Preventing + Treating Sore Nipples

June 28, 2016

Sore or tender nipples can be a roadblock in your breastfeeding journey. This experience can be deflating and seem helpless, and sometimes even cause moms to stop breastfeeding altogether. Thankfully, if you can effectively determine the cause and treatment, you can prevent it from recurring.

To get you started, we’ve outlined the most common causes of sore nipples below:

  • Improper latch or positioning. If your little one only latches to a small portion of your nipple, breastfeeding may become painful. Likewise, if your baby is uncomfortable or frustrated by the lack of milk flow, they may begin to bite. To avoid both issues, make sure your baby’s latch is effective.
  • Improperly-fitted breast shields. Breast shields should prevent sore nipples, but if they aren’t fitting correctly, your nipples could feel sore from being drawn in and out while pumping. To find the perfect fit, follow this guide or your instruction manual closely before you begin using breast shields, and remember that as your breast size changes postpartum, your ideal breast shield size may change too.
  • Tongue-tie. If your baby has tongue-tie, they will struggle to nurse correctly, leading to possible nipple pain. If you think your little one might be tongue-tied, make an appointment with your pediatrician, who can diagnose tongue-tie and perform a minor procedure to correct the problem.
  • A thrush infection, which is a common yeast infection in a baby’s mouth, can cause painful, itchy, and red nipples with shooting pains while breastfeeding. While it’s harmless, it can be extremely uncomfortable. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, visit your doctor for treatment.
  • Nipple bleb or blister. A nipple bleb is a tiny, milk-filled blister that forms over the nipple itself, causing pain and discomfort. While you can remove the bleb at home, it’s always a good idea to see your doctor. We recommend seeking help from healthcare professionals, who are able to treat the bleb or blister (caused by an improper latch or poorly fitted breast shield).

If you are still struggling, meet with a lactation consultant for help troubleshooting what might be causing your problems. You can find a lactation consultant near you or use our certified LC.

Treating Sore Nipples

In addition to working with a lactation consultant, follow these at-home tips to help soothe sore nipples:

  • Follow general first-aid guidelines and make sure you keep the affected area clean and dry.
  • Soothe with lanolin or hydrogel pads. These products can provide much-needed relief and the ingredients are entirely safe for your little one.
  • Use your own breast milk to relieve discomfort. It may sound crazy, but just a few drops of expressed milk placed on your nipples can be very soothing.
  • Consider using a gentle manual breast pump or hand-expressing breast milk. These methods give you the most control over your nipple movement when they’re feeling sore.
  • Use breast shells to prevent fabric from rubbing against sore nipples.
  • Begin feedings on the least sore breast. Babies tend to nurse more vigorously at the beginning of a nursing session. Start by offering your baby the least sore breast so that by the time you switch, they will suck more gently.

Preventing Sore Nipples

Of course your best option is to prevent sore nipples from happening in the first place. And while that might be easier said than done, these tips will go a long way in preventing sore nipples:

  • Ensure a proper latch. Work with a lactation consultant to establish a proper latch. Your baby should open wide and you should be able to hear her swallowing.
  • Breastfeed frequently. Feeding often will prevent your baby from sucking too vigorously due to hunger. Be sure to watch for your baby’s feeding cues.
  • Manually express some breast milk to stimulate letdown before your baby latches. That way, your little one won’t have to nurse as vigorously at the beginning of the session.
  • Remove baby carefully from your breast. Once you’re finished nursing, or need to readjust positions, be sure to gently break the suction by running a finger along baby’s gums.
  • Keep bras and bra pads dry and clean. This gives sore nipples the best chance to heal and prevents them from becoming chapped.

How did you manage nipple pain while breastfeeding? Share your tips in the comments below.

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