Help for Sore Nipples, Part One: The Pain

Why nipples may get sore during the first days of breastfeeding
Sore nipples are among the most common breastfeeding challenges a new mom may encounter during the early days of breastfeeding. When the nipple is properly positioned far back in the baby’s mouth during breastfeeding, there should not be any friction, pinching or clamping down directly on the nipple. However, breastfeeding, latch, and positioning all take practice (for both you and for baby), and tender nipples sometimes occur during the learning phase.

Nipples may become sore while breastfeeding for a wide variety of reasons. During the first several days after birth, common reasons for nipple soreness include shallow latch or positioning issues, the mother’s nipple shape, or because of the size or shape of a baby’s mouth and oral anatomy. Engorgement, or overly full breasts, also makes it harder for a baby to get a deep latch, and sucking on only the nipple itself will cause pain or damage, as well as decrease the amount of milk the baby may receive. An experienced board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) can work with you to determine the cause of your soreness and will provide a plan to promote healing and prevent any further nipple damage.

Nipple pain from “newness”
Sometimes nipples become tender simply from “newness” – this part of your body previously had little attention, and suddenly is now “in use” for many hours each day. If you notice that your nipples may stick out a bit more or are shaped differently after a week of breastfeeding, don’t be surprised. This “drawing out” process may cause soreness, especially for first time moms or those with an initially flatter nipple.

What is considered “normal” latch-on discomfort?
Tenderness that is worst during the very beginning of a feeding, but quickly fades into a gentle tugging sensation after taking some deep breaths, is typically normal and usually resolves within a few days. Pay close attention to the positioning and latch each time, apply a few drops of expressed milk to your sore nipples after feeding, and ask for additional help if your nipples have visible damage or make you dread the next feeding.

Avoid clamping and friction
Make sure that your baby is latching with a wide-open mouth, rather than a tight, pursed mouth, and help him take in as much of the areolar tissue as possible. Don’t let your baby begin to nurse by chewing or slurping his way up the nipple. To break the suction from a latch, insert your clean finger into the corner of your baby’s mouth, between his gums, before removing your nipple. Trying to pull your nipple out of a baby’s mouth (even if he is asleep at the breast) can result in a baby sucking harder or clamping down to keep the nipple in – both are painful and potentially damaging to the nipple.

Once the damage is done…
“If you’re doing it right, it shouldn’t hurt.” Nipple damage, such as a crack, blister, abrasion or scabbing, is usually painful once it occurs. Like a skinned knee, once the damage is done, the area may be uncomfortable for several days because you still need to use it frequently. With improved positioning and a deeper latch, the discomfort should at least improve during feeding, sore nipples should heal within two to three days, and no new damage should occur.

Do you have sore nipples? Check out part two of this series with suggestions and helpful products to help your sore nipples heal faster and feel better quickly.

At Baby+Company we offer Breastfeeding Basics classes as well as lactation services for after your baby is born. Contact us to learn more!

Share this article:
back to blog