New mothers frequently experience breastfeeding problems, in particular nipple pain. This is often attributed to compression, skin damage, infection or dermatitis.To outline an integrated approach to breastfeeding pain assessment that seeks to enhance current practice.Our clinical reasoning model resolves the complexity of pain into three categories: local stimulation, external influences and central modulation. Tissue pathology, damage or inflammation leads to local stimulation of nociceptors. External influences such as creams and breast pumps, as well as factors related to the mother, the infant and the maternal-infant interaction, may exacerbate the pain. Central nervous system modulation includes the enhancement of nociceptive transmission at the spinal cord and modification of the descending inhibitory influences. A broad range of factors can modulate pain through central mechanisms including maternal illness, exhaustion, lack of support, anxiety, depression or history of abuse. General practitioners (GPs) can use this model to explain nipple pain in complex settings, thus increasing management options for women.