Do you experience soreness or even sharp pain in your nipples while breastfeeding? You're certainly not alone! It's estimated that up to 90% of breastfeeding moms experience at least soreness of the nipples/tender nipples while about one-quarter get cracking and extreme pain.
Nipple tenderness isn't just unpleasant; it can make it hard to breastfeed and may cause you to abandon it if you don't find a solution that works for you.
As a mother who breastfed both of my children for two years each, I definitely know how hard it can be to sit down with your baby every few hours and brace yourself for some pain.
Here are the best ways to relieve nipple tenderness from breastfeeding to enjoy this beautiful bonding experience with your child.
Is Your Baby Latched Properly?
A shallow or improper latch is one of the most common causes of nipple tenderness.
During the first few days of your baby's life, tenderness is common as the suckling stretches the nipple and areola to the back of the baby's mouth.
With the proper position, this tenderness will go away on its own as the milk comes in and go away completely.
Your nipples can get sore if your baby doesn't get enough of your nipple into his mouth during nursing.
This shallow latch means the baby sucks on the nipple instead of the breast, causing tenderness, pain, then nipple damage.
Your baby should be close to you and tummy-to-tummy so he can tip back his head and bring his chin to the breast first.
La Leche League offers a great resource to help you learn positions for nursing that work well for you and help you get a better latch.
Adjust Your Baby Without Unlatching Him
You know something went wrong when your baby latches on and it hurts.
While the common advice is to stick your finger in your baby's mouth to break the seal and unlatch him, this can frustrate your baby and make him refuse to nurse or even clamp on painfully when he's offered the breast again.
An easier and more pain-free solution is to adjust your baby's position without unlatching him.
You can tip his head back a bit, shift his position, or pull him a little closer until his latch naturally adjusts to the correct position.
This will help you avoid nipple damage from repeated incorrect latches.
This video demonstrates how to easily correct a painful latch.
Does Your Baby Have Thrush?
Babies can get a yeast infection in their mouth called thrush. This infection can be passed to you and cause nipple damage and pain.
You may have thrush if you have red or pink, shiny, itchy, or burning nipples, cracked nipples, a deep, shooting pain during or after nursing, or a vaginal yeast infection.
Young babies often show signs of thrush, too, including white patches inside the lips and cheeks that resembles cottage cheese or a raised, patchy diaper rash with clear borders.
Your physician can treat you and your baby for thrush.
The good news is the infection should clear up within a few days. You can relieve the pain in the meantime with ibuprofen.
Is Your Baby Tongue-Tied?
Who knew being tongue-tied is a real thing? Babies can actually be tongue-tied if the skin connecting their tongue to the floor of their mouth extends too far or is too short.
A baby who is tongue-tied can't lift his tongue or move it correctly and this makes it difficult to nurse.
He will press the nipple against his hard palate instead of pushing it up, leading to nipple damage and pain.
You can check if your baby is tongue-tied by seeing if he moves his tongue past his bottom lip or raises it to the roof of his mouth while crying.
If your baby is tongue-tied, a doctor will need to clip the membrane that prevents normal movement of the tongue.
Try a Nipple Cream
If your nipples are cracked or just sore, a nipple cream can offer relief by creating a barrier on the nipples to speed healing.
You can use coconut or olive oil from the kitchen after each feeding to relieve the tenderness and neither oil needs to be removed before breastfeeding.
There are also several products for breastfeeding moms, including pads with soothing creams.
My favorite nipple cream is Bamboobies Boobease, an organic formula without lanolin that often has pesticides.
You don't need to wash this nipple balm off before breastfeeding or pumping and it has a nice aroma.
This same lightweight formula is used as a skin salve for radiation patients.
Use a Nipple Shield
A nipple shield is a good solution if your nipples are very cracked and painful and you aren't able to breastfeed without pain.
Just keep in mind nipple shields can cause their own problems.
These thin silicone shields resemble bottle nipples and it can be difficult for a baby to latch onto the unfamiliar shield.
Still, it can be a solution or last resort if your nipples need a break.
La Leche League offers an in-depth analysis on the use of nipple shields for more information, including avoiding the pitfalls of shield use and interventions to try first.
Don't Give Up Breastfeeding!
Nipple soreness can make breastfeeding a nightmare -- far from the beautiful experience it should be.
Don't give up nursing if you develop tender nipples; these solutions can relieve the soreness and make breastfeeding a painless and enjoyable experience.
I recommend using Bamboobies Boobease if you want a product that really helps, but you can also use home remedies like coconut oil if you're in a bind.
Use these steps to rule out and fix problems that may be leading to nipple tenderness from breastfeeding:
- Check that your baby is latched properly.
- Correct an incorrect latch without removing him from the nipple.
- Check for thrush and have it treated by a doctor.
- Find out if your baby is tongue-tied and needs treatment.
- Use a safe nipple cream to relieve sore nipples.
- Try a nipple shield for temporary intervention.
If you have any questions or your own recommendations for relieving nipple tenderness from nursing, please leave a comment!