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.

You may also be interested in:

Common breastfeeding Questions quit breastfeeding breastfeeding and teething tips to prevent biting

Continue Reading

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Breastfeeding

5 Things I Wish I'd Known About Breastfeeding

5 Things I Wish I'd Known About Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding Expectations vs. Reality

Breastfeeding really threw me for a loop. I was picturing flowers and fairies and the reality was like getting hit by a truck. I wish I had know the following 5 things before I started so I could have been more prepared.

1. Early on, you will spend 8 hours a day feeding your baby.

Factor in diaper changes and feeble attempts to sleep, and your days will pass in a blur of leaky breasts.

This is normal.

When my lactation consultant told me a new breastfeeding mom spends an average of 8 hours a day nursing, I let out a huge sigh of relief. Nobody warned me how time intensive feeding a baby is early on – you aim to feed a newborn 8-12 times a day and they don’t exactly drink fast! The good news is this average feeding time will drop significantly as your baby becomes more efficient.

2. There is a difference between nutritive sucking and nursing for comfort.

Both are important, but early on I was so worried when my LO was on my breast for 87 minutes straight (after feeding most of the day already). I later learned that he had been snoozing and was probably only consuming a small amount of milk. While comfort nursing plays an important role, don’t instantly panic and think you don’t have enough milk because a nursing session is lasting foreverrrrrr.

3. Breastfeeding might hurt at first!

Nobody tells you breastfeeding hurts. I couldn’t have imagined so much pain could be concentrated in my nipples. I truly believed I would rather go through the pain of labor and delivery again than suffer through one more painful nursing session.

It is true the breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt long term, but it can be immensely painful at the start. If you are in pain, seek help, but don’t give up due to pain alone – chances are you can make adjustments and breastfeed pain free. Also, don’t make the mistake I did and let your child nurse with a bad latch. I was so excited he was finally nursing that I ignored the bad latch and wound up with a host of issues ranging from chapped, cracked nipples, to months of pain from vasospasm.

how to use breast pump

4. There is such a thing as a let down, or milk ejection reflex.

I really didn’t know how breastfeeding worked – milk doesn’t just automatically flow at any given time. Your nursling will need to gently suck to stimulate a let down (milk ejection reflex) and then drink his fill from there. Also, there are usually multiple let downs per feeding, which is why the baby’s rate of sucking and swallowing varies as he nurses.

Knowledge of the milk ejection reflex can also help with pumping. When I first pumped, I would sit there with the pump suction dialed up wondering why it was taking forever for any milk to come out. If you use your pump to stimulate a letdown first, you can usually pump more milk, faster.

5. Breastfeeding is instinctual for baby, but a learned skill for mom.

This one is probably the most important of all – cut yourself some slack if you’re struggling to nurse your baby! Early on breastfeeding is time consuming and painful, but like any skill, it takes time and practice to master. Your body was built to do this – have faith in yourself and you will be surprised at the amazing breastfeeding relationship that will develop.

And remember, you can ask for help. I had the support of two lactation consultants. I also saw a doctor since I was convinced we had thrush (we didn’t) and saw a specialist since I was convinced baby had a tongue or lip tie (he didn’t). Maybe I was a breastfeeding hypochondriac at first, but with practice and persistence we eventually got to the point where I could nurse without crying. I have now continued breastfeeding my son past his first birthday, and (sometimes) I actually enjoy it.  

Learn more about breastfeeding here:

breastfeeding benefits Common breastfeeding Questions toddler breastfeeding tips

Continue Reading