My nipples are red, sore and cracked, what do I do?
Does this sound like you? If yes, then you know latching a baby onto a scabbed, cracked or blistered nipple is like receiving a strong electrical shock. It’s toe curling, teeth clenching pain that can make you want to give up breastfeeding. We’ve been there and felt that and we’re here to tell you there’s hope - Hope to heal your nipples and hope to feed pain free for as long as you’d like to breastfeed your baby. As always, we recommend consulting a Lactation Consultant who can help recognize and diagnose any underlying problems (Some of which we will touch on here) that may be causing sore nipples.
What causes cracked nipples?
Before we can talk about how to heal cracked, bruised or bleeding nipples we need to discuss what causes sore nipples. Knowing the cause can guide the road to healing them.
- Contact dermatitis – might be allergic to lanolin or nipple creams or detergent you wash your clothing with.
- Sensitive nipples rubbing on clothing.
- Poor latch.
- Shallow latch.
- Tongue tie.
- Lip tie.
- Teething baby.
- Flat nipples.
- Breast pump – improper flange size or to strong of setting.
- Nipple or breast problems like flat or inverted nipples.
Now that we’ve established what causes cracked nipples, we can begin to take steps to correct any problems and heal your nipples. You might need a combination from the lists below to not just repair the damage but to stop what is causing the issue in the first place, so the pain and damage doesn’t re-occur.
Tips to heal sore cracked nipples:
- Take a break – You can take a break from breastfeeding for a day or two to allow your nipple to heal. During this time, you will have to pump and feed with a bottle or supplement with formula. This option is not ideal as supplementing can affect your supply and pumping isn’t really allowing your nipples to fully rest.
- Use a nipple shield – We recommend the Natural Connection Nipple Shield. This shield is open ended which allows baby to directly contact the end of your nipple while giving enough coverage to relieve pain and irritation. The direct contact is important for baby-to-mom signaling which allows mom’s body to adjust supply and milk make-up based on what baby needs. It has a unique skin-like texture and is made in the USA. The Natural Connection Shield also reduces the likelihood that your baby will become dependent on nipple shields long term and most moms are able to switch easily back and forth between feeding with it and feeding without. Traditional close-ended nipple shields do not have all these benefits. Traditional shields can however be great for moms with inverted nipples to give the baby something to latch to.
- Breast shells – These can be great to keep your nipples from being rubbed when you aren’t nursing. There are many choices including silicone or silver.
- Lanolin – This is a great tool to help heal nipples. If your nipples are worse after using, you may have an allergy to it.
- Medicated nipple cream – You can get a prescription form your doctor for a compounded nipple cream. These often include a pain reliever as well as anti-fungal and anti-bacterial components. Just remember to thoroughly wash it off before feeding your baby each time.
- Use breast ice packs or hydrogel pads – these can be great to relieve sore nipples. Simply put them in the fridge when you are getting ready to sit down to feed and by the time you are done, they will feel nice and cool on your nipples. You can also use most of them as warming compress too if you ever have a clogged duct or need to pump more quickly.
Some underlying problems that cause sore cracked or blistered nipples:
- Fix latch – A shallow latch can cause nipple pain and pinching. Look at your baby’s latch and see if it’s nice a wide. This article has some great tips about latch.
- Shorten feeds – Sometimes feeding too long at one time can be too much on nipples. There’s no need to feed only on one side for each feed. If your baby takes 20 minutes to eat, then split that time between your breasts.
- Change positions – Position can affect your baby’s latch. Choose a position that encourages a deep latch and close contact. Babies can also prefer one side to the other and may latch better on one side. If you are only experiencing pain on one side, try keeping baby in the same position on both sides. For instance, if you feed your baby in the cross cradle position on both sides currently and it hurts on the left side only then change to the football hold position while on the left side so baby stays on their same side.
- Have baby checked for lip or tongue tie – consult a qualified lactation consultant to diagnose a tongue or lip tie.
- Check nursing bra or nursing pads – Nursing bras and nursing pads need to be washed or swapped out regularly to help prevent yeast or bacteria from growing. Make sure not to use any strongly scented soaps to wash them as that could be causing irritation. Also make sure your nursing bra is not too tight.
While minor discomfort can be normal in the beginning stages of breastfeeding, pain and damaged nipples are not. If you are experiencing a lot of pain consulting a lactation specialist should be your very first step. The tips for healing in the article, such as using a nipple shield are perfect for the period while you wait to get an appointment or as you try different fixes.