What Does It Mean If Your Nipples Hurt Between Feedings? An Expert Explains

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My nipples went through the ringer when I was breastfeeding my children. At times they were sore, numb, scabbed, leaking, or felt like they'd been dragged across a cheese grater. The periods between feedings were a respite from the discomfort that often accompanied nursing in those first few weeks of breastfeeding, but sometimes, women don't get that reprieve. Their nipple pain may continue or even worsen in the interim. What does it mean if your nipples hurt between feedings? It's a complex problem.

Most nipple pain can be attributed to general injury to the tissue of the nipple and areola during the normal course of breastfeeding. However, there are times when there is an underlying condition that may cause nipple pain that needs to be seen and treated by either a certified lactation consultant or an OB-GYN, according to La Leche League International.

"Most women experience some pain between feedings because of the daily stress on the nipples during breastfeeding," Shari Hughes, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) tells Romper. "Women's nipples are strong, and can take a beating, but they are still vulnerable to damage like any other area of the body." She notes that the wet surface of the nipple sliding across the inside of a bra or across a milk pad might also increase the tenderness.

"There are problems like deep bruising that can occur with a bad latch that might spasm between feedings," Hughes adds. "There are also problems inside of the breast itself like Raynaud's phenomenon or plugged ducts that can cause nipple pain." Unfortunately, these problems must be diagnosed to be treated. Sometimes, she notes, it's as simple as a quick call to an IBCLC or OB-GYN and a description of symptoms, but it's equally likely that it needs to be fully evaluated by a professional. Often, you might think you know where the problem is, only to find out it was coming from a completely different direction.

Yes, it might hurt when your baby tries to chomp off your nipple with their gummy little face, but the shooting pain or blanching of your nipple might be an autoimmune response that requires a bit more treatment than warm compresses in your bra. If it's a latch issue, an IBCLC can evaluate both your baby and your breast (along with the way you're holding them), what your body language is projecting, and they'll also evaluate your diet and activity habits.

Hughes says that more often than not, it's something that's relatively easy to correct, even if it's frustrating. "Every case is different, but patterns tend to come up." Is it possible to learn what it means if your nipples hurt between feedings without being seen? "It's possible if you have a good working knowledge of how your body has performed in similar circumstances, or if you have an idea what's causing it to begin with. Like I said, sometimes all it takes is a quick call, but because there are so many balls in play, it's best to assume a place of ignorance and get an outside opinion," she explains.

Hughes also recognizes that IBCLCs won't always have the answers. "I can get a good idea of many issues of the breast, being both a nurse and lactation consultant, but for more anatomical problems, especially those which might be medically-related, I will always refer you back to your OB-GYN or primary care provider." She notes that every specialty provider has their limits and it's good to know where they stand on what knowledge they have. "If you see an IBCLC over and over and you're not satisfied, please get another opinion. Getting good answers and treatment will help you continue to breastfeed in the long run." It might be absolutely nothing more than just tortured tatas, but in this case, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.