Sore Nipples While Breastfeeding: Prevention and Treatment

Sore nipples during breastfeeding are nothing new or unusual for nursing mothers. 

It takes some time for the baby to get used to the proper way of latching on the nipple, and that can be more than a little painful. Mild discomfort is usual in the beginning, but although breastfeeding should become more and more comfortable as the weeks go by, it’s not always the case.  Breasts can become even more tender and the nipples can easily get irritated and sore. 

If your nipples are cracked and bleeding, besides pain and discomfort, you could be facing slower milk let-down and low milk supply.

What Causes Sore Nipples?

Poor latching is usually the number one reason for sore nipples, while the other common cause is an improper use of breast pumps. Now, your baby can also just be a biter if that’s your luck, but sometimes cracked, tender, or bleeding nipples  can be the telltale sign of an infection. 

How Can You Treat Sore Nipples?

If your nipples get sore, crack or bleed while you're breastfeeding or pumping, you can try a combination of the best preventive practices and a good quality nipple cream. But let's start with prevention. 

How to Make Sure Your Baby is Latching Properly

As we mentioned earlier, poor latching is the number one reason for irritated nipples. But a good latch doesn’t only mean a healthy nipple, it also means that the baby is feeding successfully and getting those nutrients that are so vital for him or her in those early months of development. That’s why you should make sure that your baby has the entire nipple deep inside its mouth along with certain areas of the areola that surrounds it.

If the baby latches solely to the nipple, they will also use their gums for pressure in order to get more breast milk. This, in turn, will cause chafing on the nipple, because the baby will be suckling only on the sensitive part of it. It will also mean that your baby doesn’t get as much milk as it needs - if it’s not latching properly, it also can’t fully squeeze the milk ducts that are positioned under the areola.

So, learning how to better latch the baby on your nipple is crucial for better milk let-down and prevention of nipple irritation.

The Importance of a Good Breastfeeding Position

Minding and maintaining a good breastfeeding position will only make the process more comfortable for both mom and baby and it will also help with a better latching. 
The so-called ‘cradle’, ‘cross-cradle’ and ‘football’ positions are some of the good ones you start with when you are new to breastfeeding.  The nature of the positions they give you a nice view of both your baby’s mouth and your nipple.  
Some helpful items might be the nursing pillow and also the nursing footstool. They help lift up your lap and bring your baby closer to the level of your breast. 
Breastfeeding positions with the baby up are generally more comfortable than positions where the mother leans over - they’ll be easier on your back and neck if the mother is leaned too long, it can easily cause back and neck strain.
It’s also highly recommended that you switch breastfeeding positions with each feeding, meaning to alternate between several ones every time you nurse so that you can prevent accumulation of pressure on one place on your nipple and protect it from further rubbing.

“Soften” Breasts for a Better Latching

During the first weeks of breastfeeding it’s also common to experience a build-up of breast milk in the milk ducts, also known as ‘breast engorgement’. This can also happen if your milk ducts produce too much milk, or if you happen to miss a feeding.
Engorged breasts are hard and swollen, and this makes it difficult for the baby to latch on properly. However, you can easily handle this by removing smaller amounts of breast milk before each round of feeding – this will make your breasts softer, which will also help the newborn to attach better to the breast.

Frequent Breastfeeding

Missing a feeding can make cause breast engorgement and a poor latch, which is why it’s important to try to breastfeed (or pump) regularly - every 2-3 hours. Babies digest the breast milk rather fast, so they also get hungry faster- and that’s exactly why you need to breastfeed often throughout the day. Hungry babies can also suck more aggressively when the time for feeding comes, which can further irritate the nipple.

Be Careful When Removing the Baby From Your Breast

When they learn the proper way of latching, babies create a seal between their mouth and the breast, which can be quite strong. When they’re done feeding, sometimes they let go on their own and sometimes remain attached - they may even fall asleep like that.
When this happens, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t pull the baby off your breast by yourself, because it can irritate and cause damage to the nipple.
Instead, try to learn the proper technique for removing the baby from your breast. This includes safely breaking the seal of the latch by very gently placing one of your fingers into one side of the baby’s mouth.

Use Your Breast Pump the Right Way

Breast pumps are commonly used throughout the breastfeeding months, sometimes occasionally, sometimes to boost milk supply, and sometimes exclusively, especially if you’re a working mom on the go. When using a breast pump it’s important to learn to use it correctly to prevent sore nipples.
One of the things you need to be careful of are the pump flanges or pump shields, which come in different sizes. Make sure that you have the right size for your nipple so that it can fit properly and make the pumping process comfortable.
Another thing to watch out for is the pump’s suction and speed. If it’s too high it can lead to pain and discomfort, and can even lessen the milk suction content. It’s better to start with a slower level instead and adjust it accordingly afterward. 

The pain breast pumping can cause is precisely why you need to pick a good, quality breast pump - no matter whether you’ve decided to go for manual or electric. If you need any help with that, check out our guide on the Best Breast Pumps for 2019

What to Do if the Deed Is Done: Nipple Creams

Of course, sometimes it’s impossible to prevent sore nipples and when all else fails you will always have nipple creams to ease the discomfort and soothe the pain - and that’s why we’ve compiled a Guide on the Best Reviewed Nipple Creams to help you out.