Why Do My Nipples Hurt?

mom breastfeeding

Why do my nipples hurt? Finding the answer to this question is easier said than done. It may be embarrassing to talk about, and you might even keep it to yourself as long as you can stand. I'm here to tell you there's a solution and you don't have to suffer alone.

Pregnant with my first child, I read all the books. We planned every piece of my daughter's birth and after down to the last detail. I was having a natural birth with no drugs, thank you very much, and I would breastfeed for at least the first year. Well, Murphy's Law was in full swing that day because things did not go as planned and I ended up with an emergency C-Section. Still, unswayed from my determined path, I started breastfeeding.

A few days in, I was in excruciating pain and asking myself two things, "Why am I doing this?" and "Why do my nipples hurt?" After all, this breastfeeding thing is all supposed to be a zen experience, bonding mother to child. And it was all that, except for the pain every time she fed.

If you can relate, read on because you're not by yourself and there are answers.

So, Why Do My Nipples Hurt?

mom and child playing

It's something you don't read about in books, and not many experienced mothers are going to tell you about the pain that comes with breastfeeding. Not that they're mean or deceitful, but no mom wants to sway a new mom from breastfeeding her child. More than that, it could be a case where they've put it out of their minds altogether for self-preservation.

Any way you slice it, the discomfort probably caught you by surprise. It might embarrass you to ask your doctor, "Why do my nipples hurt?" for fear it's going to mean you're doing this whole thing wrong.

Relax. Chances are there's an easy explanation why your nipples hurt, and there are solutions to each cause of your nipple pain. Still, if you read through these today and you still don't know why your nipples hurt, talk to your doctor or lactation specialist and ask for help. These are tips, not medical advice, so consult the experts with any problems or questions you have during breastfeeding. More than likely there's a lactation specialist at your local hospital willing to assist.

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Bad latching

When you find yourself asking why do my nipples hurt, the simplest answer may be that you just have a latching issue. If your baby isn't attaching to your breast properly, your nipples will pay the price. To tell if you have a bad latch, look down when you finish feeding your baby. What is the shape of your nipple? If it's squished and pointy, your baby isn't latching far enough onto your breast. If your nipple and part of the areola is elongated, like the shape of the nipple of a bottle, latching is probably not the source of your pain.

Helping your baby get a good latch is not only important for your comfort but ensures your baby is getting enough milk. A good latch is deep, not shallow. You want your baby to have your nipple and a good part of the areola in their mouth before starting to suckle. A good way to do that is to make sure your baby's mouth is wide open, and a cool trick to make that happen is to touch their lower lip with your finger or nipple. Your baby's mouth will pop wide open looking for milk, and you have your opportunity to put enough of your breast in to make sure he gets just that.

Improper positioning

There are many ways to hold your baby during breastfeeding. You have your boppy pillow, holding them in front, the football hold, and laying next to them. The thing that all of these positions have in common is that they're close enough to get a good latch.

Improper positioning goes hand in hand with a bad latch. If you have to bend your body down to reach your breast to your baby or your baby is laying too far away, they can't latch properly. That could be the source of your nipple pain.

Make sure you're sitting or laying in a comfortable position and that your little one is close enough to latch on.

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Vasospasm and Raynaud's phenomenon

We'll start with vasospasm, which has to do with the blood vessels bringing blood into your nipple. If those vessels constrict, the blood supply is cut off, and you'll feel hot pain in your nipple and sometimes your whole breast. Vasospasm isn't a problem that only breastfeeding mothers have because it can start during pregnancy.

To tell if you have vasospasm, take a look at your nipple for white or bluish discoloration. To help get the blood flowing again, make sure your nipple is warm before feeding your baby. You could use a warm cloth or a low-heat heating pad to make sure the blood supply is flowing to your nipple.

Raynaud's phenomenon is also a type of vasospasm that occurs in women with illnesses such as lupus. The key difference is that your nipple will turn white, then blue, then red, before filtering back to pink. If you have a chronic illness and you see this issue, please consult your doctor for help.

Thrush

Thrush is a yeast infection, pure and simple. You probably have heard about thrush associated with your baby or your other lady parts, but you can also get thrush in your nipples. If you're asking why do my nipples hurt, and you've recently had a round of antibiotics, or your nipple is extra pink, you may have thrush.

