When Breastfeeding Hurts – 10 Causes Of Painful Breastfeeding

A painful breastfeeding experience is very stressful.

Many mothers dread the next breastfeed because of breast or nipple pain.

The good news is most women can overcome painful breastfeeding.

When Breastfeeding Hurts – 10 Causes of Painful Breastfeeding

In most cases, the best way to figure out why you experiencing pain is to work with someone who’s skilled in breastfeeding support.

This includes lactation consultant (IBCLC) or breastfeeding counsellor (e.g. from the Australian Breastfeeding Association or La Leche League).

It might also be helpful to have some idea of what you might be dealing with.

Here are 10 causes of painful breastfeeding:

#1: Poor Positioning At Breast

A baby who isn’t positioned well at the breast can’t attach deeply.

This will be more likely to hurt a mother’s nipples.

Poor positioning at the breast can mean baby has a poor latch.

he way baby latches can affect their ability to remove milk.

This increases the risk of engorgement, blocked ducts or mastitis, all of which can cause breast pain.

Learning to position your baby can take some time. You’ll find some helpful tips here.

#2: Engorgement

Typically, between days 2 and 5 after the birth of your baby, your milk ‘comes in’.

If your baby is poorly positioned at your breast, isn’t feeding well or frequently enough, then you can experience engorgement.

This is a more severe form of normal breast fullness.

Your breasts become very full, hard and sore.

Here are some tips about how to manage breast engorgement.

#3: Vasospasm

When your baby comes off the breast, does the nipple look white and you feel a burning pain? Do your nipples go white when exposed to cold and cause a burning pain?

If so, you might be experiencing a condition called nipple vasospasm.

Learn more about treating vasospasm here.

#4: Nipple Damage

Poor positioning and attachment are the main causes of nipple pain and damage.

Many new mothers experience cracked nipples because their baby has a shadow latch. This means the nipple isn’t being stretched to the back of the mouth. Instead it’s crushed against hard gums or palate.

If this happens, treatment begins with correcting your baby’s position when breastfeeding.

This will then improve the baby’s attachment so they can get a deeper latch.

There are various options available to help heal damaged nipples.

Occasionally, even with good positioning at the breast, nipple damage can occur, especially if baby has a tongue tie.

#5: White Spot

Do you have a pinhead sized spot which looks like a milk-filled blister on the tip of your nipple?

This might be a white spot. It will usually resolve on its own.

If the spot is painless you don’t need treatment.

However, if the white spot is causing pain, before feeds try soaking your nipple in warm water for about 5 minutes.

Then gently rub it for a minute with a soft towel. If it doesn’t go away, seek guidance from your healthcare provider.

#6: Blocked Duct

If you have a small, painful lump in your breast, it could be a blocked duct. To treat it you can:

  • Apply warmth to the affected area for a few minutes before feeding
  • Breastfeed frequently, starting with the affected breast
  • Apply cold to the affected area after feeding.

Read more about treating blocked ducts here.

#7: Mastitis

If you suddenly feel like you have the flu, and have a warm, red, tender spot on your breast, you might have mastitis.

Mastitis is an inflammation of the breast, often caused by blocked milk ducts, which can lead to infection.

It’s important to see a doctor if you think you have mastitis, because you might need to take antibiotics.

Frequent breastfeeds and the use of a cold application after feeding are important in the treatment of mastitis.

Learn more about treatments for mastitis here.

#8: Thrush

Do you have sharp stabbing nipple pain after feeds, and shooting pains that go into your breast? If so, you might be experiencing nipple thrush.

Nipple thrush is a yeast infection caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans.

Because nipple damage or a bacterial infection can have symptoms similar to nipple thrush, it’s important to seek help from a healthcare professional to work out what might be going on.

You can learn more here about nipple thrush.

#9: Ill-fitting Breast Pump Shield

If you are using a breast pump, it’s important to use the correctly sized breast flange. An incorrectly sized flange can increase the risk of sore nipples and damage.

Using a vacuum setting that is too high can also increase the risk of nipple pain and damage.

Also, pressing the breast flange too firmly into your breast can increase the risk of blocked ducts.

A lactation consultant can help you work out whether you’re using a breast flange of the correct size.

#10: Biting

Just because your baby is getting teeth doesn’t automatically mean it’s time to wean!

The first teeth to erupt are typically the bottom front ones.

When your baby attaches and feeds, this area is covered by your baby’s tongue.

However, some babies might bite before they’ve attached or when they’re coming off the breast. This can hurt!

Here are some tips to help stop your baby biting.

Painful breastfeeding is almost always treatable, so don’t be afraid to get help if breastfeeding hurts.

Renee Kam IBCLC

Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a graduate research student, a physiotherapist, and author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual'. Renee also has a Cert. IV in Breastfeeding Education (Counselling). In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.

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Comments 1

  1. Cathrin says:

    Hi I breastfed 10 years ago, and now again, it has been always painful, the pain is in the breast up and comes down to the nipple. Like a needle or a very fine scalping tool carving it’s way downwards. And every time it is the same. The let down itself is painful. I was told ten years ago that this pain is normal and should go away gradually. Ten years ago it never did… and today I read it is not “normal” to hurt during breastfeeding. I don’t know if there is a solution for the kind of pain I am experiencing. What is your advice?