Updated: Feb 24
It is a frosty time of year and a time when people with circulation issues such as reynaud's disease can really suffer.
What is reynaud's disease?
Reynaud's disease (or phenomenon) is a fairly common condition where small blood vessels, in areas such as the fingers, toes and nipples, are over-sensitive to cold and stress. They constriction, reducing blood flow to the area which causes a sensation of tingling and numbness, followed by a severe throbbing and burning pain as the blood flow returns. It is often accompanied and identified by a change of colour where the area will blanch white first then turn blue/purple to red as blood flow returns.
How does it affect breastfeeding?
Although reynaud's disease is a well known phenomenon, its association with difficulties in breastfeeding seems very under-acknowledged by the medical profession. We often see it misdiagnosed for thrush in breastfeeding mothers and some of the symptoms are very similar: both can present with a ‘razor blade’ like let down and severe pain between feeds.
Reynaud's is certainly not on the top of the diagnosis list when mothers present to the GP with pain between feeds even if the mother is already diagnosed with a circulatory issue. This is further complicated when there are several factors which are leading to the breastfeeding problems experienced - the pain from reynaud's is then often totally overlooked as a contributing factor.
So what can help?
If you have already been diagnosed with with reynauld's or you feel this could be an issue then do your research (links in attached blog) and speak to your GP about whether a medical treatment is appropriate. Get them also to explore whether any other medications (such as estrogen based contraceptives) or factors in your medical history (eg breast surgery or hypothyroidism) could pre-dispose you to issues.
Keeping the nipples warm can really help: covering them immediately after feeds and avoiding wet nipples drying in the air; using a gentle warming pad.
Gentle massage of the area before and after feeds can help blood flow. Squeezing the base of the nipple to encourage blood to flow back in.
Get a feeding assessment from an experienced and skilled person (such as an IBCLC). Optimising the latch and eliminating any other contributing feeding issues can really help reduce pain levels.
Consider reducing or avoiding things such as caffeine, nicotine/smoking, diet pills, cold medications containing pseudoephedrine or phenylephrine, beta blockers, and other vasoconstrictive drugs.
Discuss with a medical professional whether any dietary supplements (such as fish oil, B6, Calcium etc) might be appropriate as these are sometimes reported to help.
Have a look at this emotional personal story from Nicola for an insight into how it can impact on a feeding journey as well as some really useful links to further information: https://www.nutritionandnurture.co.uk/post/reynauld-s-and-breastfeeding-my-story-guest-blog-by-nicola-williams