Women’s breasts and nipples come in many different shapes and sizes. When breastfeeding it is important for baby to be able to draw the nipple out to the back of their mouth. So, having flat or inverted nipples may be problematic for mothers who are trying to breastfeed.
What are flat or inverted nipples?
Flat nipples are when the nipples don’t stand out much from the surrounding area (the areola) and don’t protrude when stimulated. However, the nipple can be drawn out with manual manipulation.
True inverted nipples, however, are caused by adhesions at the base of the nipple that bind the skin to the underlying breast tissue. They, mostly, don’t protrude with stimulation and are difficult to draw out, if at all.
Know your breasts
The degree of inversion can vary greatly between women. From one that doesn’t protrude when stimulated but can be drawn out to a severely inverted nipple that disappears inwards completely when manually manipulated.
So if you have flat or inverted nipples the easiest way to decipher if you will be faced with difficulty is to perform a simple “pinch test”.
To do so, gently squeeze the areola an inch behind your nipples. If the nipple becomes dimpled or clearly disappears and becomes indented, then you have inverted nipples rather than flat.
Can I breastfeed with inverted nipples?
As babies breastfeed rather than nipple-feed you may find yourself being advised that you will have no issues. However, as a woman who was unable to breastfeed her first child due to severely inverted nipples, they can present an issue depending on how inverted your nipple really is.
Flat nipples can be problematic, however once you and your baby work out your latch you should not find any further problems.
Inverted nipples, however, can cause problems for the mother if the adhesion does not break or stretch. As the baby needs to be able to draw the nipple into his mouth, if the nipple is unable to protrude this movement can cause the nipple to crack and tear.
How to help prepare your nipples:
Throughout your pregnancy and before breastfeeding manually stimulate your nipples in order to help stretch the adhesion. If your nipple protrudes even just a little, take it between your thumb and index finger and gently roll it.
2. Purchase an aide
There are many companies that sell a syringe-like device (namely a ‘niplette’) that works on everting an inverted nipple. You can use these throughout your pregnancy by have them attached to your inverted nipple under your bra. They slowly and gently stretch the adhesion.
Continue to use these once baby is born, wearing them for 10 minutes before feeding. These devices are how I was able to successfully feed my second and third children.
3. Draw the nipple out
Before offering your breast to your baby, manually draw the inverted nipple out as much as possible.
4. Shape the breast
Use your hands to mould your breast in to a ‘breast sandwich’ when offering the breast to your baby. Do this by flattening your breast an inch behind the nipple; this gives the baby something more firm to latch on to.
5. Cold compressions
Before breastfeeding place an ice pack, a reusable wet breast pad placed in the freezer, against your nipple. This can help to draw the nipple out.
In almost all cases, the adhesions will mostly loosen and you and baby should be able to nurse effectively as he grows and has a stronger and more efficient latch.
If you find, in the meantime, that you have painful nipples check these tips out.
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