Sore Nipples During Menstruation Pregnancy And Breastfeeding – Precautions And Prevention
Many women don’t give much attention to highly sensitive parts of their body and one of them is the nipple. The brown rounded parts on the breasts are easily irritated and easily stimulated. That is the reason many women find her nipples hurting at occasions.
This could be an indication of several health conditions and fluctuation of hormones. Let’s know why nipples hurt during various phases of a woman’s lifecycle.
From simple allergy from laundry detergent to uncomfortable bra, menstruation, infection, and cancer, soreness in nipple can occur due to several reasons. Some women may feel tenderness and soreness in their breast while some other experience sharp pain accompanied by itching.
We have listed the possible causes of nipple soreness as below.
Sore nipples due to friction and allergic reaction
Nipples can become sore due to friction against clothes, especially during workout or sports activities. It occurs when nipples rub against poorly-fitted bra or shirt.
Soreness due to friction can result in:
- Stinging pain
- Dry or flaky skin
Allergy or atopic dermatitis
Various everyday household items such as body lotion, soap, laundry detergent, shaving cream and perfume can irritate the nipples causing an allergic reaction. This reaction is known as atopic dermatitis.
Below are some of the signs of allergic reaction to the breast:
- Pain and irritation
- Blistering skin
- Red skin and persistent itching around the nipple
Sore nipples during the menstrual cycle
Sore nipple is very common condition of teenagers and older adult women. The breast goes through drastic changes during this phase.
Reason behind painful nipples during the menstrual cycle
The typical hormonal changes during menstruation can stimulate soreness in nipple and breast. The signs and symptoms are usually experienced in days just before the beginning of the periods. In these days, levels of estrogen and progesterone pull more liquid to the breast, causing them to swell.
As hormone level plummets, you can experience following changes:
- Tenderness in breast
- Swelling in middle and upper part of the breast
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Sore nipples during pregnancy and breastfeeding
Sore nipples can be a different phenomenon in pregnant women and breastfeeding moms. We have divided each with their causes and symptoms.
What causes discomfort in nipples during pregnancy and breastfeeding?
When nipples are injured or suffering from an allergic reaction, they are already exposed to infection. But lactation and breast-feeding might increase the risk of infection further.
Yeast infection can occur due to damage to the surrounding tissue or with the use of antibiotic. This can cause pain in and around the nipple.
Mastitis is another reason for infection. It can happen in both pregnancy and during breastfeeding due to clogged milk duct or accumulation of milk in the breast tissue. Mastitis can cause burning and stinging pain, redness or swelling in the nipple, feeling on warmness on touching the breast and fever or chills.
A common cause of painful nipple is when you try to feed your little one. This occurs due to poor latching technique of your baby. This mostly occurs in the first week of the breastfeeding. The baby should have enough of the breast in his mouth otherwise, the nipple will be up against the gum. The latching should be deep on the breast with nipple at the back of baby’s throat.
This is the right time to take the help of lactation consultant if baby is not latching properly as it may frustrate the baby and cause to refuse the breastfeeding completely. Other causes of nipple pain are as follows:
- If a mother is using breast pump, the too much suction or uncomfortable nipple shield can also cause nipple pain.
- Infant who are starting to teeth can bite the nipple as they tend to change the way they latch on to the breast.
- Hard pressing of the nipple by the baby can restrict blood flow to the nipple. This can result in a painful condition known as vasospasm.
- Breast engorgement or producing too much milk can cause pain in and around nipples
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Symptoms of sore nipples during pregnancy
Pain in nipples is a common condition during pregnancy. The breasts usually become large and feel painful. Painful nipples are also an early indication of pregnancy. Watch out for below symptoms:
- Darkening of nipple and areola
- Small bumps around the nipples
- Dryness and itchiness
Symptoms of painful nipples during breastfeeding
Due to poor latching technique of the newborn, a woman can experience following symptoms:
- Redness and nipple turning purple
- Swelling in breast
- Firmness in breast
Painful nipples during menopause
If a woman is nearing menopause, then she can experience soreness in breasts. This is the transitional time when your period slows down and eventually stops due to hormonal changes. Menopause is not a sudden stopping point of your periods, but a gradual change that could take 4-12 years.
