While you may never have imagined that the term nipple pumping would be such a big part of your future, here you are—a flange attached to your mammilla, trying to figure out what “normal” might be.
Before we get to the ins and outs of nipple pumping, can we just take a moment to praise the miraculous invention that is the breast pump? This phenomenal device allows us to work, travel, plan our days—and just breathe—while ensuring that our little ones have a steady supply of mama’s milk as Item 1 on the menu.
That being said, nipple pumping does not come without a learning curve—and because we don’t talk about these mamahood challenges nearly enough, the journey can feel a little lonely at times.
So, listen up, mama: it’s totally normal to be struggling with this. You’re not the first one to be muddled and you certainly won’t be the last.
The good news is, with some trial and error, you should reach pumping prosperity in no time.
Let’s talk about those pumped nipples
What should nipple pumping feel like?
While all bodies are different, it is common to experience some discomfort as you start pumping. There might be a slight feeling of pressure and pulling as you get going. And yes, it’s totally normal to experience some swelling. (So, if you’re wondering Why do my nipples get so big when I pump? it’s because they’re filled with the good stuff and are working very hard.)
Pumping shouldn’t be seriously painful. Sure, it may be a little uncomfortable at first, but if you get very sore nipples pumping, it’s worth paying attention to.
You know what else? Nipple pumping may feel wonderful. If your breasts have been full to the brim, a bit of nipple pumping can go a long way to relieve the pressure.
Is it OK to pump with sore nipples?
Because sore nipples are generally a warning sign that something needs adjusting, it’s probably a good idea to address the source of the issue before continuing.
Here are some of the reasons nipple pumping can be a source of pain, and what to do about it:
You haven’t found your flange size.
Finding the right flange size can feel like finding a soulmate: tricky at first, but oh-so-rewarding in the end.
The way your nipple looks can be a pretty good indicator of your relationship to that pump. So how should my nipple look when pumping? Well, no two nipples are alike (not even your own) but if you start to see what is affectionately known as elastic nipples—as in nipples that look overstretched—it may be time to switch things up. (Looking pumped has taken on a whole new meaning.)
If your flange size is too small, your nipple might rub up against the sides and cause friction, pain, and pulling. If your flange size is too big, your nipple might get pulled.
But, while you should choose your flange size based on the size of your nipple, matters get more complicated: your nipples don’t always stay the same size throughout your breastfeeding journey. As a result, chances are that you will have to change sizes at some point.
It’s not a bad idea to consult with a lactation specialist on this one so that they can help you measure your nipples and ensure that you get the perfect fit.
Your boobs are full.
Known by the rather dramatic name breast engorgement, over-full breasts can be pretty uncomfortable. They may feel swollen and sore, hard to the touch, and warmer than normal.
There are a few reasons why this can happen. Several days after delivery, your body might go into milk production overdrive. (Congrats on the productivity levels, Body, but do you have to be such an overachiever?) Another reason is that your boobs could do with more regular emptying.
Various at-home remedies can go a long way to help with the pain and discomfort associated with engorgement. A cold or warm compress can alleviate some of the tenderness. As can a hot bath. A pre-pump massage can also provide relief.
If the build-up is making it hard for you to get the milk out, you can use a method called reverse pressure softening which involves creating a ring around your nipple with your fingertips and applying some gentle pressure. Here’s a how-to.
Luckily, one of the many beauties of the breast pump is that it allows you to empty out when you need to and alleviate some of the discomfort that engorgement can bring.
Your ducts are plugged.
If you notice hard lumps in your breast and are having trouble getting milk out, your ducts may be plugged.
A good ol’ massage is the best method of treatment here, and your thumb and pointing finger are your best tools.
It’s not a bad idea to get in the habit of checking for plugs after every feed. A stitch in time and all that.
If you notice that your nipples change color (to white or blue, usually) and that you have a burning sensation between feeds, you may be experiencing nipple vasospasms. Also known as Raynaud’s syndrome or mammary constriction syndrome, this condition results in small spasms that can limit your blood flow.
While this may sound a little dramatic, vasospasms can often be written off to a very simple culprit: the cold—a nip(ple) in the air, so to speak.
Beyond standard breast care, try to keep warm and dry, moderate caffeine intake, and give yourself a good massage.
This is an infection of the breast and can give you flu-like symptoms. If you’re feeling unwell and you notice redness on your breasts, check in with your doctor.
Want to learn more? We have covered everything you need to know about mastitis.
Some final tips to pump you up
If you have a quiet spot in your house that you can reserve for nipple pumping purposes, turn it into a little sanctuary. (Of course, chances are you will also be performing some magnificent pumps on the run, but we do what we can.)
Before you start, wash your hands, get comfy and keep your little one near, if that’s possible.
Think of getting a good latch, just like you would when breastfeeding.
Don’t try to pump too fast or too hard. Breathe through it. Slow down.
And finally, providing food for another being is a pretty awesome thing. Thanks, mama, for all you do.