Hey, momma! You’ve worked really hard to get that baby out, and now IT HURTS TO BREASTFEED? Seriously!?
I’ve been there. I know. It’s so frustrating for something that is so natural to be SO PAINFUL. When boobs hurt while breastfeeding, it’s probably one of the most disappointing and frustrating feelings I’ve ever felt.
I’m here to tell you though, hang in there! There’s light at the end of that milk bottle, lady. In the meantime, I’m here to help.
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Is nipple pain normal in the early weeks?
When you have pain in the breasts after breastfeeding, there’s usually something going on there. But guess what? It’s typically something that can be fixed or at least diagnosed. In my day job as a labor and delivery nurse, I interact with a lot of lactation consultants and tend to be there for the first latch if and when a momma wants me there.
Otherwise, there’s always shop talk outside the delivery rooms.
If NOTHING else, I happen to have breastfed a kiddo, so I know what goes into it. And the STRUGGLE is REAL.
What causes breast pain while breastfeeding?
Pain while breastfeeding, breast pain after feeding, pain BEFORE breastfeeding? These are all pretty natural. Sore nipples after breastfeeding is probably the most common, but some pains come from deeper down, and we’re gonna solve for ALL OF THAT. Why? Because I love helping you be the best momma you can be.
So what causes breastfeeding pain? Well, there are a few things, so let’s take a look at the different symptoms of sore breasts after breastfeeding and some of the things that cause your boobs to hurt after breastfeeding, shall we?
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Boobs hurt while breastfeeding
There are a few things that can make your boobs hurt. Breastfeeding naturally tends to cause a lot more action in the area, so there’s always the possibility of chafing, which will definitely make give you sore boobs after breastfeeding. The pain WHILe breastfeeding, though? That’s usually something more specific.
After all, like we talked about earlier, this is NATURAL, right? Isn’t this nipples supposed to fit right into that mouth? Should the puzzle pieces click and take us on this dream ride down lactation lane together?
Problems with latch while breastfeeding, thrush, yeast infection, improper support on the baby’s weight. Boob pain while breastfeeding is usually more about how you’re feeding. Boobs hurt before or after breastfeeding? That’ll come later.
First of all, there’s a perfectly normal pain while breastfeeding that’s worth chatting through. This is a strong or painful let-down reflex.
Hopefully you didn’t just say “a LET-WHAT?” If so, no sweat, but it might be a good time to contact a lactation expert to understand a little more, or take some time to do some online learning.
There’s actually a great course that takes you through breastfeeding, which will leave you feeling like a pro. Honestly, I would recommend this course to anyone who plans to do some breastfeeding! You can find Stacey’s Milkology course HERE.
Related: An Honest Milkology Review
Otherwise, that let-down reflex is when your body responds to baby’s feeding signals by flooding the milk ducts. Most women describe it as a hot breastfeeding pain or tingling like pins and needles. The effect will happen basically every time you breastfeed (and sometimes when you are standing in line at the supermarket and hear a baby cry!), at least for the first month or two.
This pain is pretty normal, although I would definitely recommend you contact a lactation consultant or your medical professional if your boobs hurt breastfeeding in the manner described for a long time or if it’s particularly painful.
Problems with the latch
Here’s the fact: babies bite. They don’t pop out of the womb knowing how to aim their lips or what a good latch feels like. They are like little leeches at this age–the CUTEST leeches, mind you. They know to clamp on, pulse their tongue, and swallow whatever comes out.
It’s up to us to make sure that we’re helping baby find the appropriate latch and doing so at times when both baby and boob are ready.
If you have sharp pain while breastfeeding, it can definitely be as simple as this: little toothless is chomping at the bit. The tit. You know what I mean.
You’ve probably felt how powerful those jaws are, even if you haven’t had boobs pain breastfeeding. The fact of the matter is that these little babies have some serious chompers. I very much pity the women whose babies are born with teeth.
If you feel like the latch is the problem that is causing sharp pain during breastfeeding, here are some things to try:
- Check your baby’s posture and how you are holding them. You should be supporting all of the baby’s weight, which can be done across the upper pad of your forearm. Try keeping your hand down the middle of baby’s back, so your elbow and kind of points back down toward your hip.
- Be sure your baby’s nose lines up with your nipple, and wait for a yawn before you draw your nipple in. If baby’s nose gets stuffed down into your breast, baby’s going to have to grasp with the tongue to try and milk your breast. This will cause either immediate and sharp pain while breastfeeding or gradually chafe and possible even bruise the underlying tissue, which will result in much more soreness while breastfeeding and even a sore breast after breastfeeding. Be sure baby’s nose is up and away from the breast, and that baby’s CHIN is tucked into the bottom of your breast.
