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Painful Nipples While Breastfeeding? Sore Breasts? Learn the Treatments

Updated on July 5, 2015
Chris Telden profile image

Chris Telden knows how fortunate she is to be a mom at all, given her high-risk pregnancy and the challenges of extended breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is great, no doubt about it - beneficial for baby and mom. But it's not all joy. Sore nipples and painful breasts can occur in mothers who nurse their babies. Here you'll learn the common causes of sore nipples and breast pain in women who breastfeed and some possible treatments for helping the hurt.

Causes of Nipple and Breast Pain Problems in Moms

Usually sore nipples and nipple pain during breastfeeding are caused by nipple trauma. What can cause nipple trauma? A baby's latch, if it's not quite "on," can cause injury to the nipple or block milk pores and deliver some serious nipple trauma in the form of:

  • Nipple cracks
  • Milk blister (small white blister that makes nursing very painful)
  • Vasospasm (a painful constriction of the blood vessels in the nipple that occurs between feedings)
  • Blanching (whitening of the nipples)

Breast soreness and pain is generally caused by:

  • Thrush: A yeast infection inside your baby's mouth, causing itching or burning nipples and pain deep in the breast.
  • Plugged duct: Results from a milk blockage, usually occurring on just one breast at a time, causing a breastfeeding session to be painful at the beginning.
  • Mastitis: An inflammation of the breast affecting 1/5 of Western women who breastfeed, mastitis can result from a plugged duct and is often associated with infection and a fever greater than 101 degrees F.
  • Engorgement: When your milk comes in, your breasts fill with milk and can become too tight and hard for the baby to latch on. Engorgement lasts generally just a day.

Poll: Have You Had Any Pain Problems While Breastfeeding?

Which pain problem have you experienced while breastfeeding? (Please help others by sharing your experiences and what helped you in the Comments section.)

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How to Get Rid of Nipple Soreness and Breast Pain

Breastfeeding mothers who experience sore nipples or sore breasts may also feel pain while nursing. You should consult with your doctor or lactation consultant about the problem to find out specifically what your injury or problem requires.

Here are two general treatments for nipple pain and breast soreness that might help:

  • Make sure your baby is using an effective latch. If his latch isn't effectively pulling milk from your breasts, then there's a good chance he's injuring the nipples or breast tissue. A certified lactation consultant can help troubleshoot any latch problems you and your baby are having. You might want to check out the help-with-latching videos in this article for some assistance, as well.
  • Empty your breasts regularly, either by pumping or by frequent breastfeeding. It is safe to keep nursing through plugged ducts, milk blisters, and mastitis--in fact, keeping nursing is part of the therapy. If there is severe nipple trauma, then you may want to opt to pump on the affected breast until you've healed somewhat. (I have an, um, interesting tale to tell regarding a nipple trauma I sustained while breastfeeding in my article, What Breastfeeding Feels Like.)

Poll: Have You Had a Plugged Duct While Breastfeeding?

Which treatment helped you the most to get rid of a plugged duct?

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Poll: Is Lanolin Reallly Effective for Nipple Trauma?

Does purified lanolin help heal your sore or cracked nipples?

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More Treatments for Nursing Pain

Here are more targeted treatments for the conditions that can cause sore nipples and breasts.

For engorgement, plugged ducts and mastitis, also try these home remedies:

  • For mastitis, get in touch with your doctor right away. Mastitis is serious.
  • Rest.
  • Apply a clean cloth-diaper that's been soaked with warm water to the breast that's hurting.
  • Massage the sore breast.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Avoid tight bras.
  • Empty the breasts further after nursing (using a pump or expressing breast milk).

For all kinds of nipple trauma and thrush:

  • Rub purified lanolin (only the kind formulated especially for breastfeeding mothers and babies) on your nipple after breastfeeding.
  • After feeding, express a few drops of breast milk--which has antibacterial properties--and spread the breast milk over the affected nipple.

For vasospasm:

  • Lay off the coffee, tea and other sources of caffeine.
  • Apply dry heat to the nipples.

For thrush:

  • Contact your doctor for the best treatment for you. Some treatments your physician may recommend might include gentian violet or nystatin.
  • Since thrush spreads easily, always treat thrush simultaneously in the baby's mouth and on your nipples.
  • A course of thrush treatment commonly lasts two weeks.
  • Don't be surprised if the pain gets worse before it gets better.

Poll: Have and Your Baby You Had Thrush?

How did you get rid of the thrush? (Please take a moment to explain in the Comments section)

See results

Assymetric Latch Video by Dr. Jack Newman

Dr. Jack Newman Breastfeeding Latch Help Video

Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk? Part 1 Video by Dr. Jack Newman

Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk? Part 2 Video by Dr. Jack Newman

Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk? Part 3 Video by Dr. Jack Newman

Is My Baby Getting Enough Milk? Video Part 4 by Dr. Jack Newman


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    • MommyMarissa profile image

      MommyMarissa 7 years ago

      Great post! I have dealt with thrush and plugged ducts. With Thrush, gentian violet worked best for me and my baby. It wasn't as messy as what I thought it would be. With my plugged duct, a combination of warm water and massage worked wonders!

      If I would have gotten these early on, and thought that the rest of my breastfeeding would be like this, I would have stopped! I'm so glad I made it 4 months before I had any problems!

      As for the nipple ointment.... Lanolin isn't all that it's cracked up (no pun intended) to be. Once you reach the point of bleeding, cracked nipples, I suggest the All Purpose Nipple ointment. You do need a prescription for it. But you doctor should know what you mean when you ask for it.

    • cbris52 profile image

      cbris52 8 years ago

      Very good information for new mommies!