Breastfeeding With Large Nipples

Information and Tips for Success

Mother holding premature baby.
Small newborns and preemies may have trouble latching on to larger nipples. casenbina/E+/Getty Images

Yes, it is possible to breastfeed if you have large nipples. Women have nipples of all shapes and sizes, and most of them can breastfeed just fine. Your newborn should be able to breastfeed on whichever type of nipple you have. It may even be easier for a healthy full-term baby to breastfeed on large nipples. However, a small newborn or a preemie could have a harder time latching on if mom has very big nipples.

Large Nipples and the Breastfeeding Latch

For your child to latch on to your breast correctly, she needs to take your entire nipple and a good bit of your areola into her mouth. Then, as she breastfeeds, her mouth squeezes the milk ducts under your areola to get the breast milk out of your breast. If you have big nipples, your nipple may fill your child's mouth so that she cannot take in any of your areola. And, if she can only latch onto your nipple, she may not be able to breastfeed well.

Now, if you have an abundant supply of breast milk and a strong let-down reflex, your baby could get enough breast milk by breastfeeding on your nipple alone. However, for many newborns, it's difficult to get enough breast milk from latching on to just the nipple.

Breastfeeding and Breast Issues Due to Large Nipples

If your newborn is having trouble latching on because of the size of your nipples, the greatest concern is whether or not he will be able to get enough breast milk to gain weight and grow in a healthy way.

But, a poor breastfeeding latch can also lead to some breastfeeding problems and painful breast issues for you. It can cause sore, cracked, bleeding nipples or nipple blisters. Plus, if the breast milk isn't removed from your breasts well, it can lead to breast engorgement, plugged milk ducts, mastitis, and a low breast milk supply.

Of course, if large nipples are an issue at all, it will only be in the early days and weeks of breastfeeding. Once your baby gets a little bigger, he will be able to latch on to your larger nipples and take in enough of the surrounding areola to successfully breastfeed. It may just take a few more weeks than you expected.

Tips for Breastfeeding with Large Nipples

  • Have your doctor, a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding specialist examine your breasts and nipples. These health care professionals can provide you with the advice and assistance you need to get your baby latched on well.
  • Try using a breast pump before you breastfeed. The suction of a breast pump can help to make your nipple longer and thinner so it's easier for your little one to latch on.
  • Be patient and wait for your child to open his mouth very wide when you're latching him on to your breast. If he's not opening wide enough, he may not be able to get your nipple and some of the surrounding areola into his mouth.
  • If your breasts are overfull and engorged, pump or hand express some of your breast milk before you begin to breastfeed. It's harder for a newborn to latch on to a hard, full breast. But, if you remove some of the breast milk and make your breast softer, your baby may be able to latch on better and take in more of your areola.
  • Try breastfeeding in the football or clutch hold. This nursing position makes it easier to see your nipple so you can guide your child's mouth into a correct latch.
  • Your doctor or lactation consultant may recommend a nipple shield. Nipple shields make it easier for a small newborn or a premature baby to latch on to the breast. They can also protect sore nipples. When used under the direct supervision of a professional, this device can be very helpful. However, if you do not use it correctly, it could cause even more breastfeeding problems so be sure to follow all of the directions that your healthcare provider gives you.

What If Breastfeeding With Large Nipples Is too Hard?

If it's just too hard and overwhelming to continue to try to breastfeed, and your baby is not getting enough breast milk, it's OK to stop. If you want to continue giving your baby breast milk, you can pump and bottle feed your baby. Many women exclusively pump for their children.

You could also use infant formula or a combination of both formula and breast milk. You need to do what is best for you and your baby, and whatever you decide, you don't have to feel guilty. Just be sure to talk to your child's doctor to find out what your baby needs at this stage. Then, if you want to try breastfeeding again when your baby gets a little bigger, you can.

Sources:

American Academy of Pediatrics. New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York. 2011.

Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

Newman, Jack, MD, Pitman, Theresa. The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers. Three Rivers Press. New York. 2006.

Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

Vazirinejad R, Darakhshan S, Esmaeili A, Hadadian S. The Effect of Maternal Breast Variations on Neonatal Weight Gain in the First Seven Days of Life. International Breastfeeding Journal. 2009 Nov 18;4(1):1.

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