Nipple vasospasm is a condition where the blood vessels around the nipples tighten or constrict. This may reduce the blood flow to the nipple and may cause pain and blanching (whitened nipples). It is usually an uncommon condition and may only occur during or immediately after breastfeeding.
Read this post to learn about the symptoms, triggers, prevention, and treatment of nipple vasospasm.
Signs And Symptoms Of Nipple Vasospasm
The following signs and symptoms are often seen in nipple vasospasm (1).
- Intense nipple pain is often felt as a throbbing or burning sensation due to acute ischemia or temporary lack of blood supply to the nipples. This may worsen during cold weather.
- Nipple blanching is white discoloration of the nipple or its tip.
- Blue, red, or purple color changes of the nipple before returning to normal color after blanching (during reperfusion).
Nipple vasospasm signs and symptoms may last a few seconds or minutes in most women, while some may experience it for a longer duration. The severity of pain due to nipple vasospasm may range from minor discomfort to severe pain that may interfere with breastfeeding.
Causes And Risk Factors For Nipple Vasospasm
Any condition that causes narrowing of the blood vessels or interruption of blood supply to the nipple could lead to nipple vasospasm. The following factors may trigger or increase the risk of nipple vasospasm in some women (2).
- Nipple damages or injuries such as cracked nipple
- Poor or improper latch
- Nipple infections such as nipple thrush
- Certain medications
- Cigarette smoking and nicotine use
- Cold weather
- Raynaud’s phenomenon
- Autoimmune diseases
- Breast surgeries
- Low body mass index (low body weight)
Raynaud’s phenomenon may also cause vasospasm of the extremities (fingers and toes), which may not be associated with breastfeeding. Lactating mothers may avoid or reduce exposure to the above-listed factors. Seek support from a lactation consultant to learn proper feeding techniques and nipple care.
Prevention Of Nipple Vasospasm
The following tips may help to avoid nipple vasospasm or reduce nipple pain in some women (3).
- Avoid exposure to cold air and other triggering factors
- Use a warm pack to relieve pain
- Use an extra layer of clothing
- Use breast warmers
- Use wool breast pads
- Shower in lukewarm water
- Avoid nicotine and excess caffeine consumption
If the preventive measures fail, medications and supplements are usually prescribed. You may contact your healthcare provider for a safe lactation prescription.
Treatment For Nipple Vasospasm
The following treatments may help to reduce nipple vasospasm or pain in some women (4).
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Motrin) may often be prescribed to treat lasting pain in nipple vasospasm.
- High doses of magnesium, calcium, and vitamin B6 may reduce nipple vasospasm in some women.
- Omega fatty acids may help to reduce nipple vasospasm in some women. Fish oil and evening primrose oil are rich sources of omega fatty acids.
- Nifedipine (Adalat) may be prescribed for two weeks. You may pay attention to the occurrence of side effects such as a drop in blood pressure, dizziness, flushing, and leg swelling while taking nifedipine.
Adequate home care through preventive measures is usually sufficient to avoid nipple vasospasm. If the condition does not improve, you may seek medical care for further diagnosis and treatment. It is essential to learn proper latch, nipple care, and feeding techniques from the early days of breastfeeding to avoid breastfeeding problems and reduce the risk of nipple vasospasm.