If you suffer from sore nipples, you're not alone—8 out of 10 mothers initially experience some degree of breast or nipple pain but that figure drops to about one-third at two weeks, and most go on to breastfeed for weeks, months, or even years. If pain occurs, it tends to happen at the start of a feeding when your newborn latches on to the breast and draws the nipple and the surrounding tissue into his mouth. If your baby is positioned well, the pain will last only a few seconds. But if your baby is positioned poorly, the pain will persist. The best way to prevent sore nipples is to:
- position your baby correctly on your breast (learn more about latch here)
- breastfeed as long as your baby wishes on the first breast before offering the second breast
- begin each feeding on the breast offered last
- break your baby’s suction before removing her from the breast to reduce any unnecessary tugging on your nipple
- breastfeed at least 8-12 times in each 24-hour period
- hand express or pump to relieve fullness, prevent engorgement, or facilitate a good latch
Some new mothers, hoping to prevent nipple soreness, turn to creams, lotions, and ointments, only to discover that their use, as well as the misuse of nipple shields or breast pumps, can actually cause soreness (keep reading to learn why). Despite nipple soreness, you can continue to breastfeed as long as your baby is positioned well. Try these simple tips to help encourage a good latch and minimize irritation to your nipple:
- Express a small amount of milk or colostrum to soften the breast. This will make it easier for your baby to get a good latch.
- Begin each feeding on the breast that is least sore. Once your milk begins to flow, switch your baby to the sore breast and breastfeed just long enough to relieve the fullness and soften the breast. If both breasts are sore, use a warm, wet washcloth and gentle massage to start the flow of milk before you offer your baby the breast. This will limit the amount of time your baby spends on the sore breast.
- Hold your baby close to prevent unnecessary pulling on the breast, and remember to break the suction (by sliding your finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth) before removing your baby from the breast.
- Wash your breasts no more than once a day using just water. If desired, you may also use a mild soap, though water is usually sufficient. Do not wash your breasts or nipples before each breastfeeding (even water will dry out the skin if used often).
- Avoid creams, lotions, and oils. Skin products can irritate the skin and there is no evidence to show that they prevent nipple damage. If your nipples are cracked and bleeding, ask your health care provider to recommend an appropriate treatment such as an antibacterial, antifungal, or anti-inflammatory ointment.
- If necessary, stop breastfeeding for 24 hours to give your nipples a chance to heal. You will need to hand express or pump to relieve fullness and maintain your supply. In the meantime, feed your baby your expressed milk using a cup or bottle.
Nipples and breasts heal quickly (that’s the good news), however, a break in the skin increases the risk of a breast infection (mastitis). If you experience fever, chills, or flu-like symptoms you should contact your health care provider right away. In the meantime, even if you see blood in your milk due to cracked nipples, you can still breastfeed your baby (learn more here).
Learn more about sore nipples and other common breastfeeding problems in Breastfeeding, A Parent’s Guide.