How do I Breastfeed* with Raynauds?!
*we prefer to use inclusive language like Body Feeding in general. In this case we chose ‘Breastfeed’ due to the specific nature of raynauds to the breast/nipple, specifically. If you have raynauds and you are chest/body feeding we see you and hope this post has helpful information
Choosing to use your body to feed your baby whether it be breast / chest feeding or exclusively pumping, already comes with its challenges. But what happens when there is pain involved? Everything looks fine in terms of latch etc, but you are experiencing a burn like pain after feeds. You may be experiencing Vasospasms of the nipple due to Raynaud's Phenomenon.
We'll chat about what I went / have been working through in my journey with Raynaud's and what you can do to help manage in order to continue your breast / chest / body feeding journey! My breastfeeding journey started off rocky with my daughter. Being a first time parent, all of this was new to me. All these sensations, feelings, were new and often times uncomfortable and painful. Two weeks into my daughters life is when the IBCLC I was working with told me that I had Raynauds and was dealing with Vasospasms of the nipple due to the Raynauds.
Cool, cool, cool - WTF is a Vasospasm and WTF is Raynaud's??!?!
Vasospasms happen when “blood vessels contract abnormally resulting in impaired blood flow to an area. People with Raynaud’s Phenomenon (often associated with “auto-immune” illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis) may have vasospasm that will occur in the fingers when going outside from a warm house on a cool day. The fingers will turn white and the lack of blood getting to the tips of the fingers will cause pain.”
Ahhhhh so that explains the pins and needles I get in my fingers and toes in the winter time. But what is going on with my nipple?! I texted my IBCLC and told her that I was experiencing intense pain when my LO latched and when she was done feeding my nipples would blanch white and I would have this throbbing, pins and needles, burning pain. I remember telling my husband that it felt like someone was torturing me and putting my (already sensitive) nipples on a burning hot stove. I was in tears every feed and my anxiety was through the roof. Lea (IBCLC) sent me this post from the one and only Dr. Jack Newman and tears rolled down my face. FINALLY there was an explanation for this. I was reading exactly what I was experiencing. Now after 6 weeks and 3 days of feeding my baby with my body I can come to you with more settled nerves and less aggravated nipples to tell you that there are ways to still use your body to feed your baby even if you have Raynauds. I also want to say that if you choose to not use your body to feed your baby for any reason at all that there is ZERO SHAME IN USING FORMULA TO FEED YOUR BABY. Formula is great and provides your baby with the nutrients they need. So if you needed to hear this or get the green light to do so, THIS IS IT. Go get that formula and feed your baby. Because if you are in pain and / or not bonding with your baby bc of breast / chest feeding then please do what you need to do. The following are tips that I have used in my experience with Raynauds to help make the pain manageable or even go away in order to continue my breastfeeding journey. Please remember to always consult with your care provider before introducing any vitamins, supplements and herbs.
Heat 🥵: now if you had a burn would you think to put more heat on it?! F$&@ NO!!! You’d run to your freezer and get an ice pack. Welp, I thought the same thing when I first felt the burning feeling. I thought to put ice on it to feel some relief. Heat is actually your best friend here. Heat will allow for the blood to flow back into the nipples. It does also feel very comforting. Remember to use dry heat such as a heating pad. Never use a warm moist towel! Why? Because when you take off the towel the moisture will meet the air and make it cold (like your babies saliva) and will aggravate the Raynaud's again. I like these or these!!
Magnesium: A deficiency in Magnesium can result in blood vessel spasms.
Vitamin B6 in a Vitamin B-Complex: "There have not yet been studies done to show that vitamin B6 works, but enough anecdotal evidence has come forward to support that it does work at least some of the time. It is safe and will do no harm. It is best that B6 not be taken on its own but instead as part of a B complex of vitamins that includes niacin. Depending on the overall dose of the B complex, the amount of B6 itself should be approximately 100 mg 2x/day for at least a couple of weeks. So, for example, if the overall capsule is 125 mg of B complex and there is only 50 mg of B6 in that capsule, then mother would need to take 2 capsules at a time to equal one dose and that dose would need to be taken 2x/day. The mother continues it until she is pain free for a few weeks. It can be restarted if necessary. If you have been pain free for a week or two, try going off the vitamin B6. If vitamin B6 does not work within a week, it probably won’t."
Fish Oil: "The ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids could benefit patients with Raynaud's phenomenon because, among other effects, these fatty acids induce a favorable vascular response to ischemia."
Yarrow Tincture: Yarrow works as a peripheral vasodilator and brings blood to the periphery. Take 2-3 droppers 3x daily.
Get the latch right!: A bad latch will set you up for disaster for that feed and the following feed. If it doesn't feel right, detach and relatch. As many times as you need to get it right. Try different positions (this is where the help from a CLC or IBCLC can be so helpful!)
Massage: Try a loving massage of the pectoral muscles and/or using some olive oil and massaging the nipple before and after a feed.
Loving Self Talk: Feeding with Raynauds is uncomfortable and frustrating. it can be easy to fall into the "why me?" or "I'm not supposed to breast/chest feed" etc. Yes this is a challenge, but remember you can do hard things AND your mental health is one of the most important things. Try repeating "I am doing my best. I can do hard things. My body is strong. Nothing is wrong with me."
What's the saying "There's no such thing as a free lunch?". There will always be challenges that you will be faced with, especially in parenting. This is a hard one to face and can often feel like you are the only one on the planet dealing with this issue. If you take anything away from this post, please know that you are not alone! You have options. There is support out there! And remember, you can always reach out to your local doulas ;) to help you through!
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