Breastfeeding Pain? Here Are the 10 Top Reasons & Remedies.

Breastfeeding is a natural and beautiful experience that provides numerous benefits to both mother and baby. However, it is not always easy, and many moms experience pain or discomfort while breastfeeding. There are several reasons why this may happen. We will discuss the most common reasons for breastfeeding pain below and cover different remedies for breast pain during breastfeeding.

1. Poor Latch

One of the most common reasons for breastfeeding pain is a poor latch. A proper latch is essential for effective milk transfer and to prevent sore nipples. When a baby is unable to latch onto the breast properly, it can cause them to suck harder or more frequently to try to obtain milk.

When your baby is not latching on correctly, it can cause varying amounts of breastfeeding pain and discomfort, and even cause nipple damage or bleeding. Your baby may be latched too shallowly, too deeply, or with their mouth not open wide enough. If you are experiencing this, contact a lactation consultant. They can watch your baby breastfeed, diagnose the issue, and provide helpful tips on how to correct a bad latch.

Additionally, nipple shields (such as these available on Amazon) can be helpful for breastfeeding a baby with a poor latch. Nipple shields are silicone or rubber devices that are placed over the nipple and areola during breastfeeding. They can help to make it easier for the baby to latch on by providing a larger, more easily grasped surface area.

Sometimes, though, breastfeeding hurts even with a good latch. This leads us to our next reason for breastfeeding pain.

Related article: How to Scald Breast Milk Quickly & Properly

2. Engorgement

Engorgement is exactly what it sounds like. It occurs when your breasts become overly full of milk. This can also cause your breast to be hard as a rock when breastfeeding. This can make it difficult for your baby to latch on properly, leading to pain and discomfort. Engorgement can occur during the early days of breastfeeding or when your baby starts sleeping for longer periods. Frequent feeding or pumping can help alleviate engorgement.

Related article: The 5 Best Hands Free Pumping Bras According to Real Moms

3. Clogged Milk Duct

A clogged milk duct occurs when milk flow becomes blocked within a milk duct, often due to milk not being completely emptied from the breast during nursing. Symptoms of a clogged milk duct include breastfeeding nipple pain, breast tenderness, breast swelling, sharp pain in breast, painful lumps, and reduced milk flow.  We have written extensively on this topic, and have several articles that cover home remedies for a clogged milk duct:

Left untreated, clogged milk ducts can progress into mastitis. 

4. Mastitis

Mastitis is a breast infection that can occur when milk ducts become and remain blocked, leading to inflammation and pain. It can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever and body aches, in addition to a localized area of breast pain that is warm to the touch. Other symptoms include swelling, nipple discharge, and a hard lump in the breast. The symptoms of mastitis can develop rapidly and may come on suddenly. 

Even though mastitis can be very uncomfortable and can make breastfeeding painful, it is important to continue to nurse or pump to help relieve engorgement and prevent milk from building up in the breast. Treatment usually involves antibiotics, so call your healthcare provider as soon as you can. The quicker you start antibiotics, the quicker breastfeeding pain will stop.

Related article: Breastfeeding While Sick: Everything You Need to Know

5. Thrush

Thrush is a fungal infection that can occur in a baby’s mouth and then be passed to the mother’s nipples. Thrush is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans, a type of yeast that is commonly found in the mouth and digestive tract. Thrush can occur in breastfeeding moms when the yeast overgrows in the breast or nipple area.  It can cause pain and discomfort during breastfeeding, as well as redness and itching. It will appear as white, odd shaped patches in your baby’s mouth.

Antibiotic use, damaged nipples from a bad latch or pumping, a weakened immune system, diabetes, or oral thrush in your baby can all be causes of thrush during breastfeeding. Treatment is available via antifungal medication for both you and your baby, so call your baby’s pediatrician if you are concerned that thrush may be causing your breastfeeding pain.

You will also need to sterilize any pump parts, nipple shields, or milk collectors that are coming in contact with your breast after every breastfeeding or pumping session in order to kill the fungus. If you don’t kill the fungus completely, you run the risk of reintroducing it to your baby’s mouth and/or your breast every time you breastfeed or pump.

Related article: Can I Mix Breast Milk and Formula? Yes, Here’s How.

6. Nipple Vasospasm

Nipple vasospasm, or Raynaud’s phenomenon of the nipple, is a condition where the blood vessels in the nipples constrict, causing pain, discomfort and/or discoloration of the nipple. It can be caused by cold temperatures or poor circulation, and it is more common in women who smoke. It often feels like a shooting stinging pain in breast while breastfeeding or sharp pain in breast after breastfeeding. The nipple may also appear blanched or white in color, followed by a bluish or reddish color as blood flow returns to the area.

