Reynaud’s Phenomenon: Could this Explain Painful Breastfeeding?

By Sam Kimura

June 26, 2019

Sam is a mother of 2 beautiful children, RN, sleep coach, lactation counselor and prenatal coach. She has a keen interest in maternal mental health and through her work, hopes to decrease isolation and increase community among mothers.

You may hear among other mothers and health care professionals that breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful. When your baby latches, you may feel a few seconds of discomfort and your breasts will have an adjustment period to your milk coming in, but you should not be experiencing feelings of pain when your baby latches or when baby is sucking and swallowing milk. Breastfeeding should be a comfortable experience for both you and your baby, whether this is with your newborn or with your older baby as well. 

Common causes of painful breastfeeding

The most common cause of painful breastfeeding is a poor latch with baby. If baby has a tongue or lip tie, or if babe has a weak or strong latch, you will likely need to consult with a lactation clinic and physician to modify babe’s feeding. Thrush is often the cause of painful breastfeeding but presents differently than a poor latch. When you are experiencing a candida albicans infection, you will often have pain during a letdown or shortly thereafter. You are less likely to feel pain in your nipple and areolar area, but rather you will feel shooting pain (some describe it to chards of glass) through your entire breast and milk ducts. Treatment for this is medication to manage the yeast infection that is occurring and being transferred back and forth between mom and baby. Read more about thrush in this article

Raynaud’s Phenomenon is less likely, but can happen

Raynaud’s Phenomenon is an internal dysfunction with your veins in your breasts that will cause excruciating pain in a mom’s nipples when baby latches or when your milk lets down. The blood vessels that are flowing to the nipple constrict, which often can make mothers feel like their nipple is being clamped down upon. The signs of this while breastfeeding include

  • Intense throbbing pain (as described above)
  • Blanching of the nipple initially (it turns very white in color)
  • After the color change to white, you will see the color changed to dark red or blue as blood starts to flow back to the area
  • Can be made worse by cold temperature, nicotine or caffeine

When to see a doctor

Bottom line mamas, breastfeeding should never be painful! If breastfeeding is painful in any way, this is reason for an assessment by a lactation consultant or breastfeeding support professional. This condition is often primarily assessed as being thrush because the pain can feel very similar, so many physicians will try a round of anti-fungal medication to rule it out before treating you for Raynaud’s. The Mama Coach is a nation-wide group of Registered Nurses who are able to assess your baby for any issues with latch, tongue ties and positioning. We are also able to refer you to a clinic in your area that will be able to help you with medication, if necessary. 

What is the treatment for Raynaud’s?

The good news is that you don’t have to stop breastfeeding if you have this condition, although if you would like to stop breastfeeding, we can support you through weaning as well. If you are diagnosed with Raynaud’s with breastfeeding, your doctor will put you on a medication that is typically used for high blood pressure called Nifedipine. This is safe to take while breastfeeding and will increase the blood flow to your breasts by dilating your veins (think of this like a kinked hose that is released). You will start to notice improvement quickly and the medication can be weaned as baby gets older.  Using heat packs to warm up your breasts before feeding can be helpful, as well as reducing caffeine and nicotine intake.

If you have any further questions about Raynaud’s and breastfeeding, contact a Mama Coach in your area. We would love to help you enjoy breastfeeding!

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