Painful, cracked sore nipples hurt—especially when you have to breastfeed a baby!
I know because I’ve been there. I did not have a good experience breastfeeding my first baby. I wanted to exclusively nurse him, but the soreness was unbearable and I gave up before I really wanted to.
There were so many questions I had and so much I didn’t know. I’m sure you have many of the same questions since you’re here. Questions like:
“Is nipple pain normal when breastfeeding?”
“How long will my nipples hurt and be sore while I breastfeed?”
“Are there any safe remedies for breastfeeding?
“Am I the only one who’s having trouble with this?”
No worries, mama. We’re going to cover these questions and more for you today. My experience was awful with my first baby, but because of it, I learned a lot about what could have been done differently and had much more success with my next three babies.
My goal is to help you have success, too.
Read through this list of remedies for sore nipples when breastfeeding and find a method that works for you. Breastfeeding isn’t always easy, but it’s always worth it!
Is nipple pain from breastfeeding normal?
Nipple pain and soreness is not normal when you are breastfeeding. It is common for mothers to have slightly tender or sensitive breasts and nipples right after having a baby as their milk supply is established. However, continued soreness, tenderness or pain in the nipples and breast may indicate another issue and should be addressed immediately.
How long will my nipples hurt when breastfeeding?
Although some discomfort is normal when you first start to breastfeed, with the help of a breastfeeding consultant or class, you’ll quickly figure out how to make breastfeeding a positive experience.
Your journey may look something like this:
- You begin to breastfeed shortly after giving birth
- There is discomfort and some pain as you learn how to latch your baby to the breast properly
- You feel tenderness and sensitivity for as much as a couple of weeks as your hormones adjust and your breasts get use to being on-call
- After a week or two you and your baby have mastered positioning, latch and feeding so the sensitivity and pain have subsided
Of course this is a general breastfeeding journey. Every mother will experience it differently and that is okay. It’s what makes us all unique!
If you still have nipple pain for weeks or months after you’ve begun breastfeeding, it’s time to look into what might be causing the pain and find ways to not only relieve it, but to also fix the cause.
Breastfeeding nipple pain symptoms and causes
Here are a few common causes and symptoms of breast and nipple pain associated with breastfeeding.
- Shooting pain in breast or nipple – improper latch
- Dull ache in breast – engorged
- Nipple soreness – improper latch, pumping too aggressively, wrong flange size
- Stinging – let-down, improper latch
- Pain after nursing – vasospasm
- Bleeding, cracked nipples – improper latch
- Itchy, burning, flaking nipples – thrush
- Red, swollen, tender breasts – mastitis
Keep in mind that there can be more than one cause for the pain you’re experiencing. For instance, bleeding, cracked nipples can be attributed to your baby having a bad latch but also from unlatching wrong.
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What are some remedies for nipple pain from breastfeeding?
You know some of the common causes of nipple pain from breastfeeding so what can you do about it? Go through this list to find some safe, effective ways to stop your nipples from hurting when you breastfeed your baby and make it an enjoyable experience again.
1. Take a Class
I can’t stress enough how much I wish I’d had more guidance while breastfeeding my first son. The tears and frustration could have all been avoided by having someone tell me the ins and outs of what was going on with my body and how to properly breastfeed.
After coming across this breastfeeding class (it’s all online!) last year, I knew it was something that would have benefited me so it’s my mission to share it with other breastfeeding moms. Ninety-minutes could literally make all the difference in your breastfeeding journey.
2. Ensure proper latch
Having the right latch is everything when it comes to breastfeeding. If your baby isn’t latched properly it can cause issues like sore nipples, cracking and bleeding, stinging and aversion to breastfeeding. Be sure that every time your baby latches, the mouth is open wide enough to fit the full nipple and as much areola in as possible.
3. Ensure proper unlatch
Unlatching from the breast is just as important as getting a proper latch. Make sure you are not pulling your baby from the breast when you’re ready to stop a feeding as this can cause redness, pain and discomfort. Instead try one of these methods:
- place your finger on your baby’s chin and gently pull down to release the bottom lip then carefully remove your baby from the breast
- Use a clean finger and insert into the side of your baby’s jaw to break the suction before gently pulling her away from the breast
4. Hot/cold compress
Soothing relief is very helpful when you have sore breasts or nipples. Use a warm compress to soothe sore breasts and to stimulate more milk flow for easier let-down. Use a cold compress to help numb the area right before nursing to ease the pain.
