Nipple pain during breastfeeding with or without visible trauma

J Hum Lact. 2012 Nov;28(4):511-21. doi: 10.1177/0890334412444464. Epub 2012 Jun 11.


Background: Nipple pain is a major cause of early weaning. The causes of nipple pain are diverse, and most treatments involve experience-based assessment. There is little knowledge of the intensity or variation in pain experienced by breastfeeding women. Given the high breastfeeding initiation rates, it is important to evaluate pain experienced by lactating women in detail.

Objective: To investigate and compare the pain experienced by breastfeeding women using objective measures.

Methods: The type, effect, and severity of pain were measured using the McGill Pain Questionnaire, Brief Pain Inventory, and Visual Analogue Scale, respectively, for 2 groups of breastfeeding women. One group were experiencing persistent nipple pain despite treatment, and the other had obvious signs of nipple trauma.

Results: Pain intensity and interference scores were highly variable for both groups. Mothers with nipple trauma reported significantly higher mean pain intensity and breastfeeding interference. Higher pain intensity scores were related to higher interference scores. After accounting for pain intensity, higher interference with general activity, mood, and sleep interference was related to longer duration of pain. There was no difference in MPQ class scores.

Conclusions: The ramifications of nipple pain extend far beyond the act of breastfeeding, particularly for women whose pain lasts several months. Given the lack of evidence-based treatments, it is not surprising that pain is a major contributor to premature weaning. Further research into the causes of nipple pain is necessary to enable the implementation of effective interventions, thus reducing further complications such as infection and postnatal depression. Detailed pain analysis may assist in assessing the success of these interventions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Diseases / complications
  • Breast Diseases / diagnosis
  • Breast Diseases / psychology
  • Breast Feeding / adverse effects*
  • Breast Feeding / psychology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Linear Models
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Nipples* / injuries
  • Nipples* / pathology
  • Pain / diagnosis
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain / psychology
  • Pain Measurement
  • Self Report
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Weaning