How to prevent painful nipples when breastfeeding

Sore, cracked nipples is a common complaint from most breastfeeding mothers.

Wincing at the thought of feeding your baby is normal and yes, painful. For some mums, it happens when they first feed their brand new baby, for others it’s later as baby starts to get bigger and the suck gets stronger.

See here for tips on how to soothe painful nipples.


How to prevent cracked nipples

For some of us, it’s when that lovely bundle of joy, decides he or she wants to try out newly erupting teeth on our already very tender nipples. “Ouch it hurts,” can be a complete understatement. It can be “ouch” enough to bring tears to even the most committed breastfeeding-focused mum’s eyes.

Remain positive and be encouraged that whatever the reason you are facing the “ouch” in your breastfeeding relationship with your baby, it doesn’t mean that you have to stop feeding.

Armed with a few suggestions, you and your baby can move beyond the “ouch” and back into the wonderful bliss that breastfeeding should be for you both.

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Whilst it is normal to have tender nipples in the first week or two of feeding. Very sore, cracked or bleeding nipples are not normal in breastfeeding and are generally the result of the baby poorly attaching to the breast and sucking on the nipple rather than the areola (the soft brown or pink-ringed area behind the nipple).

Some newborn babies forget to open their mouth wide enough and being hungry, eagerly begin to suck as soon as the nipple is placed in their mouths.

Encouraging that little mouth to take more of the breast tissue inside so that the milk ducts are milked effectively, not only reduces the chance of sore nipples, but also ensures that  the breast ducts are stimulated to produce sufficient milk for your baby’s needs. This also helps to prevent the development of breast lumps and mastitis due to inadequate emptying of the breasts during a feed.


During nursing

  • Breastfeed from the uninjured (or less injured) side first. Baby will tend to nurse more gently on the second side offered.
  • The initial latch-on tends to hurt the worst – a brief application of ice right before latching can help to numb the area.
  • Experiment with different breastfeeding positions to determine which is most comfortable.
  • If breastfeeding is too painful, it is very important to express milk from the injured side to reduce the risk of mastitis and to maintain supply. If pumping is too painful, try hand expression.

After nursing

  • Try a salt water rinse. A weak salt water rinse, called normal saline, has the same salt concentration as tears and should not be painful to use.
  • Apply expressed breastmilk to the nipples to promote healing–this can be done in addition to other treatments.
  • To promote “moist wound healing” (this refers to maintaining the internal moisture of the skin, not keeping the exterior of the skin wet) apply a medical grade lanolin ointment.

Between nursing

  • Keep nipples exposed to air when possible. When wearing a bra, use fresh disposable pads (change when damp). Some mothers use breast shells to protect the nipple from the dampness and friction of the bra.
  • If there is a specific injury–like a bite–cold compresses (ice packs over a layer of cloth) may help: 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off; repeat as needed.
  • Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) is compatible with breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding is not always easy and if you’re struggle, here are some very common difficulties that mums have with breastfeeding.

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written by:

The Healthy Mummy

We have an amazing team of 10 writers at the Healthy Mummy that are all dedicated to getting you the best stories, information and content.