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Common Causes Of Breastfeeding Discomfort And How To Tackle Them

Breastfeeding can be quite challenging, but is it normal for it to be painful? While it may take some time to figure out the most comfortable way to breastfeed your baby, it shouldn’t be a painful experience. So, what should a mother do when dealing with cracked nipples, engorged breasts, or overall soreness?

As fellow breastfeeding moms, we truly understand the difficulties you’re facing. We’re here to offer assistance if you’re feeling frustrated due to the pain.

In this article, we’ll delve into the common reasons behind breastfeeding pain, provide guidance on how to address it, and suggest reliable sources of support you can reach out to.

breastfeeding discomfort

Common Causes Of Breastfeeding Pain

Now, let’s discuss some typical reasons behind the discomfort experienced during breastfeeding. Although your symptoms may likely correspond to one or more of these causes, it’s advisable to consult your doctor or a lactation consultant for an accurate assessment.


Thrush is a particular kind of fungal infection that shares similarities with mastitis. It is primarily caused by an overgrowth of yeast, which tends to thrive in warm and moist environments. Thrush typically presents as shiny or flaky skin on the breast, accompanied by pain.

One simple way to determine if thrush may be the culprit is to examine your baby’s mouth. If you or your baby has the infection, it is often transmitted between the two. In the case of thrush in your baby, their mouth will likely exhibit white patches that resemble residual milk and cannot be easily wiped away.

Improper Latch

Regarding breastfeeding, “latch” refers to how your baby attaches their mouth to your breast during nursing. It’s important to note that if your baby has an incorrect latch, it can significantly impact the breastfeeding experience, causing considerable pain for you.

A proper latch means that your baby’s mouth covers most or all of the areola. However, there are various reasons why your baby may struggle to achieve this optimal latch:

  • Your baby might have a weak suck, making latching challenging.
  • They could be dealing with ankyloglossia, commonly known as tongue-tie, affecting their ability to latch effectively.
  • It’s possible that you may not be holding your baby in the best position for achieving a good latch.
  • Your baby might be experiencing nipple confusion, which can disrupt their ability to latch correctly.

It’s crucial to address any issues with latch as an improper latch can result in nipple trauma and overall pain and soreness in the breast.

Clogged Milk Ducts

Each breast comprises a complex system of ducts and glands that work together to produce and transport milk to your nipple. However, when a milk duct becomes blocked, it can result in swelling and tenderness of the breast. You might even notice the formation of a lump.

The primary cause of clogged milk ducts is the accumulation of unexpressed milk. Ensuring that your breasts are effectively emptied during feeding sessions is crucial, as failure can lead to a literal blockage.

Clogged ducts are relatively common but more likely to occur if your baby faces difficulties while nursing. Additionally, wearing tight bras or shirts that compress the breasts can also contribute to the development of clogged milk ducts.

Let-down Pain

“let-down” refers to the natural biological process that triggers your milk ejection reflex. Your hormones play a vital role in producing milk, which then travels through your milk ducts to facilitate nursing for your baby. However, for some individuals, the milk let-down can be accompanied by a painful sensation.

It is common to experience let-down pain in the immediate postpartum period as your body adapts to the changes. Typically, this discomfort is felt as a tingling sensation in the breast.


If a clogged milk duct is not promptly addressed, it can lead to mastitis. Mastitis is an infection caused by bacteria that enter the breast, resulting in inflammation of the tissues. This condition is often accompanied by redness, pain, and fever.

It’s worth noting that bacteria from your baby’s mouth or broken skin on the nipple can also contribute to the development of mastitis.

Although mastitis can be painful, it doesn’t mean you have to discontinue breastfeeding. In fact, continuing to breastfeed can aid in resolving the infection as the milk ducts are gradually cleared.

Sore And Cracked Nipples

It’s not uncommon for moms to experience some tenderness in their nipples, especially when they first start breastfeeding. However, this discomfort goes beyond normal sensitivity for some women and can result in soreness, cracking, and even bleeding in and around the nipples. This can make the nursing process extremely painful.

The main culprit behind nipple damage is often an improper latch. When your baby doesn’t take in enough of the areola into their mouth, it puts excessive pressure and strain directly on the nipple itself.

In addition, certain personal care practices can contribute to extra irritation. This includes using harsh hygiene products, wearing tight bras and shirts, or not properly caring for the delicate skin of your breasts. Furthermore, the excess saliva from your baby’s mouth can lead to dryness in the nipple area.


Vasospasm is characterized by the sudden constriction of blood vessels in the nipple. This can result in a highly painful sensation. When blood flow is disrupted, the nipple may turn white, and this discoloration can last from a few seconds to a few minutes.

If your nipple has previously undergone trauma, you are at a higher risk of experiencing vasospasm. Exposure to cold temperatures can also trigger or contribute to this condition. Additionally, if you have a history of vasospasm in your fingers or toes, you are more likely to experience it in your nipples.

