Whether you're new at it or an experienced pro, breastfeeding can inspire a ton of questions about your body that you may never have thought of before. When I started breastfeeding my daughter, one of the earliest questions I had was about the pain in my nipples — a common discomfort breastfeeding moms might face at some point. But what does it mean if your nipples hurt while breastfeeding? Romper reached out to the experts.
International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and Registered Nurse (RN) Jennifer Passwaters tells Romper that the number one cause of nipple pain is poor positioning. "I tell all moms I work with that the latch should not be painful; a painful latch means baby isn't getting good milk transfer." She explains that while feeling a tugging or pulling sensation is normal, feeling a pinching sensation is not. "Some soreness is normal, especially in first few minutes, but pain never is."
If the problem is a bad latch, there are signs to look for, says IBCLC Tera Hamann. "When the baby comes off, the nipple should be round," Hamann tells Romper. "But if it is flat, or lipstick shaped, it's a sign that there is a bad latch." She notes that often even the slightest changes in positioning can make a big improvement.
Passwaters notes that another common cause of pain in the nipples is tongue ties or lip ties in the baby, and that while some positions can help in these situations, more often than not, the ties will need to be clipped. "These situations require the help of a knowledgeable IBCLC who can refer mom and baby to a provider who can perform a clip procedure," she adds.
IBCLC Michelle Kunschke tells Romper that vasospasm can cause nipple pain as well. She says that vasospasm is when blood is pushed out of the nipple due to situations with poor latch or positioning, poor suckling mechanics in the baby (like a tongue tie), or if the mother has Reynaud's Syndrome, in which vasospasm causes the nipple to turn white after the baby unlatches, and then may turn blue, purple, or red-toned. She adds that those with Reynaud's often have painful fingers, toes, or nipples in the cold. "An IBCLC will be able to offer support and guidance and help the parent find out the cause and therefore appropriate solutions," Kunschke says.
Your cycles, or even pregnancy, can be the culprit, too. Hamann notes that hormones, whether they are due to pregnancy or just your period, can make nipples sore and tender. According to her, when you are breastfeeding, cycles can be irregular, and pregnancy may not be on your radar. "When everything else has been going well for weeks to months and there is no obvious explanation, it's not a bad idea to take a pregnancy test," she suggests.
Since there are so many things that can cause nipple pain while you are breastfeeding, it is a good idea to enlist the help of a lactation consultant. Nipple pain is never a good sign, so you'll want the support of someone who can give you the best advice to help you through it and on to a more pleasant breastfeeding journey.