Breastfeeding is supposed to be a pleasant experience for both mother and baby, but some women have an altogether different experience characterized by painful, blanched nipples. There are a few causes for white, painful nipples during breastfeeding, but all of them can hamper the breastfeeding relationship. Fortunately, treatments are available to help your breasts get back to normal so you can experience the intense bonding and closeness that a good nursing session can bring.
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If your baby isn't latching deeply enough, is clamping down on the nipple or is otherwise compressing your nipple in his mouth, this could be the cause of your white and painful nipple after a breastfeeding session. In most cases, if this is the cause, the nipple will also appear flattened, pointed or otherwise malformed when the baby detaches. Determining and fixing the problem should solve the problem.
If the nipple was previously damaged, a condition called vasospasm can develop, even if the source of the original damage has already been fixed. Vasospasms usually occur a few minutes after you stop breastfeeding, not during the actual nursing session. During a vasospasm, a blood vessel in your nipple constricts suddenly, causing intense pain and blanching the nipple as the blood supply gets cut off temporarily. Because it is often triggered by cold, it sometimes occurs as the baby unlatches and the nipple is suddenly exposed to a lower temperature. Once the nipple damage is healed, vasospasms usually go away, although they can linger for a few days or weeks.
Raynaud's phenomenon is a type of vasospasm that isn't actually caused by breastfeeding but simply occurs spontaneously in some women. It can happen during feeding, after feeding or in situations completely unrelated to breastfeeding. It might also affect your fingers and toes. Like other forms of vasospasm, it can be triggered by cold, so keeping your nipples warm is essential.
The first step to treating white, painful nipples associated with breastfeeding is to correct any latch issues that the baby might have. A doctor or nurse experienced with breastfeeding or a board-certified lactation consultant can help you assess your baby's latch and make suggestions that might help. If you experience vasoconstriction or Raynaud's phenomenon, cover your nipple as soon as your baby comes off the breast so that it is not exposed to cold air. Apply dry heat, such as a sock filled with rice and microwaved for about 45 seconds, after breastfeeding until the pain subsides. Ibuprofen taken after a nursing session can help ease pain from blanched nipples.