- If necessary, hold your breast in a pinched grip to point the nipple up as you latch; sometimes this is worth maintaining if baby tends to slip.
Another factor that can lead to sharp pain during breastfeeding is thrush.
Thrush is a pretty common fungal infection that can happen on your breasts and the baby’s mouth. AAAND technically between your toes or in your armpits or anywhere else that stays damp and dark. It’s not just limited to breastfeeding, although that’s where it happens most often.
Long story short, thrush is a microbial infection that usually results from insufficient beneficial bacteria, which eat this and other microscopic flora. Basically, the weeds are growing in because you’re short on gardeners.
It can be managed pretty easily with various homeopathic treatments, or you can roll out the big guns by visiting your medical professional.
Tongue-Tied Little Tiger
There’s a rare condition that can sometimes cause or make boob pain breastfeeding worse. That’s what we call being tongue-tied.
And you thought that was just a cute little saying about when people are shy. Well, baby with this condition certainly may be shy, because they can’t raise their tongue high enough to properly milk the nipple. The result is that their little tongue grinds and grinds too far down on the nipple, and so they have to work harder and tend to work a part of your body that isn’t designed for this kind of abuse.
You can spot a tongue-tied baby by checking the underside of their tongue. If that little flap from the bottom of the tongue (the frenulum, for those biology geeks out there!) is really tight, that’s what we’re looking for.
According to the Journal of Human Lactation, a study was performed that identified a whopping 77% of ladies experienced some form of nipple trauma while breastfeeding an infant with this condition. That’s nuts!
I would love to say there’s an easy at-home solution to this, but yeah, no. In fact, capital NO with a capital PERIOD.
Let’s get littles to the doctor and have the baby checked out. The fix here is to snip that little bit, so don’t try this at home, momma.
**As always, and with any of these recommendations, you can always try to diagnose and solve for it at home, but the very best advice is always ALWAYS what you can get from a medical professional under clinical circumstances. **
Boobs hurt after breastfeeding
If your boobs hurt after breastfeeding (or if your breasts hurt AFTER breastfeeding), there are a few other things to watch out for.
Ultimately, a lot of this stuff is normal and I would be surprised if any single woman ever got through breastfeeding without a little breast pain afterward.
One of the most common causes of a sore breast after breastfeeding is engorgement. This is when one or both breasts have so much milk in them that the volume is straining at the capacity of your glands. Ouchie.
If you’ve ever had to pee so bad you thought you would pass out, it’s kind of like that. Only in your breasts. And it hurts much worse. It’s also not something that you can just step out to relieve yourself of.
This kind of breastfeeding pain requires some serious consideration to diagnose and properly treat. You can definitely assume that the best way to get rid of it is to feed baby a little more from that side. If that’ doesn’t seem to be working, try expressing to ensure that it’s all coming through.
Is it normal for my breasts to become engorged?
Common, yes. Normal, who’s to say? It’s definitely not something we WANT to happen – but it’s not always avoidable.
Sometimes this can happen because you’re producing too much milk, which is a problem for some women when they first start breastfeeding. Your body is still learning how much milk it needs to produce to keep baby full, and sometimes it’s a painful learning process.
Sometimes it happens because your baby isn’t eating properly. Unfortunately, engorgement makes it harder for baby to nurse, so this problem can end up getting worse if you aren’t taking care of it.
Relieving and treating engorged breasts
The best thing you can do for prevention of engorgement is to ensure that baby is getting enough milk. If you aren’t feeding your baby every 2-3 hours for at least 20-30 minutes altogether, you might be able to increase how much milk the baby is getting and ease your engorgement for relief from breastfeeding pain.
If you’re maximizing all feeding opportunities and baby is gaining plentifully, but you still feel engorged, pumping is a great way to get some relief. Don’t pump excessively otherwise you’ll continue to overproduce, only pump enough to relieve the pressure. Freeze that milk for future use–it might even score you a night off some time. Woo-woo!
Beyond that, there have been significant studies but little conclusive support to say that anyone homeopathic remedy excels above others (some claim cabbage leaves or acupuncture can mitigate pain and swelling).
The reality is that the best thing that really seems to help is cold packing. If you have something that can wrap around or conform to the shape of your entire breast, whip that sucker out, momma. It’s your best friend.
Reducing the temperature works to reduce swelling and shrink those little molecular building blocks down to a smaller package.
Plugged ducts & mastitis
Sharp pain while breastfeeding or a more localized pain during breastfeeding can be the result of a clogged or plugged milk duct. The same is true if your boobs hurt after breastfeeding.
This is exactly what it sounds like. Stuff is stuck. Crazy talk? Probably not.
This can happen when a particular duct has consistent pressure against it (from a bra or a shirt), or when pressure causes the milk to compact down inside of the duct due to pressure. Sometimes you can see these ducts from outside, and they look like a white dot (kind of like a whitehead).
The best thing when this one is a wet hot compress. If you’ve ever hot-packed a blemish or infected follicle to help you pop it, you’re an old pro at this one, ladies. Exact same principle, although here’s no pinching or squeezing at the end. Expressing after a while might help, but chances are your baby will get to it before you do.
Left unchecked, a plugged duct will likely go away. If not, that’s when it can develop into full-blown mastitis.
This is a condition where that blockage becomes infected. You’ll typically see all the hallmarks of infection, beyond just breast pain during or after breastfeeding. This can range from localized redness and swelling to a fever.
Can I still breastfeed if I have a breast infection?
Mastitis has all the same symptoms and resolution as a regular blocked duct, and there really shouldn’t be any harm breastfeeding while you have mastitis (unless the infection is REALLY bad, in which case you’ve probably seen a doctor long before coming here to read about why your boobs hurt breastfeeding).
If you have a really persistent case of mastitis, that’s exactly what I recommend. Get to your medical professional, who can potentially treat with antibiotics. If you go that route, definitely ask about risks continuing to breastfeed.
If they ask you to hold off, they will probably have some recommendations, but you can also check out Stacey’s Milkology course about exclusive breastfeeding for the time it takes to resolve the infection.
Sometimes you can feel a lump with a blocked duct or mastitis, but not necessarily. If you have a sore breast breastfeeding but no lump, don’t rule this one out.
One thing that can make it really hard to diagnose why your breasts hurt during or after breastfeeding is when the pain is being referred from another place in your body.
If you’ve ever had referred pain, it can be pretty maddening. Basically, some other stuff is going on that’s cause soreness or swelling somewhere else, but the pain is being transmitted down the nerve path to some other part of your body. So you rub it, and it seems to feel better, but never really goes away.
The same thing can happen with an itch, and there is seriously nothing worse.
So be sure to take some time to stretch your surrounding muscles and joints to see if there’s a tugging somewhere else that a little jiggling or pulling can ease away referred breast pain while breastfeeding (or not, for that matter).
Otherwise, you can sometimes have a trigger spot somewhere, due to the constant pressure of a particular bra or favorite chair. Be sure you’re massaging areas around the breast to ensure that you’re loosening the muscles and soothing the skin outside and around the breast pain spot.
How to relieve breast pain while breastfeeding
So we’ve talked a lot about potential causes, and I’ve given you a FEW little tidbits that might help to resolve breast pain before/after and eliminate boob pain during breastfeeding. Let’s get real specific with a bullet list of anything and everything that might help:
- Check your latch and try different feeding positions.
- Consult a lactation expert or breastfeeding specialist (or take the Milkology course!).
- Wipe your nipples after every feeding with a damp cotton or wool cloth to make sure no residue is left behind to potentially chap your skin.
- Let your nipples air dry to ensure we aren’t trapping anything beneath the clothing.
- Use restorative and palliative balms to keep your skin healthy and to fill in cracks from chapping (such as lanolin)
- Get nipple covers to help prevent chafing and rubbing against the actual surface of your nipples while clothed
- Learn to be patient and remember that pain passes–it’s only a signal to let you know to have something checked out, it doesn’t have to rule your attitude or your life!
- Consult a healthcare professional! No one can give you as much advice as someone in the room with you, and they are trained to watch for risk factors and warning signs of something more serious!
Wrapping up: how to deal with breast pain while breastfeeding
If you’ve come this far, your commitment to resolving pain while breastfeeding is amazing, momma! You are a champ for working through the very difficult experience of painful boobs after breastfeeding, and I KNOW you’re going to be OK.
If you’ve asked yourself “how can I ease my breast or nipple pain“, hopefully I’ve given you some great things to think about. As always, I’m here if you need any more advice or recommendations from an expert in labor and delivery.
If pain during breastfeeding is holding you back from living the life with your littles that you want, you owe it to yourself to FIX it, not just LIVE with it.
Happy breastfeeding, momma!