Did you know that you’re not supposed to have nipple pain while breastfeeding?
A little tenderness in the first few days is normal (compare it to trying on a pair of shoes that you’re breaking in). But after the first few days, it should start to feel better.
You SHOULDN’T have nipples that hurt excruciatingly or bleed- that’s a sign of a problem needing fixed.
Here’s what you need to know about nipple pain while breastfeeding.
Sore Nipples While Breastfeeding A Newborn
Sore nipples are to be expected when very first starting out. But not all women get sore nipples.
Why do some women get sore nipples and some don’t?
It’s because of specific things that happen while you and your baby start to figure out breastfeeding. These things are common for many moms and just part of the learning phase.
Causes Of Sore Nipples With A Newborn
- Your baby not latching well. Your baby probably won’t be a pro right out of the womb (but some are!). It’ll take time for your baby to get the hang of breastfeeding and how to latch on to your breast. The learning phase can bring with it some soreness.
- Bad breastfeeding positioning. Your baby may have difficulty breastfeeding when they aren’t positioned well. If their neck is over-extended or tucked in, they cannot feed effectively. They may also have trouble if they are twisted or in a position they don’t find comfortable.
- Engorgement. Nipple pain while breastfeeding may be a result of your breasts being too rounded for your baby to latch on to. Your baby’s mouth is small so when your milk comes in, engorgement can make it hard for them to get a deep latch.
- Getting the hang of things. It takes some time for your baby to get used to breastfeeding! They’ve never done it before and are learning something new. You might have nipple pain while breastfeeding as your baby gets used to eating effectively.
- Medications from birth. Sometimes medications you or your baby had during birth can cause things to be a bit harder at first. They can make your baby sleepy and less in tune to their instincts. These things will resolve but may give you nipple pain while breastfeeding at first.
Sore Nipple Treatment
These problems are simple and expected. With time and adjustment the pain will go away. Use little adjustments to fix these common problems.
1. Try A New Breastfeeding Position
If it hurts laying baby on their left side, try their right side. When your baby can’t latch well due to engorgement you can cup your breast and squeeze it slightly between your thumb and fingers, allowing more breast tissue into your baby’s mouth.
A great option is to try laid-back nursing. Just lay back and place your baby on your chest. Stabilize them so they don’t fall, but give your baby freedom to move. Make sure you don’t restrict their head with your hand- let your baby move. Often little tweaks will help your baby latch better so you’re both more comfortable feeding. It takes time, so just try different things and see what works.
2. Take A Nursing Vacation
You could even take a nursing vacation! Spend a day in bed with your baby. Relax, cuddle, and let your baby latch and unlatch. Lay close so your baby can feed when they want to. Give it time and you should overcome nipple soreness as you both get the hang of breastfeeding.
3. Engorgement? Try A Breast Sandwich
If your baby cannot latch on to your breast due to engorgement in the first few days, try and make a breast sandwich. Compress your breasts between your thumb and forefinger when latching your baby.
You can also massage your breasts to get the milk to soften and move. Start at your nipple and press your breasts, sliding your fingers towards your chest wall. What you’re doing is moving the milk from the place where your baby latches on towards the back of your breasts. Your baby will be able to latch deeper when they can take more of your breast into their mouth.
4. Nipple Creams For Soothing
Using nipple creams is a big help to soothe nipple pain while breastfeeding. Lanolin is a great option because it’s safe for both you and your baby. Don’t use anything that could cause your baby harm – anything you put on your nipples goes into their mouth.
Steroid creams, antifungals, and other medicine creams should be discussed with your doctor before use.
Breast milk is perhaps one of the best solutions for your sore nipples! It can even work better than lanolin cream and you can rest assured that it’s safe for your baby. Try expressing a little bit into your sore nipples and let the liquid gold work its magic.
5. Seek Professional Help
Something more serious may be the problem if the nipple pain while breastfeeding doesn’t resolve within 2 weeks after birth. Your baby could have a tongue tie or other serious problem. Lactation consultants are a great resource for helping with nipple pain while breastfeeding. Look for a local lactation consultant, or use online resources when you need to talk to a professional.
You may need to have someone help you evaluate the breastfeeding latch. I will cover that later in this article, but sometimes a shallow breastfeeding latch can cause problems with nipple pain. Keep reading to find out how to achieve a deeper latch, and keep in mind a lactation consultant can greatly help.
Skin Problems Causing Nipple Pain
Something that moms might not think of immediately is skin problems. Women prone to eczema might have trouble breastfeeding at first. If you suspect this problem, there are many ways to help resolve it.
Put your breast milk on your nipples. Breast milk is amazing stuff. It’s packed with anti-inflammatory components that help with healing. It also has anti-microbial properties to ward off infections. Just express a few drops of milk and rub them into your nipples. You may find it helps better than anything else!
