Breast-feeding mothers have very sensitive breast. The tissue undergoes several changes as it prepares for lactation. Milk is produced and stored, causing the size of the breasts to increase rapidly and make them sore. The skin is more tender, areola (the tissue around the nipple) becomes darker, several small and the nipple enlarges to accommodate the baby, post-partum.
In case of any abnormality, it is quite common to have engorged breasts, sore and cracked nipples, nipple fissure or abnormal nipples.
Engorged breasts are swelling of the tissue of the mammary glands. It happens when the glands start making and storing in excess. Sometimes, the baby doesn’t feed properly, causing the milk to dry up and harden inside the tissue. This is an extremely painful condition, and it is very important to either pump the milk out after every feed, from both the breasts to remove the excess – this process also increases the production of the mother’s milk. It is important that women wear comfortable, smooth, loose and skin-friendly clothes to avoid tightness of the breasts. It is best if they wear clothes which are feeding friendly undergarments, which is better for the child as well.
Sore nipples are very common in pregnant women, pubertal girls and breastfeeding mothers. The nipple can become very dry either due to dehydration and crack causing tingling sensation and pain for many. It is advised to moisturize the nipple with a little bit of the breast milk post the feed in case of feeding mothers or apply coconut oil or use any topical treatment as advised by your physician.
Teething children and babies who don’t latch well, can also cause nipple pain – by causing too much pressure on the skin around the nipple, or it is possible that the nipple is held very hardly between the gums and the hard palate of the babies’ mouth. It is best to ensure that the baby is held in a good position for the feed.
Mothers who have sore nipples post a feed, complain of flaky, clustery or blistering skin may be suffering from allergic or atopic dermatitis. They should wear loose clothes to avoid any rashes or irritation caused due to friction against the garment, and wash both breast with tepid water. Cleaning once a day is enough to maintain good breast hygiene. Moisturize as per requirement and avoid using any harsh chemicals or cosmetics on the skin and it is best to use skin-friendly detergents while washing clothes.
Lactation and breast-feeding, increases the chance of infection – yeast infection also known as thrush by candida albicans or bacterial infections causing mastitis. Fever, chills, redness of the skin, itching, and irregular breast swelling are the usual symptoms. It is best to air dry the nipples and keep it as dry as possible. If the pain is very severe, topical anti-inflammatory treatments under physician’s supervision can be taken.
Sometimes, sexual activity and hormonal changes also cause soreness or enlargement of the nipples. The pain is usually not as severe and heals with time. But, if the pain exceeds for more than a week, it is best to visit a doctor.
Nipple pain can be associated with tumors – although it is extremely rare. In such cases, the pain is unilateral – affecting only one breast. Paget’s disease is a rare type of cancer, involving the nipple of the tumor-affected breast. In such cases, flatted or inverted nipple and yellowish discharge and soreness are common symptoms. Radio therapy and chemotherapy are the mode of treatment in such adverse cases.