Why is Breastfeeding painful?



Regina Kincaid discusses why breastfeeding can be painful below and tips on how to deal with it. Regina is a mum of four, a midwife, an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), and the founder of the Kindest Milk breastfeeding service (kindestmilk.com).

Breastfeeding is supposed to be an enjoyable experience but one of the leading causes of new parents giving up breastfeeding - often earlier than intended - is pain, especially nipple pain.


Is nipple pain normal?

When evaluating nipple pain, it is important to distinguish between:

  • Typical, transient nipple pain
  • Abnormal or pathological nipple pain

Whilst it is true that some breastfeeding people never experience any sort of discomfort, many new mothers report nipple tenderness or soreness in the first two weeks of breastfeeding. This transient soreness usually peaks between days 3-5 due to changing hormonal levels and the milk coming in. Frequent newborn feeding, getting used to baby’s suction during feeding, and learning to latch baby may also contribute to some degree of nipple pain.


1. Typical, transient nipple pain

What is “typical, transient nipple pain”?

Typical, transient nipple plan usually doesn’t indicate a problem. For example:

  • Latch-on pain that lasts no more than 30 sec.
  • There is no nipple pain for the rest of the feed, after, or between feeds
  • The pain usually resolves within 2 weeks.
  • There is no nipple damage such as cracks, blisters, or bleeding.
  • Your nipple is not misshapen after feeds.


Any tips for dealing with this pain?

  • First and foremost, ensure that baby’s latch is correct
  • Change feeding positions frequently to avoid soreness
  • Begin breastfeeding on the least sore side
  • Wash your nipple/ areola area once daily with mild, fragrance-free soap and water.
  • Rub some breastmilk into your nipple after feeds
  • Use a small amount of purified lanolin after feeds. If you have a known wool allergy, you may prefer extra virgin, organic coconut, or olive oil. Lansinoh lanolin is available in-store and online.
  • Try Multi-Mum® compresses between feeds to keep your nipple flora balanced
  • If you find that your bra or breast pads are rubbing against your nipple, consider wearing breast shells or silver cups for nipple protection
  • Try a saltwater rinse: 1/2 tsp salt in 1 cup of water filled into a squeeze bottle. Pat dry after the rinse before applying breast milk/ lanolin to promote moist wound healing


2. Abnormal or pathological nipple pain

What is considered “abnormal nipple pain”?

Abnormal nipple pain usually:

  • Lasts longer than 30 sec after latch-on
  • Is described as intense, excruciating, or toe curling
  • Continues through the entire feeding
  • Occurs between feedings
  • Continues past the first couple of weeks postpartum
  • Causes skin damage e.g. cracks, blisters, or bleeding
  • The nipple is misshapen after feeding

It is advised to seek help from a lactation consultant, midwife, public health nurse, or doctor as soon as possible if you are experiencing this, as breastfeeding is not supposed to be painful like this.


Why am I experiencing this nipple pain?

There are many potential causes including:

  • Shallow, suboptimal latch-  your nipple is rubbing against the baby’s hard palate, causing soreness and damage
  • Infant anatomical challenges such as tongue tie, high palate, and receding chin.
  • Unusual sucking, jaw clamping/clenching
  • Nipple anatomy (flat or inverted nipples)
  • Dermatitis, i.e., caused by an allergy to certain nipple creams or breast pads
  • Wrong-size pump shields
  • Nipple infection/mastitis
  • Thrush
  • Vasospasm
  • Pregnancy/hormonal changes

Each of these individual causes require a specific treatment approach. It is therefore important to get in touch with an experienced breastfeeding support professional to keep your breastfeeding journey on the right track.


Pop in-store and chat with your Allcare pharmacist for advice and also check out kindestmilk.com for tips and also to book a breastfeeding consultation with Regina.