If you’re reading this, then you’re probably here to find answers and relief as soon as possible! Cracked nipples, infected nipples, painful pumping, nipple soreness, or any form of breastfeeding pain is the last thing a mom needs to be dealing with. We’ve got you, mama. Let’s dive into understanding nipple soreness and how to ease breastfeeding pain.
Nipple Soreness: Is Breastfeeding Pain Normal?
At first, breastfeeding can be a little uncomfortable or even mildly painful. The sensations are very strong for some moms and unnoticeable for others. Most women describe having tender breasts and nipples for the first couple weeks (1). However, you should not feel pain during an entire feeding or between feedings. Additionally, the tenderness should not last more than two weeks (3).
During the first 14 days postpartum, your nipples may be especially tender when your baby first latches on for a feeding. You may grimace or breathe rapidly for the first minute of a feeding, because your baby will start breastfeeding with quick, strong sucks until the milk let-down begins. Once your milk lets down, your baby will settle into a rhythm of sucking and swallowing, and your discomfort should fade away (3). You should not feel any sharp pain. Severe or lasting pain is an indication that something needs to be adjusted (1).
Nipple Soreness: The Causes
Are you wincing in pain throughout an entire feeding? Do your nipples look cracked? Are your nipples bright red or pinched after a feeding? Do your nipples hurt between feedings? If so, then something is not quite right. Contact a lactation consultant ASAP to find out if one or more of the following is causing your breastfeeding pain.
Shallow Latch -> Nipple Soreness
The number one cause of nipple pain is an improper latch (1). If you feel any strong or lasting pain while breastfeeding, then your baby is probably not latched correctly. Gently detach your baby from your breast and try again. Click here to learn more about getting a good, deep latch. You can also try shifting your baby into a more asymmetrical position or try a different breastfeeding position (1).
Yeast Infection -> Nipple Soreness
Sometimes your nipple pain is a sign (and the only sign) of an infection (1; 3; 5). The following are also signs of a yeast infection or thrush (a type of yeast infection in your baby’s mouth) (3):
- Red, shiny, and painful nipples
- White patches that look like cottage cheese inside your baby’s lips and cheeks
- A diaper rash that does not go away with normal care
If you think you or your baby has an infection, call your healthcare provider and lactation consultant (3).
Not Breaking Suction -> Nipple Soreness
Never pull your baby off of your breast or nipple without unlatching. Ouch! This can cause pain and damage to your breasts (3). In order to unlatch your baby, place your finger in the corner of your baby’s mouth. Then, gently press down on her gums to break the suction.
If your baby has a good latch and is eating well, then she will usually finish eating and release her latch on her own. Typically, you will not need to unlatch your baby while she is actively eating (3).
Tongue Tied Baby -> Nipple Soreness
If your baby’s tongue is heart-shaped or cannot reach past her lower lip, then he may be tongue-tied and have trouble latching. Consult with your pediatrician and lactation consultant.
Sliding Baby -> Nipple Soreness
Your baby may latch well, but he may start sliding down your nipple as he eats. You may notice more distance between his nose and your breast (3). If this happens, then gently break the suction and re-latch. Ensure he stays close to you while he feeds.
Other Causes of Nipple Soreness
There are many reasons your nipples could be sore. Perhaps one or more of the following is the source of the pain (1; 2; 3; 4; 5):
- Tight bras or clothing
- Drying irritants from soap, shampoo, body wash, alcohol, deodorant, or laundry detergent
- Nipples having trouble drying
- Intense or incorrect pumping
- Your baby tugging hard (perhaps due to being overly eager to eat, inadequate milk supply, or teething)
- Engorgement (click here to learn more)
- Flat or inverted nipples (click here to learn more)
- Improper use of a nipple shield (only use a nipple shield after speaking with a lactation consultant)
Nipple Soreness: How to Ease Breastfeeding Pain
Ease Breastfeeding Pain: Correct the Root of the Problem
Firstly, you need to fix the root of the problem. For example, correcting a shallow latch will relieve soreness instantly, even if the nipple is still cracked or bleeding (5). Work with a lactation consultant in order to find what is causing your pain.
