You may call it a dull ache, a burning sensation, or heaviness. Your doctor may call it mastalgia, mammalgia, mastodynia, or simply breast soreness. Even before you became pregnant you may have experienced changes in your breasts. This is commonly due to the hormone fluctuations around your menstrual cycle, typically peaking a few days before your period begins. It is estimated 50 to 70% of women have breast pain (1).
Sore Breasts After Baby
However, in the postpartum period the source of breast pain is more than simply hormones. For most women, regardless of whether they breastfeed or not, will experience breast pain. Engorgement in the first 5 days after delivery is the primary culprit. While you may not be able to completely rid yourself of the discomfort during those days, there are certain things you can do to ease the pain:
- Take hot showers: the heat can be comforting and you may release a little milk which can reduce the pressure
- Wear a well-fitting bra that provides good support (2)
- Express a little milk: If you do not plan to breastfeed you want to avoid sending signals to the body that it needs to create more milk. This means you must be strategic about how you express milk for relief. You may use a pump, or hand express, your breasts just long enough to reduce pressure… do NOT empty them. Each day increase the time between expressing milk. (4)
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers: if the pain is exceptionally bad, consult with your physician about the medication that is right for you.
Relief for Breast Pain – While Breastfeeding
When you choose to breastfeed there are other causes of breast pain:
- Sore nipples: It can take the body some time to get use to breastfeeding; however, if the feeling is more pain and less discomfort you should talk to a lactation consultant to review your nursing technique.
- Rash: Some women experience a rash around their nipple or areola due to eczema, psoriasis, or contact with an irritant. Talk to your doctor about the source and they will be able to determine the best treatment plan.
- Thrush: This condition is a yeast infection on the nipple that is also found in the baby’s mouth. It is very important BOTH mom and baby get treatment for thrush. You can try to prevent thrush by eating plenty of probiotics in the form of unsweetened yogurt.
- Mastitis: Severe breast pain can be a symptom of a more serious condition, mastitis. This can be a result of a plugged duct that turns into a full-blown infection – some requiring antibiotic treatment. If you notice any redness around the area of pain, or the pain does not go away after a short period of time, seek medical treatment. (3)
It is important to know, there are several topical and dietary treatments found online to treat breast pain. Some studies have shown reducing your caffeine intake will help with breast pain, however, there is conflicting evidence whether this works, and no studies have been done on the pregnant or postpartum population. (2) While some can be effective, it is really important for breastfeeding mothers to avoid using Vitamin E on their nipples, as it can be toxic to babies in large doses. There is some evidence showing flaxseed can effectively treat breast pain, but more research is needed on the safety during nursing. (2)
Mastitis – How do I treat?
Sometimes breast pain goes beyond just uncomfortable and can be described as painful. Often presenting with a hard, sore spot in the breast due to a blocked milk duct or infection caused by bacteria. This condition can impact up to a third of breastfeeding mothers, commonly in the first 3 months. If you notice an area of your breast becoming red, swollen, hot, and a burning sensation, it is important to contact your doctor because you may need an antibiotic. You can also make sure you are drinking plenty of liquids, feeding your baby frequently, and wearing loose clothing. (3)
Can I exercise with mastitis?
While you are going through this you may find yourself asking “can I still exercise with mastitis?”. If you have been diagnosed with mastitis your body is fighting an infection so avoiding intense exercise is recommended. You can continue light exercises, walking, and stretching but one of the best things you can do for your body and your baby while dealing with mastitis is to rest and focus on treating the infection and allowing your body to completely recover.