Breast Pumps

Are you experiencing breast pain and using a breast pump? The pump itself may be the cause, and there are several reasons why this could be happening. Let’s explore a few potential culprits:

  • The breast pump settings might be too high, resulting in discomfort.
  • It’s important to ensure that the nipple tunnel and other pump components are properly fitted to avoid unnecessary strain.
  • Pumping too frequently or for extended periods could contribute to breast pain.
  • Some individuals may have sensitivity to certain materials used in the breast pump.
  • Like breastfeeding, using a breast pump requires practice and adjustments to find the best approach for you.

How To Deal With Breastfeeding Pain

Regarding breastfeeding pain, it’s crucial to take prompt action in finding suitable remedies that address your specific needs. Fortunately, there are ten remedies that any mom can try, and they can be effective for various conditions. These remedies are particularly helpful if you haven’t yet determined the exact cause of your pain.

Use A Nipple Cream

If you’re experiencing dry or irritated skin around your nipples, using a nipple cream can provide much-needed moisture and soothing relief. Most nipple creams are composed of natural ingredients that are safe for both you and your baby. Here are a few examples of nipple creams that you can consider.

Lansinoh Lanolin Nipple Cream

Bella B Nurturing Nipple Butter 

Bamboobies Women’s Nipple Cream

Breastfeed Early

It is generally recommended to initiate breastfeeding as soon as possible after your baby is born.

During the first few days after giving birth, it takes some time for your milk to fully come in. This process results in your breasts becoming firmer and fuller. Starting to breastfeed when your breasts are softer allows your baby to learn how to latch more gently and become accustomed to nursing from your breast.

Consistently Breastfeed

Maintaining a consistent schedule is important when it comes to breastfeeding. Many women naturally develop a rhythm that aligns with their baby’s feeding patterns. However, situations may arise where you must be away from home for work or if your baby encounters difficulties with nursing. It’s easier to unintentionally go without feeding or expressing breast milk in such cases.

If, for any reason, you are unable to breastfeed directly, it’s crucial to regularly pump or hand express your milk as frequently as your baby would typically feed. This helps prevent the risk of clogged milk ducts or breast engorgement.

Continue Breastfeeding

Although it may appear counterintuitive, continuing to breastfeed can contribute to its healing process even when experiencing a painful condition. If you can and have not been advised otherwise by a medical professional, it is advisable to breastfeed as frequently as possible.

An interesting approach is to gently rub some of your breast milk onto your skin, using a clean finger. This method has shown promising results in healing sore and irritated nipples.

Use Nipple Shields

A nipple shield is a unique breastfeeding tool designed to be placed over the areola and nipple. It is typically made of soft, pliable materials like thin rubber, silicone, or plastic. The synthetic nipple on the shield has small holes that allow milk to flow through during breastfeeding.

While nipple shields are not typically recommended for sore nipples, they can be beneficial if you are experiencing nipple trauma and contemplating discontinuing breastfeeding. A nipple shield can help protect your sensitive skin and allow you to maintain your nursing relationship with your baby.

Improve Latch

One of the main culprits behind breastfeeding pain is an improper latch. Taking the time to work on improving your baby’s latch can significantly prevent issues like engorgement, sore nipples, and various other breastfeeding problems. It’s worth experimenting with different positions to find what works best for you and your baby. Additionally, it’s important to closely examine your baby’s mouth for any signs of difficulty or trouble during latching.

Warm And Cool Compresses

One simple remedy to temporarily alleviate pain is by using a compress. You can try a warm or cold compress depending on your specific condition. You can easily create your own using a damp cloth or purchasing pre-made compresses from a store.

Cold compresses can be particularly effective in reducing pain and minimizing swelling, while heat can help relax tight muscles and relieve soreness.

See Your Doctor

Regardless of your discomfort, it is always wise to consult your doctor, particularly if your pain persists for more than a week or if you have any concerns. By seeking medical advice, your doctor can accurately diagnose any underlying condition you might be experiencing and offer you reassurance and guidance moving forward.

Breastfeeding Discomfort FAQS

Is it normal for breastfeeding to be painful?

While some tenderness is common, breastfeeding shouldn’t be consistently painful. If you’re experiencing ongoing pain, it’s worth investigating the cause.

Can breast pumps cause breast pain?

Breast pumps can cause discomfort if not used correctly, such as high suction levels or ill-fitting parts. Proper usage and fit are important.

How often should I breastfeed or express milk to prevent clogged ducts?

Aim to breastfeed or express milk as frequently as your baby would typically feed to maintain proper milk flow and prevent clogged ducts.

Understanding the common causes of breastfeeding pain and discomfort can empower you to find effective solutions. Whether it’s an improper latch, engorgement, clogged milk ducts, or other issues, there are various strategies to tackle these challenges.

Ultimately, your journey as a breastfeeding mother is unique, and finding what works best for you and your baby is key.