Sunday, January 31, 2010

With Nipples Aflame

Have your nipples ever turned blue? Have they ever felt like they were burning from within? Have you ever had such intense nipple pain that you were unable to concentrate on anything except crossing your arms over your breasts to protect them?

Have you heard of Raynaud's phenomenon?

I suffered from Raynaud's for years, without realising what it was. I can recall one occasion when I was standing in London waiting for a coach, feverish with the start of flu and with nipples that burned so intensely that all I could do was walk round and round in circles with my arms wrapped around my chest to distract myself from the pain.

It's caused by cold, you see. Many are the times I have been found kneeling on the floor with my chest pressed up to a radiator in an effort to warm my breasts up and stop my nipples from screaming at me. I remember my grandad showing me his white, bloodless fingers when he went out in the cold, and that was also Raynaud's.

The Wikipedia entry for Raynaud's phenomenon says that it can cause discolouration of the "fingers, toes and other extremities". I guess my nipples come under "other extremities". It is caused by constriction of the blood vessels delivering oxygen to the affected part, and can be triggered by stress, cold and... you guessed it... breastfeeding. If you're sensitive to strange images of nipples, then look away now. But here, courtesy of Better Health's Weird Medical Problem of the Week, comes a picture of the bizarre colour changes that occur when a nipple undergoes an attack of Reynaud's:



If you're wondering, that's white, then cold, cold blue, then finally red as the blood flow returns to the nipple.

It seems that some women experience Raynaud's during and/or after breastfeeding. It can be confused with the pain caused by a poor latch, so may often go undiagnosed. I have been one of the lucky ones; I have not experienced the condition since giving birth, though it had worsened during my pregnancy. It could be that childbirth and breastfeeding have cured it, or it could return in the future. Maybe I'm not suffering because we are heating the house more generously than we did pre-baby.

Raynaud's probably affects loads of people, but it is not serious enough to warrant investigation or treatment and hence it remains fairly unknown. Medications to relieve it are available, but knowing what causes it and avoiding the triggers are probably the most sensible courses of action.

Has your breastfeeding been affected by any bizarre disorders? I hope not, but leave a comment if it has! And if you've not experienced Raynaud's, I hope you enjoyed the picture anyway!

14 comments:

Pippa said...

My mum has it in her fingers, I didn't realise it could effect other body parts... it might explain a thing or two for me! Might have to go and speak with my Dr!

Joxy said...

Hmm intersesting. When I was pregnant I had the most painful nipples, really sensitive to cold... of course it could just be a pregnancy symptom as I've not had it that bad since.

They are tingly hurting at the mo because it's a bit cold in here (heating just kicked on) but not horrendously bad.

Learn something new all the time :-)

cartside said...

I'd never heard of it but the pictures look oh so familiar. Which makes me wonder whether my extreme pain for 8 weeks was due to this rather than poor latch. Or maybe poor latch does the same to you?

I do suffer from "dead finger" in cold weather, I can wear two pair of gloves and my fingers turn yellow very quickly, making cycling in winter a real challenge (especially the locking the bike part).

Bullajabbar said...

I was diagnosed with this by my doctor years ago with regards to my fingers...but not my nipps thank goodness.

David's Mommy said...

I have terrible dry skin to the extent that most of my breast (maybe 70%) is covered with red patches. My doctor and dermatologist had never seen anything like it but assured me it was just dry skin. I'm worried about baby eating cortisone, so I am leaving it untreated. Doesn't seem to disrupt nursing at all though- he's in the 95th percentile for height and weight!

Cave Mother said...

David's Mommy - I get patches of dry skin on my breasts too :( I never did until I breastfed - I suppose they are exposed to the cold a lot more now. Luckily it's not directly around my nipples, so I can treat it with hydrocortisone if it's bad.

Olivia said...

I had some intense nipple pain during pregnancy when I got cold. I would put my hands over the nipple to warm them up, but I haven't felt that way since. I wonder it can come and go.

I also had dry, peeling skin on my areolas while I was pregnant, but not problem with that once I started breastfeeding.

GoddessMum said...

New reader here! I love the name of your blog. :) I have enjoyed catching up on your posts.

Dionna @Code Name: Mama said...

Aha - you guest posted on Hobo Mama's site! I wondered why your name sounded familiar :)

My sister has Reynaud's, but it's mainly affected her fingers/toes. I'll definitely keep this in mind if she ever has kids though. I have heard of it affecting bf'ing mothers. Thank you for the info!

Melodie said...

I have a guest post written by a Certified Lactation Consultant on my blog. If anyone is interested in any more information on this subject, hop on over. I had never heard of it before her post either!

Cave Mother said...

Olivia - from what I've read, it can indeed come and go (and for me, it seems to have gone). But I'm no expert!

Hobo Mama said...

I have it in my fingers and toes but haven't noticed the pain in my nips. Sometimes they do look white, but it doesn't hurt. Now that I've read this, I'm so thankful! My fingers and toes can take ages to regain feeling and blood flow. As you said, though, no one really does anything about it. The dermatologist who diagnosed me said, "So, you know, keep them warm." That was that!

Anonymous said...

It took a heck of a long time for me to be "diagnosed" at my BF group with Raynauds, and I then went to visit my Doctor who completely dismissed me as a hypochondriac as I don't have it in my fingers or toes - Am I alone in this? The pain was absolutely excruciating at times! It usually only occurs after a feed, and not so bad since I stopped tensing up at the thought of feeding!! God knows how I carried on though!

Anonymous said...

I'm currently dealing with this issue. People used to tease me about my fingers turning weird colors in the past and I never really thought anything of it. They hurt so bad when they are cold. Now this happening in my nipples is making bf'ing so difficult. I'm also large breasted (32 j/k) and I produce more milk than my baby has ever needed, so I tend to get engorged quite frequently. I also have a very strong, almost painful letdown. Heat helps with the Raynaud's issue, but it contributes to my letdown occurring more frequently thus becoming very full. Cold helps the pain of being engorged, but contributes to the Raynaud's.