Even if you have sensitive breasts, using a breast pump should never hurt. If using your breast pump is causing you pain you must stop immediately. Pain or discomfort when pumping can inhibit your let down reflex and lead to little or no milk being expressed. It’s easy to damage the tissue around your breast or nipples and cause long lasting damage.
We’ve uncovered the most common reason for breast pumping pain and how you can resolve it.
1. Poor Suction
Check your pump brand and model and find out the suction rate. If you can’t find this information simple time how many times your pump sucks and releases (one cycle) in one minute.
A breast pump with a suction rate of under 30 cycles per minute can often cause sore nipples. At this rate the pump holds the nipple in the breast shield for too long and starts to cause damage. Read your instruction manual carefully to ensure you are using your breast pump correctly, particularly if it’s a manual pump.
2. Suction Too High
A well performing, effective pump will often have customized suction controls to adapt to your comfort levels. It’s easy to fall into the ‘no pain, no gain’ mind set when pumping but this is a myth. The highest suction speed at which you feel most comfortable is the one which will yield the most milk. Start by pumping at the lowest suction level and increase until it becomes uncomfortable, then dial it back one setting. Some pump have two control settings.
Suction Strength: This is used to describe the vacuum created by the pump and often measured in mmHG. This is the first control dial you should lower if your pump hurts.
Suction Speed: This is the number of cycles the pump does in a minute. If your pump hurts you may want to increase this dial, as slower cycles can cause more pain. A breastfeeding baby completes around 60 cycles per minute so it’s best to mimic this rate as closely as possible with the pump.
3. Breast Shield Fit and Size
Ensure your nipple is in the center of the breast shield tunnel and not rubbing against the side when the pump is on. The friction can cause pain and irritation in the nipple, which you will feel almost immediately.
A poor vacuum with the shield can cause rubbing of the breast or nipple. Before you begin to pump moisten the side of the breast shield with breast milk or a nipple cream to create a tight vacuum. If you see your nipple blanching (turning white) or continues to rub against the sides whilst using the pump you need a larger shield size. Most breast pump brands come with a standard 24mm tunnel diameter. However you will find modern brands will offer different shield sizes including various larger sizes, or inserts to make the shield smaller.
Breast pump brands which have breast shield size ranges include
- Medela (24mm, 27mm, 30mm and 36 mm)
- Ameda (21mm, 25mm, 28.5 mm, 30.5 mm, 32.5 mm, 36 mm)
- Spectra (24mm, 28mm, 32mm)
- Hygeia (25mm, 27mm, 30mm)
4. Nipple problems
If you’ve ruled out the above recommendation or nipple pain persists, the problem may be a health issue with your breasts. Common nipple problems you should consider are:
Thrush: Nipple pain is often a symptom of thrush, a yeast infection common when breastfeeding. Other common symptoms include an itching or burning sensation in the nipple. If you think you have thrush you and baby will need to both be treat with anti-fungal medication from your doctor.
Engorgement: If your breasts are too full before you begin to express they may start to become painful. This pain can be relieved by gently massaging your breasts and hand expressing off some milk before you begin to pump.
Mastitis: If your breast are continuously engorged you can easily develop a breast infection known as mastitis. Common symptoms include red, painful nipples and a flu-like feeling. If you suspect this is a problem, contact your doctor as you will need antibiotics to clear up the infection before it causes you to become septic or develop a breast abscess.
Previous Trauma: If you have had previous breast trauma in the past this may have caused long term effects on your nipples. This is common particularly if you’ve being in an accident, breast surgery or a nipple piercing. You may want to discuss any of these issues with your doctor breast specialist who can advise you further.
Eczema or chapped nipples: If you nipples are already sore before using the breast pump you need to allow these time to heal. A good nipple cream can allow time for nipples to heal and soften the area before expressing. If chapped nipples are cause by baby breastfeeding you need to get a lactation specialist to check your baby’s positioning and attachment to prevent further problems.
Reynaud’s Phenomenon: If you notice your nipple turn blue or white after feeding your baby, this may be a sign of Reynaud’s. It’s common to experience breast pain after pumping, caused by reduced blood flow to the breasts. Basic breastfeeding aftercare is to keep breast as warm as possible to prevent you blood vessels contracting. Try not to air dry if you nipples are sore as this will cause then to become cold and increase the pain. Try using a nipple cream which allows moist wound healing or breast shells. Mild analgesia such as paracetamol is safe to take when breastfeeding however you may require medication for vasospasm prescribed from your doctor.