Breastfeeding Pain: Vasospasm & Nipple Blanching

nipple blanching and vasospasm

manage breastfeeding pain vasospasm

Breastfeeding Pain is Not Uncommon

Breastfeeding pain is quite common among new nursing moms and comes in multiple forms. For me, a prolonged bout of nipple blanching and vasospasm nearly caused me to quit breastfeeding. I cringe as I write this and remember the pain I dealt with for three long months. (You can read about my painful start to breastfeeding here.)

What are Vasospasm and Nipple Blanching?

Nipple blanching and vasospasm are restricted blood flow in the nipple that can lead to intense breastfeeding pain. Nipple blanching typically happens during a feed due to compression from a bad latch, and nursing mom might feel sharp pain and notice her nipple has turned white after feeding. Vasospasm may happen during or between feeds and results from constriction of the blood vessel in the nipple. (For greater detail from professionals, check out this page on Kelly Mom.)

I suffered from vasospasm for several months, most likely triggered by my son’s bad latch. It was ridiculously painful. And also bizarre at first because a main symptom is that your nipple will turn completely white since blood flow is restricted. Talk about creepy! I thought my nipples were frozen and were going to fall off!

I’ve shared my tips below to manage and get through the pain associated with vasospasm/ nipple blanching. Please note, this is based solely on my experience, and I am not a medical professional. Do consult a doctor or lactation consultant if you are experiencing unusual pain associated with breastfeeding. Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links to products I used (and recommend) to handle vasospasm pain.

Here are my top tips to manage and recover from the pain of vasospasm.

Breastfeeding Pain: Tips to Manage Nipple Blanching & Vasospasm

    1. A good latch. My son’s bad latch most likely caused my vasospasms. His latch was really horrendous and I didn’t act soon enough to correct it because I was scared it would discourage him from feeding. Turns out that was a terrible idea that led to months of pain for me! Find a lactation consultant, talk to a breastfeeding friend, or get on youtube to work on that latch!
    2. Never get cold. Ok, that might be hard, but once you feel the pain of vasospasm, which can also be triggered by cold, you’ll go to great lengths to keep your nipples warm. Beyond the obvious of wearing an extra sweater, take care when exposing your breasts before and after a feed, or stepping out of a warm shower.
    3. Dry heat. Following the ‘never get cold’ advice, use dry heat as therapy for the pain. I had trouble in particular at night where the pain of vasospasm was too much so I couldn’t sleep. Applying dry heat really helped so I could catch a bit of shuteye. You can microwave breast pillows and wear them in your bra for great dry heat therapy.

4. Warm oil or lanolin massage. My doula suggested massaging my nipples with warm olive oil. I used lanolin salve instead and it was very therapeutic.

5. Ibuprofen. I tried to avoid medication as much as I could, but especially in order to be able to sleep or nurse my son without screaming in pain, I had to use ibuprofen. My doula reassured me by pointing out that Ibuprofen could actually help break the cycle of pain caused by the constricting blood vessels and allow me to recover. It really did help and I would take ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) on the most painful nights so I could sleep.

6. Be patient. Patience is the last piece of advice you want when you’re struggling with pain, but hearing other moms who had suffered from vasospasm tell me they recovered after 1-3 months was what I needed. I met a few other women who assured me they did get past the pain, so I was inspired to continue breastfeeding.

I Hope These Tips Helped!

I hope these tips help anyone suffering from nipple blanching and/or vasospasm. The most important thing to remember is, the pain will go away if the cause of the problem (e.g. a bad latch) is addressed. In the meantime, you can mitigate the pain with the tips shared above. Comment below with any questions or your own tips for overcoming breastfeeding pain.

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