Of course, since thrush is an infection, you should check with your obstetrician about treatments for it. There are over-the-counter solutions you can try, but before you do, at the very least talk to your pharmacist. Choose a medicine used to treat thrush in a baby's mouth. After all, your nipple is heading into your baby's mouth every few hours, and you want to be sure there's nothing on there that will make your little one sick.

Engorgement

Engorgement means that your breasts have too much milk, filling to the point where they're hard. When that happens, it's difficult for your baby to latch to your nipple properly. By now you know that a bad latch means pain, so what do you do when your breast is full to busting?

First, express some milk to make your nipple and the area around your nipple pliable. As the La Leche League says, "It's hard to latch onto a soccer ball, a lot easier on a soft water balloon." Point taken. The thing is, finding the reason for your engorgement is a top priority.

If you're over-filled because your baby hasn't fed for a while, that's one thing, but there are other reasons for engorgement. You could have plugged milk ducts, or you could have developed mastitis, which is inflammation of the breast tissue.

Newbie

Let's face it; if you're a new breastfeeding mother, chances are your nipples have never been treated quite like they are now. Why do my nipples hurt? One answer to this question is just that nipples are sensitive. While all the reasons above are valid and possible, it's also possible that you're just new. Your nipples are newbies at this suckling game, and until they toughen up, you're going to be sore.

When your nipples touch the inside of your bra or your shirt, they're already tender from feeding your baby. The friction from fabric might cause them to hurt. That's not to discount all the reasons above, but the answer might simply be that your nipples are adjusting to this new job they have.

Breastfeeding Back in the Day

bottle of milk mom and child in a background

Breastfeeding has been a way to feed our babies since the beginning of humankind. Societal norms across the world have ebbed and flowed between the acceptance of the practice. Before 1930, almost all mothers nursed their babies, but that number dropped to only 22 percent by the 70s. By 2011, the pendulum swung once more, and a whopping 79 percent of mothers were breastfeeding again.

No matter how popular or unpopular breastfeeding is year after year, it's important to share information from one generation to the next. All breastfeeding moms should be able to easily find answers when they ask why do my nipples hurt.

How to Help Those Nipples

The first step to easing your pain is to figure out why. Do my nipples hurt because I'm a rookie or is something else going on? Identifying the problem or reason will lead you to a conclusion.

Identifying the issue

To unravel the mystery of why your nipples hurt, you want to take a look at them and ask the following questions.

  • Are my nipples their normal pink color?
  • Do my breasts feel hard like a soccer ball?
  • Are my nipples pointy like a lipstick after my baby eats?
  • Do my breasts feel hot?
  • Are my nipples cracked or bleeding?
  • Is anything oozing out of my nipples besides milk?
  • Do my breasts itch?

Write down your observations. Instead of asking the doctor why do my nipples hurt, contact your doctor armed with information so that you can resolve this problem quickly. After all, you're in pain, and the sooner you figure out the source of your issue, the faster you'll get to a resolution.

Solving the problem

Sometimes the answer is simple. For example, if you have engorged breasts because your baby ate four hours ago instead of the regular two, you can solve that issue with ease. As stated above, express some of the milk out so your baby can latch onto a more pliable breast. Also, be sure your baby has a nice good latch.

But if your nipple is bright pink, shiny, and itchy, that's a different story. The culprit is probably thrush or some type of infection. In that case, you want to consult your doctor.

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You can relieve newbie soreness with lanolin or olive oil between feedings. The lanolin or olive oil will moisturize your nipple. Plus, the moisturizer will help keep your nipples from sticking to your bra or shirt. Because when they stick, and you pull your breast out to feed, let's just say it's not pleasant.

If you can't or don't feel like you can solve this nipple problem of yours on your own, don't despair. Your obstetrician and your lactation specialist are only a phone call away. Don't be shy because chances are they've heard every question and moreover, they've got answers.

Sweet Nipple Relief

You've put your detective hat on, consulted the experts, and solved the Case of the Why Do My Nipples Hurt Blues. Thank goodness. Now you can get back to the important stuff, like feeding your baby pain-free.

Remember, some rookie discomfort might be normal, but you shouldn't be in excruciating pain while breastfeeding. If you are, it's a signal, and your body is screaming to you loud and clear. Listen to it and don't suffer in silence because you don't have to.

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