So You’ve Got Sore, Cracked Nipples From Breastfeeding (Ouch!) — Here’s What To Do

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Sore Nipples From Breastfeeding
Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz from Pexels

Looking to improve your breastfeeding experience and build a better bond with your baby? We got you, mama. Read our articles on breastfeeding positions, the baby rooting reflex, how to unblock milk ducts, how to increase milk supply to help guide you through this experience.

Prior to having a baby, you’ll hear a lot about how good breastfeeding is for your little angel — and that’s true. You’ll also hear about how it’s a bonding experience between you and the baby. Facts! But what you may not hear nearly as much is that, for many of us, breastfeeding can be… uncomfortable. Or, at least until you figure everything out. Until then, though, you’re probably going to be Googling “how to treat sore nipples” like it’s nobody’s business. Don’t worry; we’re here to help.

It makes sense that you would have some slight tenderness when you start breastfeeding. It’s a foreign experience, and your body has to adjust. However, some of us suffer more-than-superficial pain during breastfeeding (read: it hurts a lot), which is typically a sign that the baby’s latch, position, or suckle needs to be tweaked.

Since sore nipples are no fun, let’s go over some of the ways you can help yours heal and reclaim breastfeeding for the beautiful bonding experience that it is.

How do I stop my nipples from being sore?

If you’re here because you’re in nipple-pain-hell, you obviously want some sore nipple relief ASAP. Unfortunately, we can’t tell you the fastest way to heal sore nipples beyond a shadow of a doubt, because all breasts are different. What works best for someone else might not work as quickly for you, and vice versa. Your best bet is to experiment with different remedies to see what provides you the greatest (and fastest) relief. To that end, here are a few recommendations:

  • A medical-grade, all-purpose nipple ointment: You’d be surprised how much relief a pea-sized drop of ultrapure modified lanolin can provide! Such breastfeeding-safe emollients create a moisture barrier that slows down internal moisture loss. They also promote healing without scab formation.
  • Breast milk: If you don’t have any HPA Lanolin or the likes handy, dab a little breast milk on your nipples and let it air dry. A mother’s breast milk has natural healing properties.
  • A compress: A cold or warm compress applied to the nipples could help lessen the pain. Try leaving it on for around 10 minutes before or after breastfeeding.
  • Hydrogel pads: Need instant relief? These pads attach directly to the skin, forming a protective (and cooling!) cushion. Since they keep the skin smooth and moisturized, they support the healing process.
  • Breast shells: Anyone who has ever suffered from sore, cracked nipples knows the sheer agony of having to then wear clothes. Even a slight brush from your bra can be agonizing. Enter, breast shells. These little helpers form a “shell” over the nipples, which prevents clothing from brushing against them.
  • Fresh nursing pads: Nursing pads are a godsend when you’re breastfeeding since they conceal breast milk when you spring a leak. However, you don’t want to leave damp pads sitting on your nipples, which can keep them from healing. Opt for styles that are 100 percent cotton, and change them frequently.
  • Starting on the less sore side: When you first start a feeding session, your baby will likely gulp with gusto. So, start with whichever breast is less sore. By mid-feeding, when you switch sides, your little cutie will have slowed down and is more likely to suckle softer.

How do I prevent my nipples from getting sore?

Ideally, you want to stop breastfeeding pain off at the pass. Preventing sore nipples requires a bit more planning upfront, but it’s a heck of a lot less painful than breastfeeding while trying to heal cracked nipples. To prevent sore nipples, try:

  • A good latch: If your baby doesn’t get enough breast tissue when they latch on, it can lead to blanched or pinched nipples. Which, as you probably deduced, hurt. So, before you bring your breast to baby’s mouth, make sure their mouth is open super-wide. You should also check to see if their tongue is cupped and forward in their mouth.
  • Feeding often: The hungrier baby is, the more likely they’ll suck more aggressively — which can be a major culprit where cracked nipples are concerned. If you feed baby more frequently, they’ll suck more softly. Ah, relief!
  • Adjusting position: Varying your nursing positions may help you find the position that best helps baby form a proper latch.
  • Checking for tongue-tie: There may be a physiological issue at the root of your nipple pain. A baby with a restricted frenulum, or tongue-tie, may not be able to get a good latch. If the end of your little one’s tongue appears heart-shaped, they may have this condition (which is technically referred to as ankyloglossia). Fortunately, it can be fixed with a simple office procedure, so make sure you mention your concern to your pediatrician.
  • Breaking suction: If you start a feeding and it feels painful or you sense something is off, you can always break the suction and start over. To do this, you just need to gently slide your finger into the side of the baby’s mouth. Take that finger and move it between their gums to press down gently against the skin of your breast. You’ll feel the release once the suction of the latch is broken.
  • Reducing engorgement: When your body is still adjusting to breastfeeding and you go too long between feedings, your breasts can get engorged. Not only can this be painful, but it can also prevent baby from properly latching. To alleviate this issue, you can try using a wet towel compress over the sink or gently massaging breasts in the shower. You can also use a breast pump to express (and store) excess milk.

Are there any other reasons my nipples might be sore?

Outside of the usual suspects like poor latch, there could be other reasons for nipple pain while breastfeeding. If you experience a burning or stabbing that maintains its intensity throughout the feeding, you may have a yeast infection. Also known as candidiasis, this infection grows in dark, moist places. Make sure your nipples are exposed to air in between feedings to help prevent this. Thrush, which you’ve probably heard another mother mention at some point, is a type of yeast infection common in breastfeeding women. If you suspect you have thrush, you and your baby should be seen by a doctor.

If your breasts feel tender, warm to the touch, red, and have thickening or a lump, you may be dealing with mastitis. This inflammation is usually caused by milk trapped in the breast, but may also be due to a blocked milk duct or bacteria entering your breast. Since mastitis can lead to infection, you should always check in with your doctor if you suspect you might have it.

How long does it take for nipples to stop hurting?

Because every woman and her breasts are different, it’s impossible to give you an exact timeframe. After giving birth, there is a bit of soreness all over, including your nipples.

However, if nipple pain during breastfeeding lasts more than a week and/or is accompanied by active bleeding, you should reach out to your healthcare provider or lactation consultant for further evaluation. Remember your nipples shouldn’t look drastically different before and after feedings. Each woman is different but there shouldn’t be cracks or blisters and they shouldn’t look creased or pinched.

How long do cracked nipples take to heal when breastfeeding?

Cracked nipples are the worst, but they don’t last forever (praise be!). If you find that your nipples are going through it, first, take a break. Healing should take about 10 days, give or take. However, with treatment, it could speed up the recovery timeline a little bit.

You’re probably wondering what you’re supposed to do in the meantime, right? Well, it’s actually OK to keep powering through your breastfeeding sessions even when your nipples are cracked and bleeding. However, you definitely want to remain vigilant about watching for signs of infection. Also, be mindful of baby’s comfort. If your nipples are bleeding and it seems to be upsetting your little one’s tummy, give the doctor a call to discuss alternatives.

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