Nipple pain is a frustrating problem to have while pumping. It’s a challenge because you need to keep pumping on the schedule to maintain your milk supply, but it’s painful to do so. What’s most important is that you find out the cause of your nipple pain while pumping so that you can resolve it quickly.
If anyone tells you that pumping should be painful or uncomfortable, they’re wrong. Pumping and pain do NOT go together. If you have pain while pumping, then it means something needs to be adjusted or changed to alter that pain.
Expressing breast milk with a pump is something that you have to learn how to pump correctly, and that can take time. That learning process also means you might mess up and make some mistakes that cause pain. Thankfully, most of the reasons why you have nipple pain while pumping can easily be remedied.
1. Incorrect Sized Breast Shield
Most pumps are sold with 24ml flanges, often called breast shields, but you might need a bigger or smaller size to be comfortable. The problem is that finding the right size for you can be an expensive trial and error process.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that large breasts don’t mean you need a larger breast shield size. The size of the shield you need reflects your nipple, not breast.
2. Too High Suction Strength
It can be tempting to set your breast pump at a higher speed or suction. That means the job gets done faster, right?
Not necessarily! Setting the pump at too high of a suction strength causes nipple pain. So, start at the lowest setting and gradually increase it. Stop a notch or two before you might feel uncomfortable with the suction strength.
Do your nipples feel like they’re burning or feel very itchy? Perhaps they have shooting pains in your breast during feedings. If so, you might have thrush, which creates intense nipple pain and deep breast pain after pumping. Usually, you’ll find white patches in your baby’s mouth as well.
4. Nipple Blister
Sometimes called a milk blister or a bleb, these are similar to a clogged duct, but they occur on the tip of your nipple. Ouch! Nipple blisters are caused when the nipple skin closes over a milk duct opening.
5. Incorrect Latch
Latching the pump onto your nipple incorrectly hurts as bad as latching a baby incorrectly. It can cause your nipple to experience friction and irritation while pumping, leading to an injury.
Make sure you watch some videos on YouTube and read instructions on how to place the breast shield over your nipple correctly. It’s an easy fix to a simple problem that can cause massive injuries!
6. Picked the Wrong Pump
Believe it or not, some battery-operated pumps can put you at a higher risk for pumping injuries. There is a chance that your pump might be the culprit behind your nipple pain while pumping. Hospital-grade pumps also have a higher risk of injury because of inadequate instruction on using correctly.
If you suspect that your pump is the culprit, give a hand-operated pump a try. You can better control the speed and suction.
7. Clogged Duct or Mastitis
Usually, a clogged duct only affects one breast at a time. You might feel a hard, painful lump in your breast, which is where the milk flow is clogged. The area around the lump will be tender and sometimes red. It feels the worst when you’re pumping or feeding.
Mastitis starts off feeling just like a clogged duct, so mastitis might not be diagnosed for a day or two. Then, it starts to get worse.
Mastitis includes fever, chills, and flu-like aching. If you have super-painful boobs and feel like you have the flu, chances are you have mastitis.
8. Dry Pumping
Dry pumping is when you’re pumping, but no milk is coming out. Sometimes, you’ll see this recommended to help increase your breast milk supply, but you do need to be careful. Dry pumping can cause more irritation and stress on your nipples. It’s okay to add a few moments onto the end of your pumping session to try to increase your milk supply, but don’t do it for too long.deep breast pain after pumping
How to Prevent Nipple Pain While Pumping?
The best defense is a good offense, right? A football analogy may seem strange here, but it works. The best way to stop nipple pain while pumping is never to experience it to start, so you need to learn ways to prevent the pain from starting in the first place.
If you’re already experiencing nipple pain while pumping, then you need to use these tactics as well, combined with fixing the issue and making your nipples more comfortable while pumping.
1. Use Nipple Cream
Do you want to learn a game-changer that I had when I pump for my kids? I use nipple cream as a lubricant – seriously.
Not only did I use nipple cream to heal up any cracked nipples that I had, but I also lubricated the inside of my flanges with nipple cream. It helps to prevent friction and makes pumping even more comfortable than before. I also experienced an increase in how much I was able to pump.
2. Pick the Right Breast Shield
You might have to try more than one shield to find the right size, but there are a few guidelines that you can follow to determine if the current shield you have now is too big or too small.
3. Gradually Change the Suction
Pumping on higher suction and super speed doesn’t mean you’ll get more breast milk or finish pumping sooner. Instead, start on a low setting and gradually change the suction. Switching to high settings can be too painful for your breasts, and it actually might remove less breast milk.
You want to find the setting that is comfortable and mimics how your baby nurses, which will help to get your milk flowing.
