Educating Breastfeeding Mothers on How to Find Relief from Sore and Cracked Nipples

Sore and cracked nipples are common, yet unpleasant symptoms of breastfeeding for many mothers. If you are coping with sore and cracked nipples, our compassionate and knowledgeable lactation consultants are here to help you find relief for improved experiences.

How to Prevent Sore Nipples

  • A proper breastfeeding latch is to latch your baby onto your breast, not your nipple.
  • Support your breast with your hand; be sure your fingers are placed back away from your nipple. This allows your baby to latch onto your areola (dark area around nipple), NOT the nipple.
  • Nursing often or for a long time does NOT cause sore nipples, if baby is latched deeply onto the breast.
  • If your breast are hard (engorged) when your milk increases, hand express some milk first to soften the breast before latching your baby onto the breast.

The first week after delivery, new mothers may experience some slight discomfort, breast pain, or stretching sensation, which last for 20-30 seconds when the baby latches to breast. After 30 seconds, the feeding should be comfortable and your nipple should be round after the feeding. This discomfort is temporary and will improve.

  • Gently massage your breast to encourage your breast milk to come down before bringing baby to the breast.
  • If one breast is sore or sensitive, start feeding on the least sore breast first.
  • Nipple pain that increases or remains throughout a feeding is not normal. Both mother and baby need to be evaluated to determine the cause of discomfort.

How to Treat Nipple Pain

Treatment for nipple pain will vary depending on the reason for the nipple discomfort.

In the first week, nipple discomfort is often caused by the baby latching incorrectly. Try different positions. If breastfeeding remains uncomfortable after repositioning your baby, get help. Call your healthcare provider or talk with a lactation consultant to learn how to position the baby correctly on your breast.

Continue to use your breast pump until your milk stops flowing, generally around 10-15 minutes per breast or a total of 10-15 minutes if double pumping.

If the nipple skin is cracked or wounded:

  • Rinse nipple skin with clean warm water after every feeding or use warm moist compresses with a soft cloth.
  • Wash hands before touching your breast to help prevent infection.
  • You may want to consider wearing breast shields or gel pads to protect nipples while they heal.
  • Moisten your bra or breast pads before removing to reduce sticking to sore nipples.

A clean nipple shield may be used over the nipple to protect nipple. Do NOT use a nipple shield without first correcting baby’s latch. Consult with a healthcare provider or lactation consultant for proper fit and discussion of possible risks when using a nipple shield.

Avoid nipple ointments and creams unless recommended by your healthcare provider. If breastfeeding is too painful:

  • Hand express or pump to maintain your milk supply while your nipples heal.
  • Consult your healthcare provider or lactation consultant on methods to supplement your baby with expressed breast milk while your nipples heal.
  • Feed your baby from the breast as soon as possible. After 24 hours, many mothers are able to resume breastfeeding.
  • Sudden nipple pain after a period of comfortable breastfeeding may indicate an infection. See your healthcare provider and follow recommended treatment.

How to Prevent Sore Nipples

  • Pumping should be comfortable. Do not increase pressure beyond comfort to try and obtain more breast milk.
  • Check to be sure breast flange size is not too small for your nipples. If you feel rubbing and pinching sensation while pumping, try a larger flange size.
  • Obtain a high-quality manual pump or electric pump and use it according to pump instructions.
  • Other possible causes for sore nipples include:
    • Pulling your nipple out of your baby’s mouth without first breaking the baby’s suction.
    • Using the wrong size nipple shield for your nipples.

Older babies may turn their heads and pull on the nipple if distracted by other activities. Use a nursing cover when breastfeeding in public or feed your baby in a private area. Older babies who are just starting to develop teeth may bite nipples. Offer your baby a teething toy prior to feeding.

Watch for signs that the baby has finished nursing and quickly removed your baby from breast. Immediately remove your baby from breast if baby bites. Some mothers may quickly pull the baby into the breast, causing baby to release the breast. Teething babies quickly learn not to bite during feeding.

If you have sore or cracked nipples, do not get discouraged. Nipples heal quickly even when mothers are nursing frequently.

Sources:

Lawrence, Ruth A. & Lawrence, Robert M. “Breastfeeding, A Guide for the Medical Professional”, Eighth edition, ELSEVIER, 2016.

Wambach, Karen and Riordan, Jan “Breastfeeding and Human Lactation”, Fifth edition, Jones & Bartlett, 2016.