Aching, burning, bleeding, cracking, throbbing, peeling – all words you never want to use to describe your nipples or breasts! Unfortunately, many breastfeeding moms experience some sort of pain as they begin to nourish their baby. Although breastfeeding is one of the most natural things in the whole world, it isn’t always easy. Worst of all, pain can cause moms to stop breastfeeding, which is why it’s important to learn what pain means, find possible solutions, and know when to seek help.
CAUSES + PREVENTION
It’s common to experience pain when you’re beginning to breastfeed your little one. This tenderness is not serious and goes away within a short time. You’re both getting the hang of a totally new thing, and it can take a little while to find your groove.
Another cause of tenderness in the first weeks after birth is changing hormones. You might even experience cramping in your uterus during the first few days of breastfeeding – this is because nursing releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus contract and slows blood loss after delivery.
Most of the time, a poor latch is the cause of nipple pain. When your baby is latched correctly, the most sensitive part of your nipple is pulled deeply into their mouth. The easiest way to identify a shallow latch is by removing your baby and checking the shape of the nipple. If the nipple looks creased or drawn into a point, your baby may be pinching with their gums.
Your baby will suck extra-hard on your breast if the milk flow is pinched off due to a poor latch, if milk supply is low, or if the nipple is hard to draw in because of engorgement. This extra strong suction applied to such a small surface area can cause blistering. Tips for healing blisters and blebs >>
Sore nipples in later months may be related to sucking pattern changes in a teething baby. Tips for handling biting and teething >>
Plugged ducts can happen if you’re not emptying your breasts completely or often enough. If you have a plugged duct, you may notice a tender bump on your breast that feels warm and swollen. Tips for treating a plugged duct >>
Experiencing pain when using a breast pump? If your breast shields are too small, pumping can cause unneeded friction on your nipples. Tips for choosing a correctly fitted shield >>
Avoid bras made from synthetic materials – cotton is the most breathable and skin-friendly fabric. Keep bra pads and bras dry and allow air to circulate around your breasts whenever possible.
Multiple-hole breast shells like our SoftShells can help protect from further irritation by holding fabric off of sore nipples and allowing for better air circulation.
A nipple shield, when used under the guidance of a lactation professional, may also help you establish a good latch and help you continue breastfeeding.
Use your own milk – breast milk has healing properties and just a few drops can soothe cracks or other irritations.
Breastfeed on the least sore side first – babies tend to suck harder on the first breast, but fall into a more gentle rhythm in the later part of their feeding. Hungry babies also nurse vigorously, so make sure you’re breastfeeding frequently.
WHEN TO SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
Pain between feedings, pain that continues over the course of an entire feeding, or pain that lasts beyond a week means you should reach out to your health care provider or a Lactation Consultant.
Mastitis, an infection of the breast tissue, is a common but sometimes serious issue. Moms with mastitis typically notice swelling, redness, and pain, accompanied by flu-like symptoms such as nausea, fever, and sometimes vomiting. If you think you might have mastitis, contact your healthcare provider right away.
Injured nipples may also become infected with bacteria or yeast, which can slow healing and cause pain even when positioning and latch are corrected. A common yeast infection known as thrush can cause redness, irritation, or shooting pain in your nipples. If you suspect you or your baby have a thrush infection, contact your healthcare provider.
Soreness can also be caused by a tongue-tied little one. Tongue-tie is a medical condition in which the movement of the tongue is restricted by the band of tissue connecting the tongue to the floor of the mouth being too short and tight. Your doctor or a Lactation Consultant can help identify and treat tongue-tie.
Skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis or an allergic reaction to a lotion, soap, medication, or other product can also cause soreness. Your doctor can help you determine if an allergic reaction or skin condition is the cause of your pain.
Have you experienced pain while breastfeeding? Share your story + advice for other moms in the comments below.