Nipple vasospasm may be caused by a variety of factors, including poor latch, breastfeeding in a cold environment, smoking, poor breastfeeding positioning, and certain medications. Treatment for nipple vasospasm may include warm compresses, massaging the affected area, avoiding exposure to cold temperatures, and correcting breastfeeding positioning. In some cases, medication can be prescribed to improve blood flow and alleviate symptoms.

Many of our moms who experience nipple vasospasms say that breastfeeding hot packs (such as these) are helpful for providing quick breastfeeding pain relief.

Related article: 10 Reasons Why You Need to Buy the Willow Breast Pump!

7. Tongue-tie

Tongue-tie is a condition where the frenulum (the tissue that connects the tongue to the bottom of the mouth) is too short, making it difficult for your baby to latch on properly. This can cause pain and discomfort during breastfeeding and result in very sore nipples. Treatment is typically a very simple surgical procedure to clip the frenulum. Make sure to speak with your child’s pediatrician or a pediatric dentist if you think your child may need this procedure. A nipple shield (such as these available on Amazon) may help your baby latch and provide breastfeeding pain relief until your baby can be seen by a medical provider.

Related article: Paced Feeding Explained: Who, What, Why, How

8. Flat or Inverted Nipples

Moms with flat or inverted nipples may experience pain and discomfort during breastfeeding, as your baby may have difficulty latching on. When a baby is nursing, they need to form a seal around the nipple and areola with their mouth to create suction and effectively remove milk from the breast. If your nipple is flat or inverted, it may be more difficult for your baby to create this seal leading to your baby sucking harder or with higher frequency, which can lead to soreness or pain. 

To help alleviate pain associated with flat nipples, there are some techniques that can be used to encourage the baby to properly latch onto the breast. These include using a breast pump or nipple shield to help draw out the nipple, manually stimulating the nipple prior to nursing, or breastfeeding in the laid-back, side lying, or football hold positions to help your baby latch onto the nipple more easily.

Related article: How to {Quickly & Easily} Get a Free Breast Pump Through Insurance

9. Teething

If breastfeeding hurts even with a good latch and you notice your baby is drooling constantly, chewing on everything in sight, and is generally fussier than usual, teething may be the cause of your breastfeeding pain. This is more common when your baby is older than 6 months. When new teeth pop up in their gums, it can cause changes to their latch. This can result in your baby sucking differently (harder, more frequently) which, in turn, can cause breastfeeding pain. The good news about this type of nursing pain is that it’s temporary. Once your baby’s teeth have broken through their gum and they become accustomed to their new teeth, breastfeeding pain usually subsides within 2-3 days.

Related article: How to Lose Weight While Breastfeeding Without Affecting Milk Supply

10. Your Period

During the menstrual cycle, hormone levels fluctuate. This can affect milk production and breast tissue. The changes in hormone levels can cause breast tenderness, swelling, and discomfort, which can make breastfeeding painful. This type of breastfeeding pain usually only lasts for a few days until hormone levels return to normal levels.

Do keep in mind that during the premenstrual phase of your menstrual cycle, there is a decrease in the level of the hormone progesterone, which can lead to a decrease in milk production. This decrease in milk production can cause your baby to have a poor latch as they suck more frequently and can lead to breastfeeding pain. We have an entire article dedicated to this topic, so check it out for information: Breastfeeding While On Your Period: 7 Helpful Tips for Your Milk Supply.

Breastfeeding pain can be caused by several factors, including several of the reasons we listed above. You can even experience more than one at once! If you are experiencing deep pain after breastfeeding or during breastfeeding and it will not resolve with any of the tips mentioned above, reach out to a lactation consultant or your healthcare provider. Breastfeeding can be painful at times (especially at first), but overall it should be a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Help is available if it’s not.

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Shannon founded Work Breastfeed Mom in 2019 during her second round of pumping at work. She was tired of googling the same pumping questions over and over again, and discouraged at the lack of websites aimed at working breastfeeding moms. So, she created one herself. Shannon lives, works, and doles out Puffs to her little people in sunny Florida. She has her MBA and works as a strategic planner for a large healthcare system. She is passionate about coffee, memoirs, paddle boarding, and skincare routines. Shannon is mom to Scarlett and Ivy, and hopes to have more babies if her career allows.