Shooting breast pain

Why do I have shooting breast pain after breastfeeding?

Pain in the nipple or areola can shoot across the breast and toward the ribs and shoulder blade. This “referred pain” is following the T4 nerve. The most common causes are: nipple yeast infection, vasospasm, nipple compression, or nipple damage. The pain disappears when the underlying problem is solved. Pressure or breast massage may relieve the pain.

A) Shooting breast pain

The T4 (the fourth thoracic [chest]) nerve is the main nerve for the nipple and areola although this can vary between individuals and include the T3 and T5 nerves. For the sake of simplicity, we will just refer to the T4 nerve. 

When the nipple or areola is affected by disease or injury, the T4 nerve is activated. Pain may be felt not just in the problem area but anywhere along this nerve, which runs from the central chest, across the nipple and central breast, around and slightly upward to the ribs and lower shoulder blade. This type of pain is called referred pain.

Mothers with referred pain may feel a “shooting” or burning pain. It may be in the:

  • Outer part of the breast.
  • Side of the chest beside the breast.
  • Bottom of the shoulder blade.

The pain can occur during breastfeeding or away from feeding times.

B) Causes of shooting breast pain

While any cause of nipple pain can cause referred pain, certain problems are more likely to do so. These are:  

C) Treating shooting breast pain

The pain disappears when the underlying problem is solved. Pressure on the breast using a hand or breast massage can temporarily relieve the pain.