What to do about Sore Nipples While Breastfeeding

AndieM.Ed., RD, LDN, CLC, RYT-200

Read time: 4 minutes

What should you know about nipple pain and soreness related to breastfeeding?

  • The causes of nipple soreness and pain

  • The difference between nipple soreness and nipple pain

  • Tips to help you breastfeed without pain

Experiencing sore nipples in the first 7 to 10 days of breastfeeding is common for the majority of new moms.1,2,3 After all, you and your baby both are learning a new skill and it will take a little time to work out the kinks.

Feeling a pinch or mild pain while your baby learns to clamp down during the initial latch is normal. Pain lasting longer than 30 seconds, or severe pain, are not.1,2

Causes of nipple soreness and pain

Poor latch

A poor latch or sub-optimal positioning are the most common causes of nipple soreness or pain while breastfeeding.4,5,6 Pain can also stem from challenges your baby may have, such as tongue tie, uncoordinated suck, weak suck, high palate, and a sensitive gag reflex, all of which require further support.2,4,7

Incorrect pump settings

For moms who are pumping, incorrect flange size or pump suction that is too strong can cause nipple pain and damage.2,4,8

Engorgement or a strong let down

When our mature breastmilk comes in, it is often in a much stronger flow than colostrum. In fact, the first few weeks you may be more engorged and have more of an oversupply while your body figures out how much milk your infant needs. Your baby may clamp down harder to control the faster flow or the suction may feel stronger, causing temporary soreness.

Read more: Top Breastfeeding Latching Tips

Is the pain you feel during breastfeeding normal?

Your pain is not normal if:

  • You experience it beyond the first 10 days after giving birth

  • You have cracked or bleeding nipples

  • You are unable to tolerate your baby breastfeeding through an entire feed.1,6

Some women have very sensitive nipples, which may require a longer adjustment period than the typical 10 days. This sensitivity should go away, but you may want to meet with a lactation consultant to assess that everything is going well.1

Unsure about the pain you are experiencing during breastfeeding? Reach out to our team of registered dietitian nutritionists and lactation consultant for free! They’re here to help on our free live chat from Monday - Friday, 8am-6pm (ET)). Chat Now!

Tips to prevent and treat breastfeeding-related nipple pain

Learn an effective latch

Once you and your little one find a comfortable position, your goal is to get your nipple as far toward the top back of baby’s mouth as possible. This means making sure baby’s mouth is opening up wide. With a good latch, your baby will not be clamping down on your nipples.1,9,10

If your discomfort does not subside within 30 seconds, unlatch your baby by putting a clean finger in corner of the baby’s mouth to break the seal (do not just pull baby off). Re-latching gives you and baby an opportunity to readjust and get more comfortable.

A frustrated or over-hungry baby may have more trouble latching, so try to catch your baby’s early feeding cues. Watch for pre-feeding hunger cues such as rooting, opening their mouth; and sucking on their lip, tongue, finger, or fist.2,14,15,16

Note that once your baby is crying, they may be overly hungry and frustrated – and this may cause difficulty latching.14,15

Watch for signs of a poor latch, such as creased or misshapen nipples after a feeding.2,6 If you see these, be sure to work on baby’s latch or see a lactation consultant for in-person help.

Learn more: Understanding Your Baby’s Hunger and Fullness Cues

Try different breastfeeding positions

Switching up positions changes the point of pressure from your baby’s mouth and alleviates constant pressure to the same area on the nipple.1,6

Read more: 6 Breastfeeding Positions for You and Your Baby

Take good care of your nipples between feedings

Pat breastmilk onto your nipples when your baby comes off. The breastmilk can promote healing because of its immune factors and antimicrobial properties.5,11,12

Keep your nipples clean (wash your hands before touching!) and expose them to fresh air on a regular basis. Go braless for a while every day or night. And use nursing pads in your bra to help alleviate friction and dampness. Change them often when wet.8,12

Keep your nipples moisturized

Moisturizing provides a barrier and keeps nipples from drying out excessively. This is NOT the same as wet! For moisturizing, purified lanolin and certain nipple balms are popular for good reason: purified lanolin has been demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and barrier-repairing properties.2,8,13

Always be sure your nipple is completely dry before applying the cream.

Olive oil can be used for anti-inflammatory properties, but it will not provide a moist wound healing barrier.2

There are other options for nipple wound healing and prevention, such as Medihoney, APNO cream, peppermint gel, and hydrogel dressings, although the research is mixed on how well they work.9,12,13

Keep your baby actively feeding at the breast

Your baby may drift off to sleep and “forget” they are feeding, losing their good latch positioning. This often happens in the first few days or weeks.

Sometimes baby will pop right off the nipple, but if instead baby is pulling on it, rouse your little one gently to see if they want to continue feeding or if they are truly finished. Never pull baby off the nipple instead gently help baby release suction by sticking your finger in the corner of baby’s mouth to help them let go of the nipple.  

Read more: How do I Keep my Breast or Formula Fed Baby Awake during Feedings?

Seek help if the pain persists

If you continue to experience discomfort, even with what appears to be a perfect latch, do not hesitate to chat for free with the Happy Baby Experts (Chat here!). The goal is to get help before you might get discouraged.

You may need further evaluation in person by a lactation counselor or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) if the pain and/or damage continues despite positioning adjustments.

Let's Chat!

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Our Happy Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too! They’re here to offer personalized support on our free, one-on-one, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET). No appointment needed, no email or sign-up required. Chat Now!

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How Do I Avoid and Manage Blocked Nipple Pores?

Causes and Symptoms of Mastitis during Breastfeeding