Signs to watch for sore nipples during menopause
Breast or nipple soreness during this phase will be altogether a different experience as other phases of your life. Check out these symptoms of breast soreness:
- Feeling of burning in one or both the breasts
- Sharp, stabbing or throbbing pain
- Increase in breast size
- Clear, yellowish, bloody or pus-like discharge from the nipples
- Redness of the breast
Sore nipples due to cancer and Paget’s disease
There could be some serious side of issues related to sore nipples such as cancer; however, it’s not common. The pain usually occurs in one breast or nipple at a time. Some rare types of cancers such as Paget’s disease occur along with tumor in the same breast. This disease usually signals the presence of breast cancer underneath the breast skin.
- Inverted or flattened nipple
- Itching or tingling sensation
- Blood or yellowish discharge from the nipple
- Reddish, scaly or crusty skin around the nipple and the areola
How the condition of painful nipple is diagnosed?
Physical examination would be the first attempt towards diagnosing the condition. The doctor would be checking the nipples and may ask you about your pregnancy, medicines you are taking, diet and physical activity. You would then go through below tests:
This technique basically checks the nipple discharge. Ductography involves injecting a special dye into the breast ducts and X-ray monitors the functioning. This would reveal the number of ducts that are bringing fluid to the nipples.
The imaging test record images of the breast tissue. This checks if there is any growth inside the breast which is causing the problem.
In case the doctor suspect of cancer or Paget’s disease, a skin biopsy may be suggested. A small piece of skin is extracted from the breast for lab testing.
The doctor may order additional test depending on your condition. These include:
- Thyroid hormone test
- Prolactin level blood test
- MRI scan
- CT scan
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What are the different treatment options for sore nipples?
Treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the sore nipples. The doctor would recommend following things:
The doctor would suggest the following medication depending on your condition.
For infection - In case of infection, the doctor may recommend antifungal medications to treat yeast infection. The mastitis should be treated with antibiotics, if left untreated, it can form breast abscess.
Menstruation and pregnancy - Nipple pain occurring due to hormonal changes can be treated with pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Allergic reaction - Topical anti-inflammatory cream works best in minor cases of allergic reaction.
Breast soreness due to menopause will go away once the transition phase is completed and the periods are stopped.
In case the cause of nipple soreness is tumor or cancer, the treatment usually involves surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. In Paget’s disease, the affected nipple is removed using radiation therapy. In severe cases, entire breast tissue will be removed using mastectomy.
Still worried? Here are some tips to prevent soreness in breast and nipples
While sore nipples cannot be completely prevented, there are some tips you can follow to avoid discomfort.
Wear sports bra
Soreness occurring from friction can be prevented by wearing a sports bra. It should be a properly fitted bra that should minimize the movements of the breasts. You can also use protective products such as nipple shield and rash guards or wearing smooth synthetic fabric. Some creams and ointments can also give you relief.
Contact a lactation consultant
Breastfeeding moms may seek the help of a lactation specialist who can help train the newborn in properly latching on to the breast. Do not stop breastfeeding as it help build and maintain proper milk supply.
At times, it’s better to be hands-off. Make sure you communicate your wish to your partner in a loving manner.
Change sex position
Sore breasts are bound to interfere with your typical sex life, especially of foreplay is a large part of your lovemaking. Changing sex position minimizes contact with the breast and will definitely help you a lot.
Limit your intake of coffee and chocolate as the caffeine present in these foods can make the soreness worse.
Most of the cases of nipple soreness will clear-up once the underlying cause is treated. Discussing the nipple soreness in detail with the doctor would help you rule out any serious underlying condition such as cancer.
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2. About Hormone Imbalance(n.d.). women in balance read more
3. Kent JC et al.(2015). Nipple Pain in Breastfeeding Mothers: Incidence, Causes and Treatments read more
4. Cadwell K et al.(2004). Pain Reduction and Treatment of Sore Nipples in Nursing Mothers read more