Ease Breastfeeding Pain: Take Care of Your Breasts
Try some of the following tips to take care of your breasts (2; 3; 4):
- Wash your breasts and nipples daily with water only. If you need to use a soap to clean an open wound, then use a mild, fragrance-free soap.
- Change breast pads when they get wet
- Air dry your breasts after a feeding
- Wear cotton or cotton blends
- To be sure detergent build-up isn’t agitating your skin, thoroughly rinse your nursing bras or use a light amount of gentle detergent
- Wear a supportive, non-restrictive bra
- Take an ibuprofen in order to relieve pain
- If you have an open wound that is not healing or an infection, call your doctor to see if you need antibiotics or other treatment
Ease Breastfeeding Pain: Apply Something
Altogether, many products or home remedies are often recommended for sore nipples. The best thing is to apply warm, water compresses (like a warm, wet washcloth) (1).
Additionally, the following remedies have mixed research and reviews (1;3; 4; 5) . Use what seems to work best for you.
- Express a little breastmilk onto your nipples after a feeding and let air dry*
- Gently pat on a pea-size amount of modified purified lanolin*
- Hydrogel pads*
- Peppermint water*
- Try using breast shells with large openings
*Do not use any of these if you have a yeast infection/thrush
Do not use one of the following (1):
- Non-modified herbal lanolin
- Herbal breast creams
- Directly applied essential oils
- Black tea bags
- Vitamin E and A
- Any over the counter products containing alcohol
Ease Breastfeeding Pain: Protect Your Milk Supply
If you’re experiencing pain, then you may be thinking of stopping breastfeeding altogether. We feel for you, mama. We’re here to help! If you can fix the problem, then you should be feeling better pretty soon! Click here to both learn about the vast benefits of breastfeeding and remind yourself why you’re doing this.
We encourage you to keep breastfeeding. If you can achieve a deep latch, then your nipple will be protected from further damage (3). Try nursing more often (every 1.5-2 hours), because it may be less painful as your baby may not eat as long (2; 5).
However, if it is just too painful to breastfeed, a lactation consultant may recommend you take a break from breastfeeding while your nipples heal (3). In order to protect your milk supply, keep expressing milk regularly! Use an efficient and comfortable pump (3). Breastfeed or express at least 8 times a day (2).
Ease Breastfeeding Pain: Tips While Feeding
Use the following tips while breastfeeding with sore nipples:
- Respond straight away to your baby’s feeding cues. The longer you wait, the more full your breasts will be, and then it will be harder to latch (4; 5).
- Wash your hands before touching your breasts (2).
- Express milk before latching your baby on, in order to quicken the milk let down and avoid vigorous sucking (4; 5).
- Start on the breast that is least sore and move to the other breast after let down (2; 5).
- Try different breastfeeding positions (3).
- Make sure you and your baby are comfortable and that your baby has a good, deep latch (2).
- Try using relaxation breathing until milk let-down occurs (3).
- Breastfeed before giving solid foods, rather than after (4).
- If your baby is biting, stop feeding after the first incident of biting and resume when she is more hungry (4).
- Support your baby and keep her close throughout the feeding, so she can maintain a good latch (5).
Powering through sore nipples is so incredibly hard. We see you, super mama! Here’s to a happier breastfeeding journey, ASAP!
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- CAPPA: Childbirth & Postpartum Professional Association. (2016). Lactation Educator Manual (Ninth Edition).
- Injoy Health Education. 2016. Understanding Breastfeeding: Your Guide to a Healthy Start (Seventh Edition). Longmont, CO: InJoy Birth & Parenting Education.
- La Leche League International. (2021). Breastfeeding Info: Breastfeeding Sore Nipples. Retrieved 2021, from https://www.llli.org/breastfeeding-info/breastfeeding-sore-nipples/
- Lauwers, J., Swisher, A. (2021). Counseling the Nursing Mother: A Lactation Consultant’s Guide (Seventh Edition). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
- Simkin, P., Whalley, J., Keppler, A., Durham, J., & Bolding, A. (2016). Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide (Fifth Edition). Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press.