Vasospasm happens when blood vessels tighten and go into spasm, so that blood does not flow normally. Mothers with vasospasm of the nipple feel sharp pain, burning or stinging in the nipple. It is usually accompanied by sudden whitening of the nipple, followed by a colour change from red to blue.
There are two main causes of nipple vasospasm.
It can be a response of the nipple to trauma, if the baby is not attached to the breast well. In this case, it tends to occur following breastfeeds. Attention to how your baby attaches can help resolve this problem.
Vasospasm that occurs at random times not related to breastfeeds is more likely to be a condition related to Raynaud’s phenomenon, where a person experiences similar symptoms in fingers, toes, etc in response to exposure to cold. Mothers experiencing vasospasm with this cause may also experience vasospasm in pregnancy.
Reducing exposure to air or cold, and applying warmth straight after breastfeeding may help. Breastwarmers (breast pads containing reflective material) or woolen breastpads can be helpful. Or use a little olive oil on the fingers and massage the nipple after feeds, under the clothing, without exposing them to the air or cold. Some women with nipple vasospasm find it helpful to avoid caffeine consumption.
When these simple measures are not effective in relieving the pain, it is a good idea to see a health professional. There are several treatment options available, which you can discuss with your health professional.
- Nipple vasospasm fact sheet from The Royal Women’s Hospital, Victoria
- Vasospasm and Raynaud’s Phenomenon by Dr Jack Newman
The information on this website does not replace the advice of your health care provider.
Breastfeeding: breast and nipple care
Breastfeeding: Breast and Nipple Care tells you what to expect as your breasts change during pregnancy and briefly covers how breastfeeding works.
© Australian Breastfeeding Association October 2020