For most women, painful nipples are a common complaint when breastfeeding. While breastfeeding is brilliant for your baby, it isn’t so great for your nipples. The excessive tugging and suckling may have caused them to be sore and cracked, and possibly even bleed. We take a look at why this problem occurs and the best methods to soothe and heal your nipples.
Is it normal for nipples to be sore when breastfeeding?
According to the NHS, ‘sore nipple are most common about three to seven days into breastfeeding and usually happens because your baby isn’t positioned and attached effectively at the breast.’
If your baby is in the correct position and latched properly, breastfeeding shouldn’t be all that painful. There are plenty of different breastfeeding positions to try, so keep moving your baby until you find the right one for you.
What are the causes of sore nipples when breastfeeding?
When your baby is correctly latched on, your nipple will rest against the soft palate at the back of your baby’s mouth. If your baby isn’t properly latched, your nipple will be near the front of your baby’s mouth. This can cause pain and sore nipples, as your baby will pinch your nipple against the hard palate in their mouth as they try to feed.
If you’ve just started breastfeeding, keep an eye on your nipples after the first few feeds – they will be a good indicator as to whether or not everything is ok. If you notice your nipples are flattened, wedged or white, your baby might not be properly attached.
What treatments are there?
Get the position rightAs we mentioned above, the right position should stop nipple pain. Breastfeeding expert Geraldine Miskin explains: 'Remember that your baby 'breast' feeds not 'nipple' feeds. Your baby needs to scoop up some breast as well as your nipple. When your baby gapes widely, bring him onto the breast quickly, applying pressure to his upper back, so that your nipple flicks to the back of his mouth and is out of harms' way.'
Relax your nipplesSimply apply a hot wet cloth - this will soften any dry skin and relax nipples before latching.
Change your braWear a non-underwired cotton bra as this can help air circulate and avoid irrating sore skin.
Apply your own milkHand express a little milk to massage into your nipple at the end of a feed. It's a great (free!) way to soothe any soreness as its anti-bacterial is a great healing agent.
Avoid using soapDo not use soap when washing your breasts as it removes the natural oils on your skin and can dry out your nipples.
Go toplessTry air drying your nipples after every feed. This obviously won't be an option if you're feeding on the go, but if you're at home, go topless and let your nipples dry naturally.
Choose the right breast padsIf you are using breast pads, find pads without a plastic backing. You should also change them after every feed.
Go naturalBreastfeeding expert Geraldine Miskin recommends a few natural products that can calm nipple pain. 'Manuka honey is a great natural treatment. Opt for the highest level of manuka activity and your nipples will heal quickly. If you do use Manuka however, just remember to wash nipples well before latching baby onto breast, as babies can't tolerate honey at all.'
Organic olive oils are also widely recommended by mums suffering from sore nipples, however you must check that the ingredients are safe for both you and your baby, and remove all oil before breastfeeding.
Should I keep breastfeeding with sore nipples?
According to the NCT (National Childbirth Trust), limiting or cutting down the amount of time spent breastfeeding because of sore nipples is not helpful. Firstly, your baby might not be getting enough milk, but it could also reduce your milk supply as your body will not get enough stimulation.
Instead, you should contact a lactation expert if you are having real difficulties getting your baby to latch, and try and soothe sore nipples.
When do I need to visit my GP?
It’s worth noting, whilst sore nipples are common, there are some conditions associated with breastfeeding that might require you to visit your GP. Thrush can be passed between your baby and your nipples and if this enters your milk ducts, you will experience a lot of pain once you’ve finished breastfeeding.
The symptoms of thrush in your nipples vary, but in general, having two or more of the following symptoms indicates the pain might be thrush:
- Burning nipple pain
- Flaking skin on the nipple or areola
- Shiny skin
- Painful breasts
- Stabbing pains in the breasts behind the areola
- Itchy nipples
If you are worried about thrush, it's a good idea to go your GP to seek advice.