For many moms, breast pumps cause pain. The unfortunate reality is that while breast pumping shouldn’t be painful, there is a lot of cloudiness around how/when to use them, what our actual flange sizing is, and troubleshooting common issues. A 2014 study found that out of 1844 moms surveyed, over 65% reported problems with pumping. And 15% of those moms actually reported injuries due to pumping. This same study found that moms who had a friend who could show them how to use their pump was the best way to reduce pain and problems. That’s us! We’re that friend! BeauGen is your breast friend. In this post, we’re digging into common causes of breast pain after pumping, and what can help alleviate that pain.
Causes of Breast Pain After Using a Breast Pump:
Breast pumps can be wonderful things, but when you are pumping and not getting the output you expected, they can be quite frustrating. There are a number of different factors that can and will impact a mother’s breast milk supply. Nutrition, proper hydration, stress, even your previous pump session will affect that amount of milk your body products.
When your output drops, or even stops suddenly, pumping for longer amounts of time might seem like a logical solution. Yes, dry pumping can be a way to signal to your body that it needs to create more milk, but too much of a good thing is almost certainly a bad thing. Over pumping, or pumping too long can cause breast pain.
Restricted Milk Flow
Your milk is stored in glands, and then transported through ducts and tubes to your nipple where it is then fed to your baby. There are a number of different places that a blockage can develop along the way. Blocked ducts can be quite painful. Pumping is often an effective way to clear these clogs but the initial clog may cause quite a bit of tenderness and pain in your breast tissue. Heat and gentle vibrations can help clear clogs as well as gentle massage and heat. You can read more about clogs here in this blog post.
If a clog does not resolve, it can lead to mastitis which is an infection. This can be quite painful and require medical treatment. We have put together a whole post on how to determine whether your clogged duct might be turning into mastitis along with how to speak to your healthcare provider here.
Many times we think, if we pump, there will be milk. This isn’t always the case. If you are using the wrong sized flange, either too big or too small, you might actually be collapsing your milk ducts and impeding the flow of milk. Either too much or too little of your nipple and areola tissue are drawn into the tunnel of your flange, squeezing the ducts located inside that tissue. This can lead to engorgement.
If you’re not able to empty your breasts with your pump or by nursing you may experience a build of milk known as engorgement. Moms who are dealing with engorged breasts often experience pain. If you have been using an electric pump, with limited output and are now dealing with engorgement, a manual pump or hand expression can make a huge impact.
Try incorporating gentle heat and massage around your breast tissue to help encourage the milk to flow from your mammary glands, down through the ducts, and out through your nipple. The shower or bath is a great place to try this due to the moist heat, ample room, and privacy. Some moms will want to collect this breast milk to feed their baby, use in a milk bath, or even apply to their babies’ skin. Depending on your supply, and level of discomfort, you might be okay just expressing this milk and not collecting it.
We just talked about Mastitis but there are other infections that can cause breast pain, which can be felt more acutely after pumping. Yeast infections like thrush, or bacterial infections can occur in our breast tissue. These often require treatment by a healthcare professional. In addition to pain, sometimes trace amounts of blood in your expressed milk can be another symptom of infection. If you suspect a potential infection, stop feeding your baby the affected milk and call your healthcare provider. They can confirm or rule out the presence of infection hopefully before your supply is impacted.
Causes of Nipple and Areola Pain After Using a Breast Pump
Due to the nature of pumping, the frequency and duration of pump sessions, and the shape of modern breast pump flanges, painful irritation is a common source of pain. This friction causes blisters, irritation, and cracking. You might experience pain during a pump session in addition to feeling the effects of this irritation or skin damage in between sessions as well.
We highly recommend adding a BeauGen Breast Pump Cushion to your pumping routine. This places a soft and stretchy barrier between your sensitive skin and the hard plastic of the flange. This will affect the size of flange you use as the cushions decrease the overall space available in the tunnel of the breast pump flange. Moms with elastic nipples find this particular feature very helpful.
In addition to the cushions, try using a coconut oil or food safe lubricant before, during, and after your pumping sessions. This lubricant will help to heal and restore your nipple and areola tissue while also protecting it from friction during your pump sessions.
Wrong Size Flange
We mentioned this near the top of the post, but it bears repeating. Using the wrong size flange can have a dramatic impact not only on the output but the comfort level during and after your pump session. Breast pumps often only come with two different sizes of flanges, but moms come in an array of sizes. You might need to look up your pump brand and order a specific flange size. We have a helpful guide to finding your flange size which you can find here, and ruler that you can print and use to measure in the comfort of your home to double check your sizing. You might even need two different sizes of flanges!
A note on flange size: If you received fluids during your delivery this might impact the size and shape of your nipple tissue. Even if you had a lactation consultation and were sized for your breast pump we highly suggest retaking your measurements again about two weeks after your delivery.