Nipple Vasospasm: What It Is and How to Treat It
Nipple vasospasm is an oftentimes painful condition that can affect breastfeeding parents. Learn what exactly nipple vasospasm is, what causes it, and how to best treat it so you can find relief.
Nipple vasospasm occurs when the blood vessels supplying the nipple contract. The narrowed vessels limit the supply of blood and oxygen while reducing the flow of milk. Breastfeeding mothers who experience nipple vasospasm often feel intense pain. Although some people are naturally predisposed to nipple vasospasm, environmental and behavioral factors can increase the risk. The good news is that it’s often possible to reduce or eliminate nipple vasospasm symptoms with gentle care and the right treatment.
What are the Symptoms of Nipple Vasospasm?
It’s normal for blood vessels to expand and contract, but sometimes they contract too much and for too long. When this happens in the tissue surrounding the nipples, they don’t get enough blood. The nipple will often blanch, making it look paler than usual. When the blood returns, it can also look darker or redder than usual.
The nipple itself may feel sore, and some moms report a burning or stabbing sensation. Breastfeeding mothers can also experience pain deep in the breast tissue near their nipples. This pain can occur before, during, or after feeding. It can also happen between feeds if there are risk factors that increase the likelihood of vasospasm.
What Causes Nipple Vasospasm?
If you experience nipple vasospasm as a breastfeeding mother, it’s most likely because your baby is having latching difficulties during their nursing sessions. An ineffective latch can hurt your nipple and cause the blood vessels to constrict. Learning to latch, however, is common for newborns – and, though many moms will experience soreness or discomfort as a result, not all moms will experience nipple vasospasm. If you are prone to poor circulation (tip: do you frequently have cold hands or feet, even if the temperature is warmer?), this makes nipple vasospasm more likely.
Other factors that may make nipple vasospasm more likely include:
- Exposing your nipples to cold temperatures.
- Cracked nipples.
- Infections, including thrush.
Nipple Vasospasm and Reynaud's Syndrome
Raynaud’s Syndrome causes some parts of the body to be particularly prone to vasospasm. People with this condition experience numbness, cold, and sometimes pain in their hands, feet, ears, and other body parts when smaller arteries supplying blood to the skin narrow in response to cold or stress and cause decreased blood flow to these areas. Breastfeeding mothers with Reynaud’s Syndrome are significantly more likely to suffer from nipple vasospasm.
How to Treat Nipple Vasospasm
If your nipple vasospasm symptoms started when you began to breastfeed, it could be the result of nipple damage from improper latching. You may be able to reduce the pain associated with nipple vasospasm by ensuring your baby is properly latched to your breast while nursing. You can learn more about correctly latching your little one by working with a Lactation Consultant.
Other strategies that can be tried in tandem with working alongside a lactation specialist include:
- Avoiding cold environments when breastfeeding.
- Don’t expose your nipples to cold air – if you’re nursing your little one outside in cooler temperatures, make sure to keep yourself and your baby warm and cozy while they feed!
- Wear an extra layer of breastfeeding-friendly clothing to keep warm in or out of your home.
- Cover your chest as soon as your baby comes off the breast so you can maintain warmth.
- Use dry heat, such as a breast warmer or heat pack.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol, all of which can also make vasospasm more likely.