Breasts or nipples hurt from pumping? Causes of painful breasts and easy fixes.

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While the cold plastic of your breast pump can feel sterile and uncomfortable compared to the warmth of your baby’s mouth, pumping should not hurt.

Why do my breasts hurt when I pump?

If your breast pump hurts you or you notice your nipples are sore or white after pumping, then you need to adjust the settings of your breast pump or buy a new breast flange (the horn part that goes over your breast and nipples) because the ones you are using right now are the wrong size. Here’s how to troubleshoot your breast pumping woes.

White nipples (blanching) or nipples getting rubbed raw

This usually means that the breast flange you are using is too small for your nipples. Breast flanges come in sizes that range from 21mm all the way up to 36mm. Most breast pumps come with 24mm flanges as these will fit the average woman, while other brands are more generous and include several sizes. If your breast pump kit does not come with the right size, you’ll need to order it separately either online or from the manufacturer.

A correctly fitted breast flange should allow your nipple to move freely each time your breast pump creates a suction, but the skin surrounding your nipple should not get sucked in! If you notice the skin around your nipples getting sucked into the nipple hole too, then you need to get a smaller breast flange.

A flange that is too big or too small will cause your skin to rub against the plastic. Over time, the friction will lead to damaged skin and open wounds. You can mitigate the problem by coating your breasts and nipples with nipple cream (Amazon | buybuybaby) before you begin pumping, but the best solution is to find a flange that is sized correctly for your nipples.

Chapped skin and rubbing further up the breast area

If the breast flange you have fits your nipples, but doesn’t fit the curves of your breast, then you’ll have problems with rubbing and chafing.

The first fix I would recommend is to spread a generous amount of nipple cream (Amazon | buybuybaby) around the edge of the breast flange. You want to create a nice and tight seal against the horn of the flange and the skin of your breast. If this tip works, you’ll create a nice tight suction inside the flange and with each cycle of your breast pump, only your nipple should be moving.

If that doesn’t work, you can try inserting a silicone massager (different models available for Medela, Philips AVENT, Spectra) inside the breast flange. The flanges are made to fit the corresponding breast pumps made by the same manufacturer. Find out which breast pumps we found to be the best. These provide a layer of cushion between your skin and the plastic. They also fill in any empty space if your breast tissue does not fill the flange.

My nipples are pulled painfully when I pump

This can be caused by a pump that sucks too slowly or a vacuum that is too strong.

Most electric breast pumps nowadays will let you change both the speed of suction and the strength of suction.

Adjust the speed of suction until it feels like it’s going at the same speed as your own baby’s suckling. This is usually around once per second. Suction that is too slow and long will pull at your nipple painfully.

After adjusting the speed, you will need to fix the strength. Even though many people think that more suction is better, it can actually cause injury and decrease your milk flow! You will want to increase the strength of the vacuum until it begins to feel uncomfortable. Then stop. Turn the dial back down one or two levels until it feels more comfortable again.

Not satisfied with your current pump? Check out our comparisons and reviews of the best electric breast pumps.

I’m recovering from an injury or illness. Can I still use my breast pump to express milk comfortably?

Some conditions and health problems will make it impossible to express milk. You should consult a doctor before you continue to pump.

  • Since expressing exposes your skin to moisture and sugary breast milk constantly, it’s easy to end up with a yeast infection or thrush. You should suspect that you have a yeast infection if your nipples itch and bother you with a burning sensation. Since a yeast infection can spread to your baby, you will both need to get treatment from the doctor.
  • Do you often have trouble finding a place or time to pump or breastfeed? Then you will notice your breasts get heavy and full, swelling up painfully whenever it’s close to your baby’s feeding time. This is caused by a buildup of milk inside your breast tissue and it can hurt to the point of inhibiting your let down reflex. If you are not in a place that’s private and convenient, like at work or in a public restroom, you can relieve the engorgement by expressing out some of the milk with a hand massage. Using your hands to express milk can bring down the swelling enough that you can use a pump or breastfeed to get rid of the remaining milk in your breasts.
  • Are your breasts not only swollen, but inflamed, red, and hot, like you’re running a fever? You might be suffering from mastitis, an infection of your breasts caused by built up milk. Go to the doctor and get an antibiotic as soon as possible to avoid further complications from infection.
  • If you have had any trauma in the nipple area, either from surgery, milk blisters, or a piercing, then you might not be able to pump.
  • Pumping can make skin problems such as eczema worse. You should let your skin heal before you resume pumping. Once you begin using a breast pump, you should protect your breasts and nipples with nipple cream (Amazon | buybuybaby) to prevent further injury.
  • If you notice your nipples turning white, cold, and losing sensation after you pump, then you might suffer from Raynaud’s Syndrome, a common disorder where your blood vessels constrict and cut off blood flow when the area is stimulated by cold or moisture. Try to keep your breast area warm and dry to stop Raynaud’s in its tracks. Use a blanket to cover up and dry your breasts as soon as you are finished. Cold and moisture are sure fire ways to trigger a Raynaud’s attack.

2 thoughts on “Breasts or nipples hurt from pumping? Causes of painful breasts and easy fixes.”

  1. Prabha

    Hi, I just bought Spectra M 1 and initially it expressed milk and my nipple just moved back and forth and after 10 minutes the nipple stucks and it would not come out of flange. Is it problem with pump or should I try bigger flange .

    1. Diaper Changing Jane


      It seems like you need to try a larger flange.

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