Breast Pain While Nursing

While 80% of women experience mild breast pain during the first few days of Breast Pain Causes - Pain in One or Both Breasts | Breast Health 101 | Imaginis - The Women's Health & Wellness Resource Network

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Breast Pain

Breast Pain While Nursing

While 80% of women experience mild breast pain during the first few days of breast-feeding, pain usually subsides within a few weeks. Chronic breast pain during nursing should be reported to a certified lactation consultant for clinical evaluation.

Persistent breast pain while nursing may result from:

  • Improper positioning. Leaning over the baby can lead to breast and back pain.
  • Engorgement. Engorgement is a build-up of fluids that occurs as milk converts from colostrum (nutrient produced during the first few days after birth) to mature milk. Engorgement is a temporary condition (lasting approximately 12 to 24 hours) and is most common during the first few weeks after pregnancy. If the breasts are becoming swollen, physicians recommend breast-feeding to avoid engorgement.
  • Strong milk ejection reflexes. The actual process of expelling milk from the breast is called milk-ejection reflex. Milk is ejected from the breast into the baby’s mouth. Normally, women feel a mild tingling sensation during milk ejection. However, some women have strong milk ejection reflexes and experience a painful tingling or stinging sensation during breast-feeding. This usually subsides after the first few weeks of nursing.
  • Nipple blanching (also called vasospasm). The nipples turn white during and often in between breast-feeding. Many women report burning sensations in the nipples. Nipple blanching may be relieved with warm compresses and good breast support.
  • Mastitis. This benign (non-cancerous) condition is common among women who breast-feed. Cracking of the skin around the nipple allows bacteria from the skin surface to enter the breast duct where it grows and attracts inflammatory cells. Inflammatory cells release substances to fight the infection but also cause breast tissue swelling and increased blood flow. Breasts infected with mastitis often swell, become red in color, and feel warm to the touch. Nasopharyngeal organisms from the infant's mouth, sinuses and other air passages are usually the source of breast infections in lactating women. Physicians recommend keeping the breast empty of milk helps to drain the culture medium (environment and food source) that is facilitating growth of organisms. Breast-feeding with mastitis is generally not harmful to the infant and may actually help speed up recovery. Mastitis is also treated with antibiotics.

Additional Resources and References

Updated: January 2011