Much like breastfeeding or chestfeeding, pumping milk shouldn’t hurt. The pump’s job is to gently encourage a milk letdown, then continue suctioning to collect that milk. This process shouldn’t be painful, and it’s not meant to cause damage to your nipples or breasts.
Unfortunately, some people do experience nipple pain from pumping, and others experience nipple damage on top of the pain. This is especially true when you’re first starting out with pumping, as you’re getting used to the pump.
If you’re experiencing pumping nipple pain, you’re far from alone. A
But nipple pain from pumping isn’t something you need to learn to live with. There are several effective measures you can take to decrease pain and injuries while pumping.
If all is going well, pumping your breasts should feel like a gentle tugging. When you first start pumping, your pump’s job is to help your milk let down.
Most pumps have a “letdown” setting that mimics the faster sucking your baby does to encourage your letdown reflex. This mode is usually light and the suction is less intense.
When your milk lets down, you might feel some tingling sensations in your breasts. If your breasts are very full, letting down may feel temporarily painful, but this usually passes quickly.
After your milk lets down, you usually switch your pump to “expression” mode, which is a slower, more rhythmic mode of pumping. Expression mode is also a stronger sensation, with more intense suctioning.
Still, it should be an intensity that is comfortable for you. There should be no pain involved.
After pumping, your nipples should come out looking shaped as usual and with their typical color. You should not experience any:
- residual pain
- cracks in the skin
For some people, pumping is a painful experience. Along with experiencing pain, you may notice that your nipples look pinched, elongated, or red and irritated after pumping.
Several things can cause pain and soreness during pumping, but the main causes are usually that you’re using a flange (the pump part that fits over your areola while pumping) that’s incorrectly sized or you’re using the pump incorrectly.
Other causes of nipple pain while pumping may include:
If you’re having nipple soreness and pain while you pump, it’s easy to feel defeated. But don’t despair. There are quite a few things you can do to lessen the pain, and they’re usually very effective.
Most people don’t realize that the flanges (horn-shaped breast shields placed over the areola while pumping) that come with pumps can be purchased in more than one size.
When you buy your pump, you’re usually given an average-sized flange. But as you know, breasts and areolas come in all sizes, and you might need a different size.
Both a flange that’s too large and a flange that’s too small can cause discomfort and pain. Incorrectly sized flanges can also be less effective at removing your milk.
Check on the fit of the flange when your nipple is in the flange and you’re pumping.
If your flange is too small, you’ll notice that your nipple and areola are pressed up against the sides of the flange and don’t move very easily. When the flange fits correctly, your areola should make contact with it, but should be able to move freely and without pain.
If the flange is too large for your nipple, your nipple skin may get pulled into the flange, causing pain and possible skin trauma.
You can buy different sized flanges online or at baby stores near you. It’s helpful to try a few different sizes to find one that feels most comfortable.
You might find that each breast needs a different flange size. That’s OK as well!
In addition to making sure the flange fits correctly, applying a little oil to your nipple before pumping can make it easier for your nipple to slide inside the flange and reduce friction. You can use simple cooking oils, like vegetable oil or olive oil.
Incorrect pump use
After your milk lets down and you go into “expression mode,” it’s usually advised that you turn the suction to the setting that continues to be comfortable to you, but not higher than that. Again, there should be no pain associated with pump suction.
Don’t be a martyr while you pump! In fact, using a suction strength that’s painful may inhibit you from releasing as much milk while pumping.
Certain types of pumps may also be more likely to cause pain than others.
Battery operated pumps are associated with more pain than other pumps, according to
Taking the pump off periodically and expressing your milk by hand can be helpful when you’re having pain from the pump.
Residual pain caused by feeding baby
If your nipples are damaged from feeding your baby, it’s possible that pumping will hurt, because your skin is sensitive and damaged. In that case, you’ll want to make sure your baby’s latching is optimal.
Look for a wide, open mouth, and ensure that your baby is latching on to your areola, not just your nipple. If latching doesn’t solve the problem, talk with a lactation consultant about whether your baby is having a sucking issue or a tongue tie.
If your breasts are very engorged (swollen), you’ll likely experience pain during pumping. Engorgement can flatten your nipples and make them unable to move freely in the pump.
If you’re engorged, try expressing a little milk by hand before pumping and massaging your nipples to loosen them up a bit.
Plugged ducts and mastitis
If you’re dealing with plugged ducts or mastitis (a breast infection), pumping will likely hurt.
In the case of plugged ducts and mastitis, you’ll want to continue to remove your milk as much as possible, whether by nursing baby or pumping, so that you can clear up the clog.
Massaging the breast before and during pumping can help. Warm compresses on the breast and can also help you work out the clog while you pump.
Usually, just addressing the underlying cause of your pumping nipple pain works well. But if you’ve tried to fix things like flange size and pump usage and are still experiencing pain, you may have nipple or areola damage that needs attending to.
Healing nipple irritation
If your nipples or areola are red or inflamed from pumping, there are few things you can do to soothe your skin.
- Use a saltwater soak. Add a pinch of salt to water and let your nipple soak in it for a few minutes, several times a day.
- Apply nipple cream to your breasts after pumping to help soothe the skin.
- Apply breast milk to your nipples after pumping.
Addressing yeast infections
If your skin is irritated from pumping or if the skin has become cracked or damaged, you might develop a yeast infection, otherwise known as thrush. Symptoms may include:
- raw, red, angry-looking nipples
- shiny, flaking nipples
- a burning sensation
Yeast infections usually require a visit to the doctor for medication. Probiotics may also be helpful.
Treating bacterial infections of the nipple
Cracked and damaged nipple skin might become infected. Signs that you may have developed an infection of the nipple include:
- yellowish discharge
- cracked skin
- extreme nipple pain
- flu-like symptoms, fever, or malaise
- breast pain
It’s best to consult with a healthcare professional as soon as possible if you notice any of these symptoms, since nipple infections can easily turn into a full-on breast infection.
Usually your doctor will prescribe a topical antibiotic. In milder cases, an over-the-counter antibiotic will do the trick, but consult with your doctor or lactation consultant first.
Most cases of pumping nipple pain can be treated at home and aren’t a reason for alarm. However, if you develop a fever or flu-like symptoms, you may be experiencing a more serious infection. If this is the case, call your doctor right away.
This shows that getting in-person help when you’re experiencing sore nipples while pumping is key. Besides a trusted friend, a breastfeeding counselor or lactation consultant can offer assistance.
Most of all, remember that you aren’t the only one facing this issue, and that there are actionable solutions if you’re feeling pain during pumping.
Pumping isn’t always the most fun experience in the world. Fitting in your pumping sessions at work or around your busy schedule can be challenging.
But pumping doesn’t have to hurt on top of that. You deserve to have a comfortable and rewarding experience while pumping for your little one.