4. Set a Timer
Pump each of your breasts for around 10 minutes. If you’re still getting breast milk out at 10 minutes, you can continue to pump for a little longer, but you typically don’t want to pump for more than 15 minutes each breast. Continuing to pump for longer than recommended can lead to sore nipples and breasts.
5. Air Out Your Nipples
Another trick that you can try is letting your breasts “air out” if possible. No, that doesn’t mean you need to go around topless all day long. If you can do it for 5-10 minutes before you have to close up your bra, it will make a difference. You don’t have to do it all the time; any time will help.
How to Treat Nipple Pain While Pumping?
If you’re currently experiencing nipple pain while pumping, you have to address the underlying cause of the pain. For example, you might need to get a different flange size. While you are fixing the problems that caused the nipple pain, you can try a few of these tips to help make yourself more comfortable.
1. Slather on Nipple Cream
If you have dry, bleeding, or cracked nipples, try applying some nipple cream on thickly before and after pumping. Yes, you need to do it both times!
2. Treat Conditions
If you have a clogged duct or mastitis, those conditions need to be treated to get rid of the pain. Mastitis often requires antibiotics because it’s an infection in your breast tissue. Left untreated, mastitis can lead to an abscess in your breast, and that’s not fun.
The same goes for a clogged duct. If a clogged duct is the culprit for your nipple pain while pumping, then you need to get rid of the clog. That can take a bit of a trial and error, but many women are successful by using a combination of heat, massaging, nursing, and pumping.
3. Take Pain Medicine
If the pain is awful, don’t feel guilty about taking some Motrin or Tylenol. These medications are created to help reduce pain. So, take some pain medicine before you need to pump and give it time to work before you sit down with your breast pump.
4. Pump First on Opposite Side
If only one side is experiencing the nipple pain, start by pumping the other side first. Once you let down, you can hook up the affected side to the pump. Nipple pain is usually the worst before let down.
5. Use a Warm Compress
Try using a warm compress on your breast or over your nipple before you pump. Warmth can also feel fantastic after you pump. Try using it at different times to see, which helps relieve pain better. A warm washcloth is typically the best choice, but you can use a warm heating pad. Just be sure not to make it too hot because your nipples are already sensitive if they’re in pain and damaged from previous injuries.
6. Don’t Pump for Excessive Periods
We’ve mentioned this a few times, but be sure not to pump too long. You don’t need to be hooked to your pump for hours on end. Set a timer and see what happens. On average, 10-15 minutes per breast is the usual amount of time that you should pump. Exceeding 30 minutes per breast could cause injury, so try to avoid excessive time.
How Much is Too Much Nipple Pain?
Everyone knows that breast milk is the superior choice, but sometimes, it doesn’t work out the way that we want. Mothers have to be able to determine when is the nipple pain too much.
The decision to stop pumping or nursing is individual. No one can tell you the right or wrong choice. The best thing that you can do is be an advocate for yourself, which means seeking out all of the help you need.
Be sure to seek help from a professional. Pediatricians are fantastic, but an IBCLC is the best person to seek advice from when you’re having any nipple pain. LCs are trained to be able to help you identify the source of the pain and help you make a plan for success.
Sometimes, even that doesn’t help, so how do you know how much is too much nipple pain?
Wounds Refuse to Heal
Having open sores on your nipples make pumping difficult. Sometimes, you need a break from pumping to give yourself time to heal. If you’ve tried everything and the wounds refuse to heal, you can try hand expressing, or you can switch to formula.
Both are okay!
It Becomes Too Consuming
If the nipple pain is persistent and makes you miserable all of the time, it’s understandable why you would stop pumping. You need to be able to focus on life, your work, and your baby! There is more to life than a breast pump.
When Should You See a Doctor?
In most cases, moms can figure out the source of her nipple pain or with the help of an LC. Sometimes, you need to see a doctor, and these are usually medical reasons.
For most moms, antibiotics are needed to clear up mastitis cases. It’s not a condition that you want to mess around with, so don’t hesitate to call your doctor.
If you suspect that you have thrush, contacting your doctor can be a smart idea. No one likes those sharp, shooting pains caused by thrush of the breast. Your doctor can prescribe medication or a topical cream to kick thrush. Usually, your baby will need to be treated as well.
3. Open Wounds
Sometimes, your persistent open wounds on your nipples need to be treated with an antibiotic or a topical cream.
Final Thoughts on Nipple Pain While Pumping
Nipple pain while pumping is something no one wants to deal with, especially when they’re pumping. Pumps can be brutal on your nipples, and accidentally misusing them can lead to damage on your nipples. You must work to identify the reason for your nipple pain so that you can adequately correct the problem and treat your sore nipples.