It’s not uncommon to get off to a rocky start in the first few weeks of breastfeeding. It’s a new experience and skill for your baby (and it may be for you too). One of the most frequent challenges parents experience is the pain that comes with sore or cracked nipples.
Why do sore or cracked nipples happen?
Most nipple pain and soreness happen when a baby is latched on or positioned improperly, which compresses the nipple in uncomfortable ways. In an ideal latch, the nipple is moving and compressed against the soft back part of the mouth by the baby’s tongue. While everyone is still learning, often the latch is too shallow, and the nipple is rubbed against the hard part of the baby’s mouth (or palate) over and over again. Nipple pain can also be caused by physical issues like a tongue or lip-tie, a short tongue, or a very recessed jaw. Flattened, wedged, or white nipples at the end of a feeding are additional physical signs of an improper latch. Thrush or other infections of the breast can also cause nipple pain at any point in your feeding journey.
How can I treat painful or cracked nipples?
If you’re concerned that a shallow latch or other physical issue might be causing nipple pain or soreness, the first thing to do is get support. Professional lactation consultants and peer breastfeeding supporters are two excellent places to start. They can work with you and your baby through alternative holds, positions for feeding, or ways of latching on. Sometimes even small changes can make a world of difference. An experienced professional can also help with referral if advanced support for physical or mechanical challenges is needed.
There are many nipple creams and lotions available, both over the counter and by prescription. The best remedy may be a little closer to home! Expressing a small amount of breastmilk and leaving this on your nipples to air dry is likely just as healing as any cream or lotion. Some creams and lotions may actually increase the risk of mastitis (whatever you use, be sure to apply with clean hands). Washing or soaking your nipples isn’t necessary, but if you have open wounds your provider may have specific wound care support for you. Again, the best treatment for any nipple pain or soreness is working on a successful latch.
If you’re unable to get a successful and pain free latch, you may be pumping to maintain supply and feed your baby. Or perhaps you chose pumping from the get-go! Pumping is not a one-size fits all feeding method. Pump flanges need to be sized correctly, and suction levels that are right for you are also important. Without the right tools, pumping can cause nipple damage and soreness just like directly breastfeeding can. Not every breastfeeding professional is a pumping expert, but there are many who can help to guide and support you on your pumping journey.
In addition, your Ovia lactation experts are here to help. While nipple pain and soreness might be really common to experience at some point in your feeding journey, we want to make sure you get the personalized support and information you need to troubleshoot and feel better. Being pain free can make all the difference in a sustainable breastfeeding experience.
Jahaan Marten. “Nipple Pain: Causes, Treatments, and Remedies.” Leaven. 36(1): 10-11. Web. February-March 2000.
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Breast-feeding tips: What new moms need to know.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, November 23 2016.
“Breast-feeding questions.” HealthyChildren. American Academy of Pediatrics.
- “Sore or cracked nipples when breastfeeding.” NHS Choices. Gov.UK. March 20 2014.