Breastfeeding Pain: What to Expect + When to Seek Help

September 10, 2013
Breastfeeding Pain: What to Expect + When to Seek Help

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 few weeks 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 >>

GET RELIEF

Soothe sore nipples with Medela’s Tender Care Lanolin and Hydrogel pads, which are both safe for mom and baby.

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.

28 thoughts on “Breastfeeding Pain: What to Expect + When to Seek Help

  1. My baby is 3 1/2 months old
    I don’t breast feed
    But my left nipple is inverting ️an both boobs hurt bad

    Im super Worried
    Can anyone tell me what might b goin on?

    • Hi Kristal – We recommend reaching out to your health care provider, he or she should be able to provide more information. Hope you’re feeling better soon!

  2. My baby now has 2 teeth. I read that as the teeth emerge the baby’s sick pattern can change. I have sore and cracked nipples, causing one to bleed. What should I do?

  3. My baby isn’t 3 days old, she was identified as tongue tied but while in hospital she appeared to be latching well and it was not painful, now it is so painful and gets worse throughout the feed, the initial latch is painful but it seems to improve a little but then after a few minutes the pain increases and continues to increase to the point I end up crying while feeding. My breasts are now very swollen and sore all the time but still not leaking milk yet. And since becoming swollen my baby is struggling to latch on, I now have to hold my breast up while feeding otherwise she looses her latch straight away. I have ended up giving her some formula because she couldn’t latch and was getting very worked up I don’t know if this is because they are so swollen or because she can sense my reluctance as much as I’m trying to just keep going.
    Please help I was unable to feed my first baby and I really want it to work this time

    • Hi Amanda — Please reach out to our lactation consultant at bit.ly/AskTheLC. She’ll be happy to hear exactly what you’ve been experiencing and give you free, one-on-one advice based off of these experiences. Thank you and stay strong, mama. 💛

  4. My little one had her tongue tie released, however, I still feel that my boobs are being pinched during breastfeeding, and she is often still very hungry after 45 mins to an hour on the breast.

    on the outside, it ‘looks’ like she is latched on properly (ie chin on boob, mouth opened wide with more areola showing at the top of her lip and barely any below…..could it be a sucking problem?

    • Hi Cadence — Thanks for reaching out about this. Our lactation consultant will be happy to offer you free, one-on-one advice tailored to what you’re going through. Please contact her via email at bit.ly/AskTheLC. Thanks and have a great day!

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