What Can You Do When Breastfeeding Hurts?

BREASTFEEDING. Mamas, there are so many new emotions and sensations that come with initiating and maintaining breastfeeding! The number one question I seem to get is “should it hurt?” The answer is NO. 

Will it feel different? Yes. Will it feel unusual? Maybe. Will it be uncomfortable? Maybe initially. Will it be hard? Yes, it certainly can be. If you are having any kind of pain either before, during or in between feeds this is not the norm and you should be assessed by your healthcare provider, Mama Coach or lactation professional. 

What Could Be Causing The Pain? 

Incorrect Latch

Your baby’s latch to your nipple/breast tissue is the first goal of a successful breastfeeding session. It takes practice, practice, practice and lots of patience. There are physical reasons, such as a tongue/lip tie or flat/inverted nipples, that could be causing baby to have a harder time achieving a good deep latch. 

Physical Trauma

This could include any of the following being present on your nipples or breast tissue: cracks, soreness, bleeding, redness, bruising, edema, blisters, blebs, fissures or scabbing. 


This is associated with your milk “coming in”. There can be pain and discomfort with engorgement because of insufficient milk removal, milk stasis, swelling and inflammation. 


Also called Candidiasis and is a yeast infection (Candida Albicans). It will be present in baby’s mouth and can also be present on mom’s nipples. It is characterized by the rapid development of extremely sore nipples with burning or itching and associated with burning, shooting or stabbing nipple pain that radiates to the chest wall. 

Plugged Ducts and Mastitis

Plugged ducts can happen from an abundant milk supply and not adequately draining the breasts. Mastitis is an infection of the breast tissue (most commonly seen in the first 3-6 months of breastfeeding). 


This is a condition characterized by vasospasm of the nipple causing whitening of the nipple and associated with severe/throbbing pain. You can read more about Raynaud’s Phenomenon and breastfeeding here

Other Breast Pain

In some cases, pressure on our nerve network (brachial plexus) can cause shooting pain in the breast. Shooting pains can also coincide with a powerful ejection of milk or a “let down” of milk. This can happen during a feed or in between breastfeeds. Another reason could be associated with breast pump use- incorrect flange size, usage and pump settings. 

What Can You Do?

This will depend on what is causing the pain. Did the pain just start? Where do you feel it? Do you feel it before, during or after breastfeeding? Has breastfeeding been going well and now suddenly is not? 

  • Ensure you have proper positioning for yourself and baby when breastfeeding. When possible try to do this right from the start, you are going to be breastfeeding several times in 24hrs so good positioning can help avoid all kinds of discomforts
  • Work hard at getting a good latch. This takes SO much time and practice, give yourself grace and try to be patient. It can take several weeks for breastfeeding to be comfortable.
  • If you have an abundance of milk be sure to empty your breasts at feeds, using hand expression after and massage during feeds
  • Cold compresses or gel packs in between feeds can help with inflammation and pain
  • Keep nipples clean and dry
  • Contact a lactation professional or clinic for help with things such as nipple shield use, tongue tie assessment, suck strength and pattern assessments,  and medications to treat infections or open lesions. 
  • Use expressed breast milk/colostrum, lanolin or other baby-safe ointments on your nipples after each feed. If your nipples have cracks, sores or lesions you can talk to your health care provider to obtain a prescription for Jack Newman’s nipple cream (this is amazing!) 
  • Use appropriate breast pump flange size for your nipples as well as avoid high suction settings and extra-long cycling sessions. 
  • Drink plenty of fluids and try to rest when you can. Ask for help! (this is a hard one, but maybe the most important!) 


It’s best to go to a health care provider with any concerns or pain associated with breastfeeding. A Mama Coach in your area would be happy to come to your home and support you with your breastfeeding goals, no matter what they are! 


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