Nipples can be very painful if there is anything wrong with them. Many mothers avoid breastfeeding if their nipples hurt. This risks breast engorgement and infection. Here are some tips to avoid and treat painful nipples.
Mothers having sore nipples:
- Feel a burning pain while breastfeeding
- Have redness and swelling over nipples
- May have cracks or blisters over nipples
- May have cuts, bruises, scabs or white patches
How to treat sore nipples?
- Continue breastfeeding with the painful breast.
Avoiding breastfeeding will cause milk to collect in the breast. This may increase breast pain, risk breast infection, and decrease milk production.
– Soak a cotton cloth in lukewarm water and dab the painful breast
– Gently massage the breasts to start milk flow once the pain eases
– Latch baby to the breast once milk flow starts
– Get early help with a lactation counselor if you need support latching your baby to painful nipples
Use a nipple shield. It covers the painful area of nipple while breastfeeding.
– Start by holding the shield against sore nipple with fingers and latch the baby
– Now remove your fingers – sucking of the baby will hold the shield in place
– Use nipple shield in supervision of a lactation counselor – overusing will decrease your milk supply
If you cannot breastfeed at all because of severe breast pain, bleeding or erosion of nipple, pump all the milk using a breast pump or hand expression every 2 hourly. This will help heal your painful nipples without complications.
Learn how to express breast milk
- Apply breast milk over your nipples.
Gently express few drops of your milk after breastfeeding and rub it over your sore nipple. It is safe and free from risks of allergy. You can also apply Ghee, Coconut oil and Olive oil – they too have a low risk of allergy.
Creams or lotions available in market may be allergic to baby and mother – avoid them.
- Avoid frequent cleansing of nipples.
Nipples do not need cleansing before every feeding. Excess rubbing of nipples while cleansing can cause sore nipples. But if you need to clean your breasts, gently wash with water and pat dry with a soft cotton cloth. Once daily cleansing is enough.
Avoid soap or alcohol-based cleansers – they dry the skin and hurt your nipples. Avoid using creams, gels or lotions over your nipples.
- Latch your baby properly.
A well-latched baby suckles areola, not nipples. Areola is the dark skin around nipples from where milk comes.
Babies forget their normal sucking if you offer them bottle feeds or pacifiers. These babies bite over nipples trying to get milk. Doctors call this as nipple confusion and it causes sore nipples. Avoid giving bottle feeds or pacifiers.
Preterm and sick babies who need hospital care for a while can also forget normal sucking. Mothers of these babies need help to start breastfeeding.
Babies having unusual development of mouth or palate may not suck well.
Learn how to attach your baby to breast and check if your baby has abnormal sucking.
Consult baby’s doctor and lactation counselor to establish breastfeeding. We use Lactation Aid (Tube Assisted Breastfeeding) to ensure adequate nutrition while babies learn breastfeeding.
- Avoid abrupt removal of the baby latched to breast.
Sudden detachment breaks suction of the baby which causes sore nipples.
Allow the baby to breastfeed – baby will self release the breast once empty. But if you need to detach early, first break the suction by inserting your finger from the corner of mouth of your baby.
- Correct use of breast pumps or suction devices.
If you are using a breast pump, make sure it fits your breasts. Use gentle and rhythmic suction. Improperly fit breast shields or strong suction can hurt your nipples. Electric breast pumps have better results because they give gentle and rhythmic suction simulating baby’s sucking.
If you are using inverted syringe suction for inverted nipples (flat nipples), use gentle pulsatile suction. Mothers must apply this suction with their own hands and make sure it is comfortable. Forceful suction harms nipples and surrounding skin.
- Avoid tight-fitting clothes if you are breastfeeding.
Use a wire-free and fit cotton bra. Breast size usually increases during pregnancy and your old bras won’t fit you anymore. Make sure your bra is not too tight.
- Keep your nipples dry.
Your nipples may leak milk during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Wear soft cotton pads between bra and nipples and change them frequently to keep your nipples dry. Wet nipples may get infected or cracked.
If you have nipple pain and skin around nipple is red and swollen, it may be fungal infection – called as thrush or candidiasis. We apply Clotrimazole cream over infected nipples.
If nipples have thrush, also check oral cavity of the baby for thrush. It appears as small white spots over tongue. We use Clotrimazole mouth paint for oral thrush.
Bacterial infections of nipple are very painful. Nipples and breast are inflamed and swollen up. Mothers may run a fever. Consult your lactation counselor or doctor who will identify the cause and start antibiotic treatment. We use Mupirocin ointment for minor bacterial infections. Severe infections need oral antibiotic course.
Continue breastfeeding – avoiding it will cause milk to collect in breasts and worsen the infection.
It is normal for most mothers to feel some discomfort just after latching – it gets better after milk letdown. Breastfeeding should be comfortable for the mother and her baby. Do not ignore sore nipples. Get early help with lactation counselors to avoid further harm.
If you have questions or suggestions, post them in the comment section below. Happy breastfeeding!