So many people tell you that breastfeeding should be a wonderful moment, but no one discusses what could happen unexpectedly. One of those things is nipple vasospasm. One moment, you might be settling in for a quiet moment with your little one. The next, you feel a deep pain in your breast or around the nipple.
There are a number of reasons why you could be getting nipple vasospasms, but don’t worry. Vasospasms don’t have to stop you from breastfeeding. Here is everything you need to know about nipple vasospasms, including why they happen and what you can do about the pain:
What is Vasospasm?
A vasospasm is a condition where arteries and blood vessels inside the body contract, preventing normal blood flow. The condition may affect any number of blood vessels within the body. Vasospasm usually happens as a result of emotional stress or cold, but it can also be related to other medical conditions, like autoimmune diseases.
What About a Nipple Vasospasm?
Much like normal vasospasm, nipple vasospasm is triggered during breastfeeding and can cause muscle pain within the breast. For breastfeeding mothers, the usual cause of nipple vasospasm is a poor latch.
Nipple Vasospasm Symptoms
The symptoms of nipple vasospasm include:
- Painful nipples: Many mothers describe the pain as a stabbing, burning, or itching that is felt after nursing or in between.
- White nipples: Your nipples might look blanched. Sometimes, you will notice a color change (blues or reds) along with numbness or pain, which is sometimes associated with Raynaud’s syndrome or Raynaud’s phenomenon.
- Sore nipples: A vasospasm might cause misshapen and aching nipples.
- Breast pain: Shooting pains might move through the nipple and deeper into the breast and surrounding muscles.
- Cold to the touch: If caused by cold temperatures, the nipple and breast might feel cold. Usually accompanied with discolored or white skin.
The pain from a nipple vasospasm might last for a few seconds or several hours. The pain may intensify if you experience a shift in temperature, such as stepping outside on a cold day or taking a hot shower.
Risk Factors For Nipple Vasospasm When Breastfeeding
As mentioned earlier, the common cause of nipple vasospasm is a baby’s poor latch during breastfeeding. However, that is not the only cause. Other causes include:
- Severe emotional stress
- to the cold
- Poor latch or biting
- Nipple cracks or other traumas to the breast
- Cigarette smoking or second-hand smoke
- Certain medications, like Diflucan or birth control pills
- Certain medical conditions, like hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus
How Can I Avoid a Nipple Vasospasm During Breastfeeding?
If you are experiencing nipple vasospasm, don’t despair. There are things you can do to help lessen the risks and make breastfeeding less painful.
The first step is getting help with positioning. Even if you are unsure about whether your baby has a proper latch, you should either read a guide about proper latching or watch a video or get assistance from a certified lactation consultant. Poor latches, ineffective suckling, or even clamping down on the nipple can cause the nipple to blanch and spasm.
Babies with higher muscle tone or with tummy aches (caused by allergies) will sometimes bite down on the nipple instead of suckling. Make sure that your baby is attaching to the nipple correctly by taking a mouthful of the breast along with the nipple.
If you are sensitive to the cold, then keep warm during breastfeeding sessions. Be sure to cover the nipple as soon as your baby is finished instead of letting it air dry. You can use dry breast pads to cover the nipple. Avoid sudden temperature shifts.
You can also try massaging the breast and nipple with warming massage oil to help bring blood flow back into the tissues.
Lastly, be sure to rule out bacterial infections or thrush. Sometimes, the burning sensation and soreness can be caused by infections rather than nipple vasospasm. If you are experiencing symptoms beyond the ones listed for nipple vasospasm, get in contact with a medical professional immediately.
What if I Have Raynaud’s?
Primary and secondary Raynaud’s causes reduced blood flow to the extremities—fingers and toes—and can cause spasms as blood returns to these body parts. Although often misdiagnosed, Raynaud’s is becoming more common in those with autoimmune disorders, so do not rule it out.
If you know you have Raynaud’s and want to breastfeed, here are some tips:
- Stay warm. As mentioned above, avoid letting the nipples get cold. Stay covered before and after breastfeeding.
- Never breastfeed during a nipple vasospasm. Instead, try warming the breast first. Squeezing the nipple repeatedly may also help return blood flow.
- Try pumping. Some mothers find that pumping their breastmilk is less painful than a direct latch.
Treatments For Nipple Vasospasm
Sometimes you will need to do more for your painful vasospasm symptoms than just staying warm and trying to massage the breast. Note that some of these methods are only available after discussing options with your doctor or a medical professional.
- Use ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), which are available over-the-counter, to treat pain and soreness. These medications are safe to use while breastfeeding.
- Omega fatty acids can sometimes lessen the frequency of nipple vasospasm and help with blood circulation. You can try evening primrose oil (vegetarian-friendly) or fish oil capsules.
- Your healthcare provider might suggest a higher dose of vitamin B6 (around 150-200 mg for 3-4 days then 25-50 mg afterward), magnesium (500 mg, twice daily), and calcium (1000 mg, twice daily) to help with vasospasm symptoms.
- Your doctor might also prescribe Nifedipine, which is usually for high blood pressure (hypertension) but also helpful for nipple vasospasm. It is safe for infants and breastfeeding mothers. You will be on Nifedipine for about 2 weeks, sometimes longer.
Pain and discomfort caused by nipple vasospasms should not stop you from breastfeeding your baby. There is a relief, either by adjusting the latch or taking some medication. Either way, you do not have to stop nursing. Reach out to a lactation consultant or your doctor for advice. The pain will eventually stop, and you can get back to bonding with your baby.
Don’t stop there! We have plenty of other insightful and informative articles for you to read.
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