Hi friends! Bri the IBCLC here to chat about sore nipples. Now be honest... Has your sister, or neighbor, or friend told you that breastfeeding and pain are a packaged deal? Well, here’s the truth: breastfeeding should not equal toe-curling pain. (Aren’t you relieved?) Yes, some soreness is normal but keep reading, because I’m going to teach you how to navigate your way around nipple pain.
Before we dive in deep, let’s take a step back and explain why talking about nipple pain with breastfeeding is so important. Did you know that nipple pain is one of the top three reasons that parents wean earlier than they wanted or expected? (I can’t blame them!) So let’s jump in and help you meet your breastfeeding goal, whatever that may be.
Sore Nipples are Normal, but how long will it last?
You may have noticed, towards the end of your pregnancy, more sensitive and tender nipples. That tenderness is normal and will continue through the first week or two of breastfeeding. No worries because it will fade as your nipples become more flexible. You can help that transition along by hand expressing when your breasts are very full to “soften” them, so your baby can get a deeper latch (if you see drops of breastmilk forming on your nipple, then you are hand expressing correctly!). Last, if you are in doubt about what to do, holding your baby skin to skin on your chest is always a great option!
The 30-Second Rule
In the first few days and weeks of learning to breastfeed, a good rule of thumb is to follow the 30-second rule. When your baby latches on to your breast, a little bit of soreness or discomfort can happen but should go away as the feed goes on. If that soreness does not go away after about 30 seconds of sucking, then gently unlatch your baby and try again. It may take 30 attempts to get a good latch but that’s no problem! It’s better to practice a comfortable latch, instead of pushing through a painful one.
Some things to watch out for:
Getting a Deep Latch is Key
Remember that we are talking about BREASTfeeding, not nipple feeding. Your baby needs breast tissue in her mouth. If your baby just has your nipple, that is considered a shallow latch. Shallow latches are truly a lose-lose situation because you will start down the long, sad road of nipple pain and your baby will also get less milk from your breast. One thing I find helpful in keeping a deep latch is to lean mom back and place baby on top of her so that gravity is keeping them close together. So relax back when breastfeeding, no matter what position you use.
Nipple Creams and How They Can Help
Nipple creams help protect your nipples and can also speed up the healing process if you previously had a shallow latch. Did you know you already have free “nipple cream” that you carry with you everywhere you go? That’s right, your breastmilk or colostrum (that first milk) can be used as nipple cream! It is very healing because it contains antibodies. So if you are ever in a bind, just hand express a drop of breastmilk and rub it right into your nipple! (Score!)
Want to know some of my favorite nipple cream brands?
Help! I Still Have Cracked Nipples
Let’s say you already worked on getting a deeper latch, you have the good nipple cream, but you still have cracked nipples. This is when you get help from a professional.
An IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) can help in many ways!
If you have a crack that will not heal over time, then see your healthcare provider to rule out a possible infection. In the meantime, keep your nipples clean and change out your breast pads when they become wet.
White Spots: What do they mean?
The truth is that nipple pain can come in other forms. Maybe you are not having problems with cracked nipples but you are seeing some white spots. You may also be wondering why your nipples burn? Here are some possibilities:
- Milk Blebs/Blisters: Looks like white dots on the tip of your nipple, where the milk normally comes out. That’s because milk is trapped under the skin. You will feel pain when you breastfeed, either right on or behind that spot. Loosen up the bleb with a warm saline soak, warm olive oil on a cotton ball or some nipple cream. Breastfeed first on the blocked side, because that’s when your baby’s suck will be the strongest. Most moms feel instant relief once the block opens up!
- Thrush: Burning nipples, during and right after breastfeeding? Could likely be thrush. Look for white spots on your nipples, and also in your baby’s mouth. Those white spots will be thick and can’t be rubbed off easily. You may also notice bright pink, shiny nipples and/or a red raised rash in your baby’s diaper area. Talk with your healthcare provider because both you AND your baby will need to be treated.
- Raynaud's/Vasospasm: This is more than white spots... you will instead see your entire nipple tip turn white, and then blue or red. It is very painful when this happens! These spasms usually happen when your nipples are cold, so keep your breasts covered and warm. (Wool breast pads can be helpful!). Sometimes medications are needed, so talk with your healthcare provider if necessary.
Can Sore Nipples Decrease My Milk Supply?
Yes girl, and let me tell you how. If you are concerned about sore or painful nipples, then chances are you may try and avoid breastfeeding or pumping as often. I get it, but the problem is that a full breast tells your body to slow down milk production. That’s just how our bodies are made to work! Over time, milk production can decrease enough to cause supply issues so the best thing you can do is to keep the milk moving. Get hands-on help from an IBCLC if things don’t feel right but in the meantime, keep breastfeeding or hand expressing or pumping to keep your breasts soft.
Breast Pumps and Pain
Breast pumps can be used when your nipples are sore but have you considered that you may be using the wrong flange size? It’s time to try a different size if your pain is increasing with pumping and there is a whole variety of sizing to try. An IBCLC can help fit you for the right flange size and that’s important because it’s not just about comfort.
Right flange size = more milk pumped
P.S. Want to know the best breastfeeding position to use with sore nipples? That’s an easy one... The best is the one that feels most comfortable for both you and your baby. The only wrong breastfeeding position would be one that is causing pain.
So there you have it! Three cheers for avoiding nipple pain while breastfeeding. Now go and get ‘em, with your newfound confidence. You got this!
Brianne Taggart RN, IBCLC, CEIM
@bri.withlactationlink on Insta
Check out our Breastfeeding Guide for New Moms for more information about breastfeeding! Are you worried about your milk supply dipping? Read about Postnatal Depletion here, or look into How Can Stress Impact Breastfeeding!
Share your breastfeeding stories with us @lovemajka and tag us in your pictures! #lovemajka #fuelingmotherhood