Yikes! That Pinched.
Preventing Discomfort and Nipple Pain While Breast Pumping
The first time the breast pump felt like a kitten nipping you, it caught you by surprise. You didn’t expect it to pinch. You tried again, thinking you’d “toughen up”…only to find the same “ouchy” feeling. What happened?
Nipple pain while pumping is not uncommon. It happens for a variety of reasons. The tough part is, most women want to keep pumping, especially if they’ve gone back to work or school. So the question is, how do you “push through” it and get to a happier place?
There are definitely some easy ways to reduce nipple pain with a breast pump. Here are some steps to consider.
Check the Suction of Your Breast Pump
A strong suction setting doesn’t necessarily make you pump more milk. You only express milk when you experience milk letdown – when hormones cause your milk ducts to widen and the muscles of your breast to contract.
What triggers this? Having your baby suckle, hearing your baby’s cry, or even thinking about your baby, among other things. Relaxation is essential. If you’re having trouble expressing milk, massaging your breast and using a warm compress can help.
A high suction setting on your breast pump won’t stimulate milk production. But it could cause soreness in your nipples. As a rule, just place your pump on a setting that’s comfortable. If you’re having trouble, set the pump aside, and try again later.
Watch the Fit of Your Flange
The flange, also called the breast shield or nipple tunnel, needs to fit correctly in order to be comfortable. If the flange is too tight or too loose, you may experience pain while you’re pumping or soreness later.
Many breast pumps come with an assortment of flanges. Follow these guidelines to ensure the best fit:
- Your nipple should be able to move freely within the flange, without rubbing against its sides. If it can’t, the flange is too small.
- The dark tissue (areola) around your nipple shouldn’t get pulled into the flange, or bounce in and out of it. If that occurs, the flange is too large.
You should see a small amount of space around your nipple as the pump draws it into the flange. This means the flange is neither too tight nor too loose. This can help prevent pain.
Keep in mind that your nipples may change over the weeks or months you’re breastfeeding. So it’s a good idea to keep checking the fit of the flange you’re using.
Nipple Conditions That Can Arise While Nursing
The source of your pain might not be related to your breast pump. It’s possible you’ve developed a health condition such as:
- Yeast overgrowth (also called thrush or candida)
- A clogged milk duct, which might or might not occur along with a “bleb” or blister
- Mastitis – infection of the breast tissue
If you’re wondering whether you have a medical issue, make an appointment with your doctor right away.
How Else Can You Avoid Nipple Pain?
Try taking some or all of the following steps to prevent pain in your nipples:
- Avoid sleeping on your stomach, which compresses the breasts
- If you wear breast pads for leakage, change them frequently
- If you have a cracked or dry nipple, use lanolin or nipple cream as your doctor directs you to
- Take Tylenol or Motrin if your doctor approves it
- Wear a comfortable bra (a sports bra might help)
- Use warm compresses before and after you pump
- If the pain only affects one side, remember that it’s OK to pump from the other breast, then try the sensitive breast again later. You might find that you’ve had a milk letdown in that breast, which can help ease the pain.
Breast pumps can seem tricky at first, and for some women, they can cause a bit of pain. But with the right fit, enough practice, good medical care and good habits, the process of breast pumping can become far easier over time. Talk to your doctor and/or a lactation consultant if you need more guidance on using breast pumps.
Also, if you feel that you’re ready to stop pumping altogether, here are some tips on how to wean from the pump.