5. Nurse more often
If you’re in this predicament, the last thing you probably want to hear is that you should nurse your baby more often. But as painful as it sounds, it can help. Frequent nursing can decrease the occurrence of mastitis and engorgement, both of which cause aches and pains in the breasts. Throw that schedule out the window and nurse on demand and more frequently to relieve this common breastfeeding problem.
6. Nurse on the least sore side first
Babies nurse more aggressively in the beginning of their feeding sessions. As they nurse longer, they slow down and develop a natural rhythm. Because of this, try nursing on the side that is least sore first to get the aggressive first sucks over. Once your baby is done on that side and not as hungry, let him breastfeed on the other side where it should be less painful. Do this for a few days as your breasts heal.
7. Hand express milk to begin let down
Nursing on the side that isn’t sore first is great…if you only have one sore nipple. What about when both nipples are sore?
Try this: to keep your already sore nipples from being ravaged even further, hand express some of your breast milk before you latch your baby on to feed. This will trigger your let-down reflex before your baby has to. He’ll feed less aggressively at the start of the feeding because the hard work has been done for him.
8. Avoid engorgement
Having engorged breasts means they are full of milk and haven’t been emptied enough. In addition to affecting your milk supply, having engorged breasts can produce a dull ache and pain. You can avoid being engorged by nursing your baby often. Don’t try to follow a schedule, but instead, look for nursing cues and feed him on demand.
9. Cabbage leaves
Cabbage leaves work great for relieving engorged breasts. Put them in the refrigerator for a few minutes and then pop them on your sore, swollen, engorged area. Let them sit for a few minutes and enjoy the relief.
A word of caution: Many moms use cabbage leaves to help dry up their milk supply, so use them sparingly and only for a short amount of time.
10. Try different positions
You could have sore nipples when breastfeeding because of the position your baby is in. First, make sure you are in a comfortable position before you start to nurse, then experiment with holding your baby in different positions to see if one works better than the others. A breastfeeding pillow can help you stay comfortable and keep your wrists, arms and nipples from hurting because it does the work of holding your baby’s weight for you.
I used and highly recommend the My Breast Friend nursing pillow. It wraps completely around your body and snaps in place so you don’t have to worry about it slipping around and losing position while you’re nursing.
For something smaller and easier to travel with (because baby’s gotta eat on the go, too, right?), this Lansinoh Nursie breastfeeding pillow is perfect. It slips across your arm easily and acts as a cushion for your arm and a pillow to elevate your baby to the right position for optimal comfort.
11. Use breathable breast pads
Nursing pads help keep you dry and stop milk leaks from happening, but it’s important to make sure the material that is used is breathable. Wet nipples and the inability to get air to them can be a breeding ground for infections and could also make it harder to get rid of infections you may already have.
12. Use expressed breast milk
Dry, cracked nipples happen, unfortunately. Did you know your own breast milk can help? Express a bit of milk after each feeding and rub it on the sore nipple area. According to studies, expressed breast milk can help shorten the duration of cracked nipples. (woohoo!)
13. Nipple cream
Nipple cream can come in many forms such as lanolin, cream, butter and balm. They are typically used to soothe dry, cracked nipples, reduce pain from soreness and in some instances promote healing of the damaged area.
14. Coconut oil
Food-grade organic coconut oil is safe for ingestion and is a great natural moisturizer that’s easy to find at any grocery store. For dry, cracked nipples, apply a bit after each feeding to help keep them moisturized.
Bonus: Coconut oil is also great as an all-over moisturizer for you and baby, too!
15. Breast massage
Massaging your breasts can help increase the blood flow and increase drainage which would be beneficial if you have mastitis or plugged milk ducts. Use coconut oil to help glide your hands smoothly as you massage. Watch the video below for a demonstration.
16. Nipple shields
What is a nipple shield? It’s a silicone breastfeeding device shaped like a nipple that helps a mother and baby latch and nurse easier.
