Sore Nipples Debunked

Sore Nipples Debunked

Breastfeeding questions, answered

Ask an expert: Sally Rickard

Days: However long breastfeeding feels right for you

Reading Time: 4 mins

Frankly speaking, feeding your baby can be challenging yet at the same time it is one of the most rewarding parts of being a new parent. We at Cleannest caught up with Sally– IBCLC Lactation Consultant – to answer all your breastfeeding related questions, and get her tips for making this process smooth and satisfying for you and your baby.

“Just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s OK!” - Sally Rickard


How long will my nipples hurt during breastfeeding?

Often mothers think that breastfeeding is accompanied by unavoidable pain - “I’ll keep trying until my nipple toughens up to the pain.” While it is common for new mothers to experience soreness on initial latching, partly because breastfeeding is a brand new sensation for their nipples, it is important to note that persistent pain, while common, is not okay. Let’s make it simple. Think about it in this way - when you wear brand-new shoes, you can feel they are new. However, it is not okay if they cause blisters, cracks or bleeding. If they cause damage, something is wrong which needs correcting!

Nipple skin, similar to lips or ear lobes, does not toughen up with time. If there is ongoing pain, adjustment of positioning and techniques must be looked into to improve the situation. Good latch is comfortable as well as important for effective feeding. It’s sounds obvious but it’s important to note: the more effectively baby feeds, the better for milk production and baby’s health!


How should I make position or technique adjustments during breastfeeding?

Instead of taking the baby off and on again hoping that it magically works out, try micro adjustments! Oftentimes it is necessary to break the seal in case of extreme pain, lest you should damage your nipples. However, re-latching again and again sometimes makes the baby agitated and fractious thus causing stress to both mum and baby. It also increases the overall time taken.

Here are few adjustments in positioning and technique that you can make without unlatching & re-latching to smoothen the process:

  • Let your breasts hang naturally at their level instead of lifting them up with your hand.
  • Try a laid-back breastfeeding position as it triggers a baby’s natural instinct to root and latch.
  • Avoid pressing the baby’s head as they need to feel free to move their head back at any stage and move the chin away from their chest to reach the breast nose-free.

Have a look at the La Leche league’s guide where they have further useful information and videos on this topic. Remember, breastfeeding is like a dance, where you both master a skill together. Don’t rush, you are both learning....


What is the fastest way to heal sore nipples?

Healing nipples can take time even when latching issues are solved.

Nipple creams, glycerin gel pads, lanolin with breast shells, lanolin alone - none of these methods have been proven to be more effective than breastmilk alone, however research shows that parents like to feel they have a product/solution and therefore, prefer doing something than nothing.

A suggested method is ‘Moist wound’ healing which is the practice of keeping a wound in an optimally moist environment in order to heal it from the inside out and fasten the process. This is suitable for damaged (cracked or blistered) nipples because if a scab or hard dry patch is formed on the outside of a wound, it can be repeatedly broken away by the baby feeding, causing fresh damage. I would put Silver Cups in the ‘no harm in trying’ category as silver is a non-toxic material and not absorbed by the skin and this study found it to be a “significant and a more rapid resolution of painful symptoms". Moreover, cups prevent bra and breast pads from rubbing, and potentially leave a little pool of (healing) milk against your nipple. Renfrew, Woolridge, and Ross McGill (2000) study points to the presence of potential therapeutic qualities in the breastmilk that help in promoting the growth and repair of skin cells.

I believe that the sore nipples issue needs to be tackled on a case by case basis. Sometimes it is wise to rest your sore nipples for a couple of days (while expressing to protect milk supply) by feeding only on one (less damaged) side while the other heals. Sometimes it might be helpful to alternate between breastfeeding and bottle feeding expressed milk. I don't want you to dread feeding and I certainly don't want you to struggle on through bleeding nipples feeling like there's no alternative. Tailored solutions exist and can be implemented to heal and smoothen the process for your family.


Why are my nipples sore even with a good latch?

It might be worthwhile to check for possible causes of nipple pain even after good latching. One of them could be ‘Tongue-Tie’ which occurs when the movement of the tongue and the oral function gets restricted because the membrane under the tongue (called the fraenulum) is too tight or short, tethering the tongue to the floor of the mouth. Read about the diagnosis here. Another one could be “Faux-tie” which is when a baby has similar restrictions to tongue tie but not an actual tongue tie. This can be caused by muscular tensions around the head, the mouth or the jaw. As for the mum, there could be conditions like nipple thrush, mastitis or even a milk blister which could lead to congestion or damage to milk ducts.

The common myth that you have to just power through breastfeeding can result in a lot of damage to your nipples as well as your breastfeeding relationship with the baby. If you experience any of the above concerns, please reach out to your breastfeeding support service or lactation consultant who will be able to share more information and help you in this journey.

Talk to you soon.


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