7 reasons why your nipples hurt when you breastfeed

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It’s the most natural thing in the world, nourishing your baby through breastfeeding. It’s a time of bonding. But when this time of love turns into periods of pain, and you tense at the thought that your baby needs another feed – it’s not pleasant for either one of you.

The fact is, says Stephanie Weight Hadfield, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at Lactation Link (an online portal for breadfeeding education and postpartum breastfeeding support), breastfeeding itself shouldn’t hurt. Of course, some sensitivity in the beginning is completely normal, but if your nipples are cracked and sore,  and it’s an unhappy and painful experience – it’s time to take action.

ALSO SEE: 13 great uses for nipple cream

7 things that might be causing your nipple pain

Make sure your baby has latched correctly

If your baby hasn’t latched on correctly, your nipple will not be far back enough into his mouth. “A deep comfortable latch is your first defense against nipple pain and damage and will also help your baby get more milk,” says Stephanie. If your nipple isn’t far back enough in his mouth, it will be in contact with his hard palate area. You can try and adjust his position while feeding. If this doesn’t work, insert a clean finger in the corner of his mouth to break the suction and try again. Continuing to feed through your pain will simply result in cracked, damaged, blistering and bleeding nipples.

ALSO SEE: How to get a good breastfeeding latch

Switch sides

If you’re experiencing pain on one side, start the feed on the other. Once you see your baby swallowing actively, you can gently shift him to the other breast. “This can help because babies tend to have a stronger suck at the beginning of a feeding session when they’re trying to stimulate the flow of milk. If both sides are painful and sore, you can stimulate a letdown by expressing a small amount of milk before putting your baby to the breast,” says Stephanie.

Wash your hands carefully before every feed

If you have any cracks or breaks in the skin, gently wash your nipples and areolae twice a day with a mild, unscented soap until the skin has healed. Stephanie explains that, “Breaks in your skin are an entry point for germs and cause infection. Careful hygiene is one of the best ways to reduce the increased risk of mastitis that comes from having damaged nipples.”

ALSO SEE: Engorged breasts vs. mastitis

Use nipple shields as a last resort

Nipple shields can mask the reason for the problem, so they won’t resolve latch issues. However, a nipple shield can be of benefit in unique circumstances. Speak to a breastfeeding expert who can help you decide if this is the best measure for you, and how you can use them to ensure the best outcomes for you and your baby.

Encourage your baby to self-latch

Recline slightly and place your baby tummy down against your body with his head near your breasts. He will work his way towards your nipple by almost snuffling around and latching when he does. This will generally help him to take your breast deep into his mouth, so that your nipple hits the soft palate at the back of his mouth. This can take some time, and may require a little help from you to guide him, but more often than not results in an effective latch.

Read his hunger cues

If he is over hungry, your baby may become frustrated and clamp down too hard or early on the nipple, both of which can be damaging to your nipples. Watch for his early warning signs, such as rooting around looking for your nipple, or sucking on his fist and put him to your breast before he gets overly hungry or angry.

ALSO SEE: Signs that your baby is hungry

It could be something else

While most often, sore nipples are due to latch position, nipple pain or inflammation, it can also be due to thrush or an infection.  A tongue-tie can also make it harder for him to latch correctly, but this is easily fixable. If you are unsure to the cause – seek medical advice.

8 tips to improving nipple health:

  • Massage your breast for a minute or two before feeding to help stimulate the milk flow.
  • If you have waited too long between feeds, or if your breasts are very full or firm, hand express some milk. This will make it easier for your baby to get the nipple and breast into the back of his throat.
  • When you are ready to feed, make sure he is positioned properly, his mouth is wide open and he is able to take in a large mouthful of breast.
  • After feeding, soak cotton wool pads and place them on your nipples, or use a spray bottle.
  • If your nipples are tender, express some breastmilk and rub this onto the nipples, as this can help promote healing.
  • For pain relief, use a nipple cream that contains lanolin on your nipples and surrounding areas.
  • Keep your bras and bra pads clean and dry.
  • Sunshine is an excellent healer. Sit with your nipples exposed to the sunlight for a few minutes every day (but avoid sunburn).
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