Breastfeeding is incredible. Duh. There are several adjectives to describe the act of breastfeeding, most of them positive. One word with a negative connotation that can also describe breastfeeding is “painful”. Breastfeeding technically shouldn’t be painful necessarily. There will be moments when it doesn’t feel the best, or feels unnatural and comfortable. Some women experience this and it’s a completely normal feeling. It may just feel weird overall but technically it shouldn’t really be painful. It goes without saying that nipple pain is brutal. Not only does it affect your body but it can also lead to a number of different breastfeeding and breast related issues. Identifying and correcting the cause of your nipple pain is key.
This post is all about the causes of nipple pain, the dos and don’ts to nipple care, and the overall treatment for healing and caring for your nipples.
As always, this post may have affiliate links and suggestions for medical care. Please see my disclaimer page for more information and your primary care physician or private practice lactation consultant for medical assistance.
Why in the world is this nipple pain happening?
Nipple pain is caused by several different factors. So let’s break it down and discuss each one and how they affect your nipples.
- Baby has a poor or shallow latch
- A bad latch can be caused by several things such as, prematurity, illness, oral and facial anomalies (tongue tie, high palate), birth injuries… the list goes on.
- Nipple infection
- Thrush is a very common fungal infection. Infections can also be bacterial, viral, and very rarely parasitic.
- Skin disorder
- Examples include Raynaud’s Phenomenon, vasospasm, eczema, and more.
What can you do about it?
- CORRECT THE LATCH
- Sounds easy enough right? Most parents don’t think about this option. Find a lactation consultant and get the latch corrected as soon as possible.
- Get an assessment
- I always remind mothers that as a lactation consultant, I cannot diagnose your infant with anything. You have to see a doctor. Even if I can visibly see it, I can’t do anything but refer to a doctor that can diagnose and treat. Long story short, if you get a referral to a doctor or pediatric dentist, take it and get your infant’s mouth checked.
- Tongue tie revision or frenotomy
- This happens after they assess the baby’s mouth. Some families find immediate success with this method. The procedure can be explained further by your pediatrician or pediatric dentist but you can read more information here. Definitely always know the risks and education prior to making any medical decisions.
- Take care of the skin
- If your nipples are drying, cracking or chapped, lanolin works wonders. Think of lanolin as chapstick for the nipples. There are lots of different lanolin types, choose whichever works best for you. A lot of parents also prefer coconut oil as an alternative. If your nipples are raw, reddened, and wounded, do not use lanolin or any other cream on the nipples.
- For nipples that are nipples are raw, reddened, and/or wounded, rinse with clean water.
- Pump and rest
- A short term option. You can pump your breast milk and rest your nipples until the problems have been solved. It’s important to note that you still have to do something to remove the milk if you want to maintain your milk supply. Do not delay, shorten, or miss your normal feeding times. Empty those breasts!
- If the infant has a high palate, pumping and rest may be helpful to do occasionally until infant’s mouth grows to better accommodate the nipple.
- Using breast shells in between feedings
- Especially perfect if your nipples are rubbing against your bra and causing additional irritation.
What happens if you don’t do anything about your nipple pain?
I’ve discussed the process a little bit in the post about factors that cause a low milk supply but ultimately it’s not a good outcome for your breastfeeding relationship. Prolonged nipple pain can lead to:
- Increased risk for infection
- Fear and dismal feelings prior to feedings
- Decreased feedings leading to decreased milk supply
- Scabbing, bleeding, and blistering over the nipple openings leading to decreased supply
- Decreased supply leading to cessation of breastfeeding all together
With all of this being said, take care of those nipples!
Nipple pain is no fun but reach out to your resources for help! You and your baby deserve to have the best breastfeeding experience and there are tons of health care professionals to help you have it!
As always, comment below with your experience dealing with nipple pain! What worked for you? What didn’t? From mother to mother, what advice do you have to give?