help with pain relief. However, improper use of a breast pump can damage the nipple, cause severe pain and issues with milk release.

When using a breast pump, you should increase the suction of the pump slowly after milk expression has begun. If pumping is painful, decrease the suction power slightly. Too much suction power can injure your nipple and milk release may be difficult.

Painful pumping may also occur if your flanges (funnels) do not fit properly. During a pumping session, your nipple moves back and forth in the flange so there should be a small amount of air space around your nipple. At least half of women that use breast pumps need a different size flange - most of the time they need a bigger one.

The size of your flange depends on the width of your nipple. You will need a larger flange if your nipple is as wide as a nickel. If the flange is too small, you may experience sore nipples because your nipple drags on the inside of the tunnel as it moves back and forth. If you have a narrow nipple, you will probably need smaller flanges. If the flange is too big, you may see that the tunnel starts to pull your breast tissue and your areola may be irritated.

Breast pain can still occur even if you think you’re doing everything right. To avoid pain during pumping, apply 1-2 drops of vegetable oil to help lubricate the nipple. Apply a lanolin cream once you finish pumping.

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