Lanolin is another good option. It’s like chapstick for your nipples. Safe for your baby, it’s effective for nipple relief. When using lanolin cream, make sure that you aren’t just covering up an underlying problem. It offers relief but if the nipple pain is severe or caused by a bad breastfeeding latch – you need to solve what’s causing the pain in the first place.
Cracked, Bleeding, Painful Nipples
If you have cracked, bleeding, or painful nipples while breastfeeding something is wrong. Your nipples should never be so painful that breastfeeding is excruciating. Breastfeeding shouldn’t cause bleeding or cracking – this means something’s wrong.
Usually that something is a severely shallow latch. You can follow specific steps to remedy it, but you may need help from a lactation counselor.
It could also be cause from a tongue or lip tie. Another cause could be that latching is more difficult for your baby if you have flat or inverted nipples.
Signs You Need A Deeper Latch Or Professional Help
- Nipple is triangular after unlatching. Your nipple should look normal after unlatching your baby. What I mean is that it should be round and not distorted. One sign of a shallow latch is your nipple looking pinched or triangular after feeding. This shows that the latch isn’t deep enough. It can be extremely painful and may lead to cracking, bleeding, and infection.
- You see a crack or white line on your nipple. A white line on your nipple is a sign of pinching. Your nipple might also look white after a feeding. This is called blanching, and it means that the blood flow is restricted to the white area as a result of extreme pressure. It hurts and causes nipple damage.
- If one side of your nipple looks flat. Your nipples should be round after unlatching. If one side of your nipple looks flat, there could be a problem. It’s important to fix these issues especially if you feel pain.
- Bleeding or cracking in your nipples. Something is wrong if you have any sort of bleeding or cracking in your nipple. You may notice a small crack or a severe raw and bleeding area. These problems AREN’T NORMAL. While you can expect mild soreness, bleeding, cracking and raw sores indicate a severe feeding issue. Without addressing the problem, you are at risk for bacteria entering your breasts and causing mastitis.
How To Get A Deeper Breastfeeding Latch
Follow these steps to try and get a deeper breastfeeding latch.
- Find a comfortable position. Make sure your baby is comfortable. Their ear, shoulder and hip should be in a line. Don’t let them have their neck over-extended or tucked. Starting off comfortable can make all the difference.
- Place your baby nipple to nose. You want your nipple to be at their nose. Your baby will open their mouth wide, and your nipple may look a bit high. This is how you want it! Your nipple should look like it’s aimed at the roof of your baby’s mouth.
- Latch the bottom lip first. When your baby opens their mouth, their bottom lip should make contact with your breast first. You should have more breast tissue underneath your nipple in your baby’s mouth. You may see areola near your baby’s upper lip and nose.
- Let your baby make the move. Allow your baby to open their mouth wide. You can express milk onto their lips, but be patient. When they open, give your baby freedom to move their head. This allows them to lean their head back and open wide enough. That’s when you latch them.
- Move your baby’s body towards you – not their head. Your baby needs freedom to latch. You can support your baby’s back and even the base of their neck but don’t force your baby’s head to your breast! They need some freedom to move their head and mouth to latch on right.
- Compress your breast if necessary. If your baby can’t seem to get enough breast tissue, you can compress your breast like a sandwich. Place your thumb and fingers on opposite sides of your nipple and press your breast while your baby latches.
Try these things to get a deeper latch! Work on it for a few days as long as the pain and bleeding isn’t too severe. If you can’t overcome the pain by 2 weeks, seek out a lactation consultant. Also get help if you have severe cracking, pain and bleeding.
Nipple Pain While Breastfeeding An Older Baby
Some moms experience nipple pain while breastfeeding all of a sudden after they’ve been at it for a while. It could be caused by a few things:
- Thrush. A yeast infection in your breasts and baby’s mouth is called thrush. You’ll see white patches in your baby’s mouth and have red, shiny and flaky nipples. It can give your severe breast and nipple pain while breastfeeding.
- Pregnancy. Some women find that their nipples are sore while breastfeeding after they become pregnant! In time the pain should decrease but if you suspect pregnancy, that might be why you have sore nipples!
- Sucking while unlatching. Sometimes babies start new habits with breastfeeding. Your baby might be sucking too hard while you’re unlatching them which may be painful. Try breaking the suction by placing your finger in the corner of their mouth before they unlatch.
- Milk blebs. You might have a clog at the end of your milk duct in your nipple. Usually you’ll see it as a white spot on your nipple. Treatment for a clogged milk duct includes massage and frequent feedings.
Nipple pain while breastfeeding is no fun. While soreness is expected the first few weeks, severe pain is abnormal. A deeper latch may help solve the problem but if it persists, find help. Lactation consultants can be a great help, and your pediatrician may be able to offer some advice and determine if your baby has a tongue tie. If you’re dealing with soreness, be patient and try new breastfeeding positions. Time will help your baby become a better nurser.
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.