Understanding Nipple Vasospasm

Understanding Nipple Vasospasm

What is Nipple Vasospasm?

Vasospasm occurs when blood vessels constrict (or tighten). This reduces the blood flow to the nipple and can cause pain ranging from a small discomfort to severe, usually worse when you are cold. 

Vasospasm may occur in any blood vessels in the body such as in the heart, brain or eyes. Fingers are most commonly affected, a condition known as Raynaud’s phenomenon where your fingers turn white when they are cold.  Less commonly, the blood vessels in the nipples are affected, causing pain during, immediately after, or between breastfeeds.

Understanding nipple vasospasm when breastfeeding

Who is affected?

This condition is more common among women:

  • with a family history of Raynaud's phenomenon.
  • who tend to have cold fingers or feet or have ‘poor circulation’.
  • with a low body mass index (i.e. thin people).

Signs or symptoms of nipple vasospasm

  • You may feel intense nipple pain, which is worse when you are cold. Some women describe the pain as a burning and throbbing.
  • You may notice the nipple or the tip of the nipple blanches or turns white.
  • You may notice other colour changes of the nipple. The nipples may turn blue or purple or red before returning to their normal colour.

You may notice the signs and symptoms for a few seconds, minutes or even longer.

Nipple vasospasm pain ranges from minor discomfort to severe pain. Some women may feel that the pain is so severe that they are unable to continue breastfeeding.

Some tips to manage nipple vasospasm when breastfeeding

Avoid or to reduce exposure to known triggers. These include:

  • poor attachment (seek advice from your lactation consultant)
  • nipple damage (e.g., cracked nipple) or an infection (e.g., nipple thrush)
  • exposing your nipples to cold air
  • some medications or chemicals may worsen nipple spasm, e.g., nicotine (smoking cigarettes).

 

TIPS

  • Keep your nipples warm. Applying a warm pack may relieve pain immediately.
  • Wear an extra layer of clothing.
  • Use ‘breast warmers’, e.g., Flectalon (available from the Australian Breastfeeding Association).
  • Avoid cold exposure (or sudden temperature changes).
  • Do not ‘air’ your nipples.
  • Warm your bathroom before undressing for showers.

If the pain continues, you may consider taking supplements or medication that your health practitioner recommends.

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