Breastfeeding Pain – Causes and Solution

A mother breastfeeding her baby

Mothers learn to breastfeed as they progress through their journey of motherhood. Breastfeeding is enjoyable when it’s coupled with love, patience, and the right methodology. While mothers have challenges that include pain and discomfort, babies also experience discomfort as they are also learning how to establish a good latch.


Common Reasons for Breast Pain during Breastfeeding and Their Remedies

A woman experiencing breast pain

There are various reasons for pain in your breasts during the nursing phase. Let us look at some of the common causes of breast pain during breastfeeding and how to handle it.


1. Breast Engorgement

Breast fullness is a normal condition and your body’s way to ensure that your baby has sufficient quantity of milk. However, this fullness due to milk and increased blood flow makes the tissues swell. Your breasts become hard, heavy, tight, lumpy and painful. This is known as breast engorgement. Babies find it difficult to latch on to engorged breasts as the nipples can become flat.

What You Can Do

  1. Expressing a little milk by hand; using hand expression softens the areola and helps the baby to latch-on easily.
  2. Feeding the baby at appropriate intervals, maybe around 8 to 12 times in 24 hours can relieve pain.
  3. Applying cold compresses to the breasts between feedings helps the swelling decrease and makes you feel good. Equivalents to cold compresses include bags of frozen peas or cold cabbage leaves.
  4. Applying warm compresses, taking warm showers, or leaning your breasts over warm water before you feed the baby can be very helpful.
  5. Massaging your breasts helps in milk flow.
  6. Wearing a correct-fitting breastfeeding bra and avoiding underwire bras minimizes discomfort.

Although paracetamol or ibuprofen are safe and can help in easing pains, please consult your doctor before taking them.

2. Blocked Breast Milk Ducts

There are various milk ducts, which are narrow tubes that transport milk from the milk glands to your nipple. If one of these ducts is not completely drained, it might create a blocked duct. These blocked ducts can cause lumps in your breast. The skin can turn red in that area. Sometimes, the openings at the nipple can be blocked and appear like a white dot.

What You Can Do

  1. Frequent feeding from the breast that has a blocked duct.
  2. Warm compresses, warm showers, or using warm flannels help in the free flow of milk from the duct.
  3. Massaging the breastfeeding pain lumps towards the nipple when the baby is feeding can help in draining the duct.
  4. Placing the chin of your baby in a position pointing towards the lump can help it feed on that part of your breast.

3. Mastitis

When a blocked duct is not dealt appropriately and on time, it leads to inflammation of the breasts and makes it painful. You might feel unwell with a high temperature and can have flu-related symptoms.

What You Can Do

  1. Continue breastfeeding and make the baby feed on the affected breast. Continuous feeding on the infected breast will be painful and challenging, but it can help in clearing off the infection.
  2. If the baby can’t feed, express your milk.
  3. Check the baby’s position during feeding. Proper positioning and latching are important and helpful.
  4. Ensure that you get enough rest.

4. Sore or Cracked Nipples

Some mothers can experience severe pain while breastfeeding due to sore or cracked nipples. It can occur when the baby doesn’t latch well, or the baby is not positioned correctly during feeding.

What You Can Do

Sometimes, sore nipples can disappear after a few days. Following are some remedies that can help you when you have sore nipples:

  1. Ensure that the baby is positioned properly during a feed. Also, ensure that the baby latches correctly. Experiment with different positions so that the baby learns to latch well.
  2. Lubricate the nipple by expressing milk.
  3. After a feed, ensure that the nipples are dry.
  4. If your nipple is bleeding, you can use nipple shields, if required.

However, if sore or cracked nipples do not heal, consult your doctor to get the required solutions.

5. Breast Abscess

In some cases, which are usually rare, if the infection caused by mastitis is not treated, it can lead to a condition known as the breast abscess. In this condition, you can find a boil with pus formation. It is painful and can cause discomfort. One precautionary measure to prevent abscess is treating mastitis without delay.

What You Can Do

In such conditions, you must consult a doctor. Sometimes, the boil might break off by itself, and the pus drains out. However, in some severe conditions, surgical drainage is required. You can continue breastfeeding after the abscess is drained out and have the green signal from your doctor.

6. Thrush

Unbearable pain during breastfeeding can be caused by a thrush or candida infection in the breast. Babies can also develop this infection in their mouth. This infection might occur when you have had a cracked nipple, and the candida fungus enters your nipple or breast. One of the key symptoms is excruciating pain that lasts for a longer period after a feed. You must check for thrush infections in the baby, as well. Following are some conditions that indicate thrush in babies:

  • White spots or patches on the tongue, lips, and gums
  • Nappy rash not clearing up easily

What You Can Do

Following are some pointers that are helpful while getting treated for thrush:

  1. Maintaining cleanliness is very important. Wash your hands appropriately, especially after nappy changes and use separate towels to prevent the infection from spreading.
  2. Wash breastfeeding bras with hot water or at a high temperature.
  3. If you are expressing milk, do not freeze it.
  4. Your doctor may prescribe a cream to apply around your nipples after feeding the baby.

7. Let down Reflex

You might experience tingling sensations, pin pricking sensations, or pain in the breast while breastfeeding when the milk is let down. Let down means a release of milk. Let down reflex occurs when the baby sucks your breast, cries, or you think about your baby. These actions activate the hormone, oxytocin, which stimulates your breasts. This stimulation causes leaking or release of milk.

What You Can Do

If you experience severe pain, it is advisable to consult your doctor and check whether it’s an infection. However, if it’s not an infection, it can be due to excess milk. So, it is advisable to feed the baby for a longer duration on one breast before feeding with the other breast.

Although breastfeeding is a natural process, it is always advisable to consult your doctor to understand the various causes of pain while breastfeeding and its suitable remedies. While your body knows how to cope with the various problems, ensure that you are cautious and take appropriate care so that you enjoy building that unique bond with your baby during breastfeeding.