3. Yeast Infection
If your nipple pain is burning or stabbing and does not decrease as feeding progresses, it is likely due to a yeast infection known as candidiasis. Yeast grows in warm, dark, moist places, putting nursing nipples at high risk.
To prevent candidiasis, use washable cotton breast pads instead of plastic-backed disposable brands; change and wash them, as well as your bra, frequently. In addition, keep the area as dry as possible by exposing your breasts to air in between feedings. "Hold a hair-dryer, placed on the cool setting, approximately 10 inches from your breasts to dry the area before putting your bra back on," Valentine suggests. Also avoid using soap on the breasts and wiping harshly, which can over-dry your nipples and lead to cracking.
To soothe sore nipples, whether caused by a poor latch or candidiasis, Newman recommends using all-purpose nipple ointment (see "Relief for Sore Nipples" at left). Calendula ointment, grapefruit seed extract or even olive oil may also be comforting. "Anything greasy can help," says Newman.
While nipple products containing lanolin can be helpful for some women, all-purpose nipple ointment is usually more effective, Newman says, because it contains an antibiotic, a steroid and an anti-fungal medication. He cautions women with known wool allergies not to use lanolin products, though he adds that these will not trigger wool allergies in babies.
If you have candidiasis, it also may be helpful to take a lactose-free acidophilus supplement two or three times a day.
If you have corrected the latch and ruled out tongue-tie and candidiasis, you may be experiencing vasospasm of the nipple. Symptoms include burning or throbbing pain and your nipples turning white immediately after feeding. Related to the circulatory condition known as Raynaud's, which affects up to 22 percent of reproductive-age women, vasospasm is caused by excessive blood-vessel constriction due to temperature change. The condition needs to be medically managed, usually with oral medications that are safe for nursing babies.
5. An Unusual Suspect
Chronic nipple pain can mean you're pregnant. If the pain lasts well after a feeding, you may want to take a pregnancy test.
Some women worry that nipple pain may be caused by breast cancer, but this is extremely rare. "Pain is usually a late symptom of breast cancer," says Newman, "and there would be other signs such as a lump or inflammation." Still, to be on the safe side, see your doctor if your symptoms are isolated to one breast and do not clear up with regular treatment.