A breastfeeding woman may feel a brief 30 to 60 seconds of pain on the nipple and areola as they are being pulled into the baby’s mouth during breastfeeding. So long as the baby is latched on properly, the pain should ease a bit while breastfeeding. If the pain lingers however, you can stop the feeding for a few moments and then reposition your little one on your breast. If, after repositioning, the pain is still present, there must be something else that is causing the pain.
On your first week until second week of breastfeeding, you may see that your nipples have become sore. They may also turn red including the areola which is the dark area around the nipple. You should expect the feeling of discomfort to decrease after the first week of breastfeeding.
Reasons why the breasts hurt while breastfeeding
Some women experience a fleeting pain in their breasts which can be attributed to the so-called “milk ejection reflex” (sometimes called “letdown reflex”). Milk is being squeezed out after the muscles cells in the breasts are stimulated by the hormone oxytocin.
Oxytocin is released every time your baby feeds during the first few days of birth. As days go by, its release can also be triggered whenever you think about feeding your baby. Sometimes, you can also see your breasts leak when this hormone is released.
Some of the feelings that you may have as caused by milk ejection reflex include slight tingling, pins and needle-like pricking, immense pressure, slight pain, and a certain level of ache or discomfort.
In some cases, you may also feel nothing.
Mothers who produce huge amounts of milk can also feel some pain in their breasts after a feeding. Just like the pain brought by the milk ejection reflex, you can expect this type of pain to fade during the first three months of breastfeeding. In time, your milk supply should be able to match your baby’s needs so long as he latches on well at every feeding.
Breastfeeding can also be painful when a thrush infection has entered your milk ducts. It is a common fungal infection that first develops in the baby’s mouth as well as on your nipples. The fungus thrives on your baby’s mouth because of its moist, warm and sugary feel.
In some cases, the thrush infection can also enter the mother’s milk ducts which then causes some pain during breastfeeding. However, the chances for the infection to enter the milk ducts are slim. More often than not, it can only be present on the nipples.
The pain brought by a thrush infection can last during your baby’s feeding and then gets worse after a feeding.
If you have engorged breasts, you may have a feeling of hotness and pain. Breasts become engorged due to an increase in the blood flow to the breasts and the swelling of milk-producing tissues brought by the flow of milk in the breasts.
This type of pain is perfectly normal and is expected to pass once your breasts learn how to regulate the amount of milk it has to produce. Your body knows that you are feeding and it only wants to make sure that you produce plenty of milk for your newborn.
An inflamed area of the breast can indicate a painful condition known as mastitis. This is caused by forcing out excess milk out of a duct and into the breast tissue. As a result, the breast turns red and becomes tender. You may also have a feverish feeling. It’s still okay to continue feeding your baby although it is advised that you seek a doctor’s treatment as soon as possible.
Lastly, your milk ducts could be clogged which causes the area on your breast to feel hard, lumpy and painful. Clogged milk ducts can occur due to the breast not being emptied fully of its milk or there is continued pressure on one or more ducts. Even when the clogging is over, you may still feel some tenderness in the area. It is advised that you continue examining your breasts every day in order to check if there is an occurrence of clogged ducts.
There are certain nipple issues that can cause mothers to avoid breastfeeding either for a brief period or during the entire breastfeeding phase of the baby. The most common is known as “nipple soreness” which can be attributed to the baby’s incorrect positioning while breastfeeding, incorrect latch-on and engorgement of the breasts.
Mothers who have flat or inverted nipples may need extra help in keeping their babies latched on their breasts. In order to help the baby latch on, mothers can pull or roll their nipples before they give a feeding. They can also ask help from a caregiver if needed.
Other causes of breast pain
There are things other than breastfeeding that can also cause your breasts to hurt.
- a nursing bra that is not well fitted – A good fitting nursing bra should have the side seams placed on your ribs and not on your breasts. Make sure that the cups are neither squashing nor pressing on your breasts as well. You can seek advice from someone with a good experience on nursing bras before you decide to buy new ones for a more comfortable feel.
- premenstrual pain – This type of pain is usually felt around the upper and outer part of the breasts and then goes toward the armpit. Once your period begins, you can expect the pain to go and stay away for around 1 or 2 weeks thereafter. Then, the tenderness seems to build up again during the mid-cycle period when you have ovulated. Eventually, you will be able to recognize the pattern and assess that your menstrual cycle is the one that’s causing the pain.
- fibrocystic breast disease – Breasts that have lots of lumpy areas caused by fluid fill may feel tender and painful. The good news is that this condition is generally harmless and you don’t need to worry about breastfeeding your baby if you have it. You may also see your doctor in order to learn other possible causes of the pain.