Nipple shields are generally not recommended among breastfeeding professionals. I don’t recommend them for long-term use, but I believe they exist for a reason.
If you’ve experienced serious nipple trauma, it can be helpful to use a nipple shield to guard the sensitive area from your baby’s powerful suction while it heals. A mom who is determined not to give up breastfeeding despite the pain might find this a last resort option to try.
17. Breast shells
Breast shells provide protection for sore nipples from breastfeeding. They are dome-shaped shells with a hollow center that fit over the nipples to keep clothing from rubbing against them. Look for breast shells that allow for airflow and that look natural under clothing.
18. Keep your nipples dry
Dark, moist places can be a breeding ground for bacteria and infections. That’s why it’s important to keep your nipples as dry as possible throughout the day especially if you are prone to bacterial or yeast infections. To do this, air dry your breasts after each feeding or pumping session. If possible, delay putting your bra or top back on for quicker drying.
19. Wear a loose bra and top
Tight clothing that presses against already sore nipples can be a culprit for more pain. You want your breasts to breath so try not to have tops and bras that are too tight.
20. Change nursing pads frequently
Part of keeping those nipples dry is making sure you have the right kind of nursing pads and making sure you change them frequently. Depending on how prone you are to nipple problems, change them at least twice per day or even up to every feeding.
21. Pump instead of nursing
Sometimes you just need a break. This may be one of those times. Instead of putting your baby to the breast and nursing her directly, pull out the pump and use it instead. You may need to do this for a day or two until your nipples heal enough to resume direct nursing.
22. Adjust pump speed and power
It is possible to pump too aggressively which could be the cause of sore breasts and nipples. If your breast pump has the option, adjust how fast it pumps and power of the suction. If your pump can’t be adjusted enough, try using a manual pump where you can control the speed.
23. Ensure proper flange size
The size of the flange (the funnel that your nipple fits in) is important when using a breast pump. If it’s too large, the pump will draw in too much breast and cause throbbing and soreness. If it’s too small, your nipple will feel the brunt of the pain. Try a using a different size to see if that makes a difference for you.
24. Avoid harsh soaps and chemicals
Harsh soaps and chemicals can cause irritation and dry out the skin around your nipple. Avoid using soap on your nipple when you bathe or shower and consider using a gentle, perfume-free detergent for your nursing bras.
25. Pregnancy hormones
If you’re pregnant while breastfeeding, hormonal changes could be the cause of nipple soreness. Try these remedies from Kelly Mom to ease pain and discomfort.
26. Find out the cause
Treating the symptoms will only go so far. Is it thrush, blisters, mastitis, a clogged duct, yeast infection? Research different reasons for nipple pain from breastfeeding and fix the problem for a long-term solution.
27. Safe over-the-counter medicine
Some over-the-counter medications can be used to relieve pain from breastfeeding. Taken 30-45 minutes before beginning to nurse, they can lessen the effects from painful nipples. According to MayoClinic.org it is safe to use acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen while breastfeeding. Check with your doctor before beginning any new medication. You can also look up specific medications and their safety while breastfeeding on the U.S National Library of Medicine Toxicology Data Network website.
28. Prescription medicine
For severe pain, your doctor might write you a prescription for stronger pain medication or antibiotics.
29. Consult a doctor
If you suspect something serious is going on with your breasts, don’t wait. Make an appointment to get assessed right away.
30. Consult a lactation consultant
Lactation consultants are trained to handle most breastfeeding problems. Contact a local consultant who can see you in person and help you figure out the best plan of action. Check La Leche League for a lactation consultant near you.
The Bottom Line
You can get through this, mama. Do a little research to find out the specific cause of your breastfeeding nipple pain and use one of the remedies above to to help you find relief. Consider taking a short online class so you’re better prepared to keep it from happening again.
More Breastfeeding Resources
- How to Survive and Thrive Through Your Newborn’s Cluster Feeding Phase
- Washable or Disposable Nursing Pads? Find Out the Best Choice for You with this Handy Guide
- More Milk, Please! 45 Practical Ways to Increase Your Breast Milk Supply