Up to 90% of mums experience some level of soreness when first breastfeeding. Sometimes nipples can become painful, cracked and even bleed. Here are some tips to help find the cause of any discomfort and care for your nipples until they heal.
Check your latch
Breastfeeding can be uncomfortable in the early days, but pain during breastfeeding is usually a red flag to check your latch. Baby latching on incorrectly can cause damage to your all important nipples and make breastfeeding a painful and even traumatic experience. Check our handy guide here dedicated to all things latch and perhaps try different breastfeeding positions to help baby latch on correctly.
Are your breasts engorged?
If your breasts are engorged they will feel overfull and perhaps like like over inflated balloons ready to blow! This is uncomfortable, make it tricky for baby to latch correctly and even cause clogged milk ducts potentially leading an infection called mastitis. If you feel engorged try hand expressing a little milk out before your baby latches on, this should help soften the breast so baby can get your nipple right to the back of its mouth to feed and ease your discomfort.
Caring for damaged nipples while breastfeeding
If your nipples are cracked or sore allow them time to air dry after a feed. If you can't sit around with your boobs out for hours on end then wear light comfortable clothing to avoid irritating a sore nipple further.
A warm bath can feel soothing, just dry them carefully after, pat them carefully and avoid vigorous rubbing.
Smoothing freshly expressed breast milk onto cracked nipples may also help healing by offering antibacterial protection. Appling lanolin after a feed is also helpful at soothing and deeply moisturising dry cracked nipples. If there is a break in the skin, hydrogel pads can provide immediate cooling relief and aid in tissue healing.
Use breast pads if you're leaking. These can be changed a lot more easily and regularly then finding a whole new bra. This will make sure your nipples are in a clean and dry environment to promote healing. Reusable breast pads such as these are also a lot kinder on your nipple skin as synthetic ones can become stuck and dried in to the nipple which can cause damage when removed. Plus as they're washable they're kinder on the environment too.
Try not to avoid feeding from a sore nipple. This can cause a backup of milk which can result in clogged milk ducts and potentially mastitis. Some mums find expressing from a sore side for a feed or two can help if feeding directly to baby is just too painful until it heals a little. Just ensure the nipple is centrally positioned within the funnel on the breastpump and use a gentle speed to prevent any further nipple damage.
Nipple shields are a controversial topic and there it a lot of conflicting information about their potential benefits during breastfeeding. A nipple shield is made of soft silicone and is designed to fit over your nipple. It can help keep the nipple in a position that makes it easier for your baby to latch. Overuse of nipple shields can however make babies dependant on them for feeding, they need cleaning and sanitising just like a bottle would and baby can get less milk through them which again raises the possibility of clogged ducts for mum. They are also potentially a fix for sore nipples which neglects dealing with the actual cause, such as a poor latch. However, lots of women also consider them to have been a short term lifesaver that made breastfeeding possible: Women with very small babies, women with inverted nipples and those with short term nipple damage have found them invaluable. In short, do what's right for you and your baby.
If you start to feel pain in both nipples or breasts after feeds, having previously had no pain after feeding and the pain is quite severe and lasts for up to an hour after every feed the you may have thrush on your nipples. Thrush infections sometimes happen when your nipples become cracked or damaged. This means the candida fungus that causes thrush can get into your nipple or breast. Thrush infections can also happen after you or your baby has had a course of antibiotics. Antibiotics may reduce the number of helpful bacteria in the body and allow the candida fungus that causes thrush to flourish. If you suspect you or your baby has a thrush infection, see your health visitor or GP. They can arrange for swabs to be taken from your nipples and your baby's mouth to see if thrush is present. It's important other causes of breast pain are ruled out before you start treatment for thrush.
(Sources, NCT, NHS website, Medela)