I recently traveled for a conference and was separated from my nursing toddler for most of the day and, thus, had to spend some time with my friend the hand pump. I had accidentally left my nipple cream at home, was not as careful as I should have been when positioning my left breast and happened to be sitting in a cold room. These three factors combined and resulted in a painful vasospasm which started about 10 minutes after I finished pumping my left breast and lasted for about 30 minutes.
As an IBCLC it is my professional opinion that the slight friction, (from lack of lubricating ointment used during pumping and less than ideal placement of my nipple within the breast shield) caused some slight tissue breakdown. This wouldn’t present much of an issue for most breastfeeding women who rarely pump. But for a mother like me, who experiences a variant of Raynaud’s phenomenon, the slight tissue damage and the cold room combined to trigger the vasospasm, a painful sensation resulting from blood vessels constricting inside the nipple/breast. (Raynaud’s phenomenon is often characterized by nipple blanching when baby comes off the breast after nursing or on occasion when stepping out of a warm shower.)
Raynaud’s phenomenon can present a substantial challenge for women during their breastfeeding experience. It is sometimes characterized by a deep, aching pain that can be throbbing and begins after you have finished nursing your baby. I have heard it described as “that dull, deep pain and feeling of your breast being empty” by mothers with pumping experience. When I consult with mothers who have experienced the pain of a vasospasm I treat their symptoms with research and evidence based recommendations until we find the right combination to alleviate the vasospasm. Women affected by vasospasms have been both experienced breastfeeding mothers and first time moms.
My writing on this topic is not meant to frighten women or conjure images of breastfeeding horror stories. My intention is to discuss a particular challenge some breastfeeding women face and work through. It is the dedication of women who choose to initiate and sustain a breastfeeding relationship despite such challenges that I find inspiring and wish to highlight.
Share the Love Support Breastfeeding Mothers!
It is true breast milk is what is best for babies. It is true that breastfeeding is natural. However, it is also true that breastfeeding is not always easy. As members of shared communities we should try to understand the challenges some women have worked through on their journeys as breastfeeding mothers so that we can also “share the love” by supporting them in their trials and congratulate them on their successes!
I am blessed in many ways as a breastfeeding mother and in my profession as an IBCLC. The inspiration I receive from women whom I serve is one of the most joyous aspects of the work I get to do, and let me tell you there are many amazing aspects of my work. I am truly blessed and honored to support mothers, babies and families throughout their breastfeeding experience! To serve families at such a sacred and precious time in their lives is a privilege I treasure.
For more information on the incidence of vasospasms and breastfeeding come in and speak with Jennie Hawthorn Mayes, MA IBCLC and mother to four young children. Fridays 11:30-4:30 at
Neighborhood New-Mothering Center 1262 Lawrence # 3 Eugene, OR 97401
or surf the web, here are some helpful links to good resources: