Sore Nipple-Preventing Strategies for Breastfeeding Moms

When you first have your baby and begin to breastfeed, a little bit of nipple tenderness is normal. You may feel some mild discomfort when your baby latches on, or when your breast milk starts to let down. This mild pain is common, and it should go away as you nurse your baby. But, as the weeks go on, breastfeeding should become more comfortable. Of course, this isn't always the case. Sometimes, the tenderness gets worse, and your nipples can become painfully sore.

Unfortunately, ​sore nipples are a common problem of breastfeeding. They can develop for many reasons including a poor breastfeeding latch, not using a breast pump correctly, or an infection. Then, once you have them, sore nipples can lead to a difficult let-down, a low breast milk supply, or early weaning. So, if possible, you want to try to stop sore nipples before they even start. Here are eight ways to prevent sore nipples.

1
Make Sure Your Baby Is Latching on Well

mother breastfeeding baby
Monashee Alonso/Getty Images

A good breastfeeding latch is one of the keys to successful breastfeeding, and it also helps to prevent sore nipples. When your baby latches onto your breast correctly, he will have your entire nipple as well as some of the surrounding areola in his mouth. Your nipple should be deep inside your baby's mouth.

If your newborn only latches on to your nipple, his gums will press down on it as he tries to get breast milk. When he sucks on just your sensitive nipples, it can cause nipple pain. It can also lead to an always hungry and fussy baby since your child won't be getting much breast milk if she isn't latching on well and squeezing the milk ducts under your areola.

You can help prevent sore nipples by learning how to latch your baby on correctly right from the first breastfeeding. And, if you aren't sure whether or not your baby is latching on and breastfeeding well, talk to your doctor, a lactation consultant, or a local breastfeeding group as soon as possible for assistance.

2
Breastfeed in a Good Position

Mother breastfeeding baby using the football (clutch) hold.
The football hold is a great beginning position to help get your baby latched on properly. Ruth Jenkinson/Getty Images

A good breastfeeding position will be comfortable for both you and your baby, and it will encourage a proper latch. The cross-cradle hold and the football (clutch) hold work well when you're first starting out since both of these positions give you a better view of your nipple and your baby's mouth.

It may also be helpful to use a nursing pillow and a nursing footstool. These breastfeeding accessories lift your lap and bring your child up to the level of your breast. It's easier to get into a good breastfeeding position when you raise your baby up since you don't have to lean over. Leaning over is uncomfortable, and it can strain your back, arms, and neck.

You can also alternate the breastfeeding positions that you use at each feeding. When you breastfeed in the same position all the time, your baby's mouth is always putting pressure on the same spot on your nipple. But, if you rotate through the different breastfeeding holds, it can help to prevent one area of your nipple from getting all the rubbing pressure of your baby's latch.

3
Soften Your Breasts So Your Baby Can Latch On

Baby breastfeeding on large or engorged breast
It can be difficult for your baby to latch on if your breasts are engorged. onebluelight/E+/Getty Images

Breast engorgement is common during the transitional stage of breast production that you'll most likely experience within the first few weeks of breastfeeding. However, your breasts can also become engorged if you miss a feeding or if you have an overabundant supply of breast milk.

When your breasts become engorged and hard, it's difficult for a newborn to latch on. To make it easier for your child, you can remove a little bit of breast milk before each feeding to relieve the tightness and soften your breast tissue. When your breasts are softer, it's much easier for your baby to form a good seal on your breast. And, as mentioned before, a good latch helps to prevent sore nipples. 

4
Breastfeed Your Baby at Least Every 2 to 3 Hours

LWAGettyBreastfeedingNewborn.jpg
Breastfeed often and before your baby become overly hungry. LWA/Getty Images

Newborns have tiny stomachs, and they digest breast milk quickly and easily. So, it's not a surprise that they need to eat frequently. The longer you wait to breastfeed, the hungrier your baby will be. And, when a baby is very hungry, he can have a more aggressive suck. Plus, if you wait too long between feedings, your breasts can become engorged making it more difficult for your baby to latch on well.

The combination of a poor latch and an aggressive suck can quickly lead to sore nipples. You can reduce the chances of engorgement and an overly vigorous suck, by breastfeeding your baby on demand at least every 2 to 3 hours, and before she becomes too hungry.

5
Try to Keep the Skin Around Your Breasts and Nipples Healthy

Woman with lotion in her hands
Avoid harsh soaps and over-the-counter creams on your nipples. Michael Goldman/Getty Images

It isn't that difficult to care for your nursing breasts. There's not too much you have to do since your breasts are made to breastfeed. You even have little bumps on your areola called the Montgomery Glands that moisturize and protect your breasts and nipples. But, you can help to keep your skin healthy and prevent sore nipples by doing a few things.

When you wash your breasts, rinse them with warm water and avoid using any harsh soaps that can dry out, irritate, and crack the skin on your breasts and your nipples. Also, it's not necessary to use creams, ointments, or lotions to try to prevent nipple problems before they start. Many over-the-counter products are not helpful. In fact, they can make painful, sore nipples even worse.

However, if you already have dry, cracked nipples, or if you live in a dry climate, you may benefit from a nipple moisturizer. There are some products such as medical grade lanolin or Dr. Jack Newman's All Purpose Nipple Ointment (APNO) that are soothing and helpful. If you think you might need a nipple moisturizer, talk to your doctor. She can recommend a product that is safe for you to use while you're breastfeeding.

6
Stay on Top of Leaking Breasts and Change Your Breast Pads Often

Breast pump, breast pads, and a bra
A clean bra and dry breast pads can help prevent sore nipples. Ruth Jenkinson/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

It may be hard to do, especially if you're one of the many women who experience a lot of leaking, but try to keep your breasts, bra, and ​breast pads clean and dry. Put on a clean nursing bra every day, and change it whenever it gets wet or dirty. If you wear breast pads, try not to use any products that have plastic or waterproof liners because they hold in the moisture. Instead, choose washable, reusable breast pads made from natural materials, or disposable nursing pads that are breathable, absorbent, and comfortable.  

Whether you prefer reusable or disposable nursing pads, be sure to change them often. If you leave wet breast pads on your skin for an extended period of time, they can provide the perfect environment for microorganisms to grow. The growth of bacteria or fungus can cause your skin to break down and lead to sore nipples, thrush, or a breast infection.

7
Be Careful When You're Removing the Baby From Your Breast

Mother breastfeeding child
The correct technique for removing your baby from the breast is a valuable skill to learn. SelectStock/Getty Images

When your child latches on well and breastfeeds, she creates a strong seal between her mouth and your breast. At the end of a feeding, she may release the seal and let go of your breast on her own, or she may stay attached to you even if she falls asleep.

If your baby does not let go of you on her own at the end of the feeding, don't pull her off of your breast. Pulling your child's mouth off of your breast after a feeding can cause pain and damage to your breasts and nipples. Especially if you do it over and over again.

To prevent damaging your nipples, take the time to learn the proper technique for removing your child from your breast. By gently placing your finger into the side of your baby's mouth, you can safely break the suction of the latch. Then, once you break that seal, you can hook your finger around your nipple to protect it from being chomped on as you remove your breast from your baby's mouth.

8
Be Gentle With Your Breast Pump

Breast pump with breast milk
A breast pump used incorrectly can cause nipple pain and breast damage. Jamie Grill/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Whether you're exclusively pumping, or just pumping occasionally to relieve breast engorgement or boost your supply of breast milk, it's important to use your breast pump correctly.

Pump flanges (pump shields) are available in different sizes, so don't assume that the ones that come with your pump are right for you. Check to see if your pump manufacturer makes alternative sizes or look for a product such as Pumpin' Pal Super Shield Breast Pump Flanges so that you can be sure that your pump flanges fit you correctly and comfortably. 

Another common pump problem is setting the pump suction too high. Many women believe that pumping at a faster speed and higher suction level will lead to more breast milk more quickly. But, it's more likely to lead to more pain and possibly less breast milk. 

So, to prevent nipple pain and breast damage from your breast pump, use pump flanges that fit correctly and start out with a lower, slower level of suction.

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.

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

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