Vasospasm occurs when blood vessels tighten, preventing blood from flowing to the nipple. Vasospasm onset typically occurs within the first month of breastfeeding. In some cases, it may start later, especially when triggered by cold weather.
Causes of Vasospasm
In some cases, vasospasm occurs as a response to nipple trauma. This may be caused by an improper latch. In this instance, vasospasm will occur after feeds. You should speak to a breastfeeding specialist to determine whether an incorrect latch is the cause of the problem. If caused by trauma, the vasospasm should disappear when the nipple is healed.
If the vasospasm occurs randomly, not necessarily during feeds, it is more likely to be a condition called Raynaud’s phenomenon. In this condition, symptoms can also be felt in the toes, fingers and other body parts as a reaction to the cold. Raynaud's phenomenon is not caused by breastfeeding, by vasospasm may occur as part of the condition.
Vasospasm is most common in colder countries. You are most at risk of developing this condition if there is a family history of Raynaud's phenomenon, you have poor circulation or you are underweight.
Symptoms of Vasospasm
The symptoms of vasospasm can occur on both breasts and include:
- Sharp nipple pain
- Throbbing pain in the nipple
- Burning or stinging in the nipple
- Sudden whitening of the nipple
- Blue colour to the nipple
The symptoms may last just a few seconds, or they may last until the nipple is warmed.
Treatment for Vasospasm
You may be able to manage this condition at home by trying the following:
- Apply warmth to the nipple directly after each feed – a warm compress or breast-warmer can be used to gentle apply warmth
- Avoid exposing your nipple to the cold
- Avoid sudden temperature changes
- Avoid airing your nipples
- Warm the room before undressing for a shower
- Avoid caffeine
- Avoid nicotine
- Wear an extra layer of clothing
- Massage the nipple when vasospasm occurs
- Exercise will improve circulation and may reduce the severity or number or episodes
You may find that taking the following supplements can reduce the severity of attacks:
- Magnesium to relax the blood vessels
- Fish oil or evening primrose oil to improve blood vessel relaxation
- Vitamin B6 – this is most suitable as a treatment option for women with babies over three months. If under three months, vitamin B6 can affect milk supply so it is important to monitor wet/dirty nappies if taking the supplements during this period.
If the condition is very painful and you are unable to manage it effectively from home, speak to a lactation consultant or your healthcare provider. They may be able to prescribe medicine to treat the condition.
Raynaud's phenomenon may recur in later pregnancies, so be prepared for this.