Sore nipples

Mom breastfeeding baby

Feeling a pinch or mild pain while your baby learns to clamp down during the initial latch is normal. Pain lasting longer than 10-15 seconds, however, and severe pain, are not.

What are the causes of nipple soreness and pain?

A poor latch or sub-optimal positioning are the most common causes of nipple soreness or mild pain. Read on for tips for achieving the best latch and positioning.

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.

Keep in mind that changes in the nature of your milk will change your baby’s sucking pattern and how breastfeeding feels for both of you. For example, colostrum is sticky while more mature milk flows more easily. So as your milk comes in, your baby may clamp down harder to control the faster flow, causing temporary soreness.

Pain vs. Soreness

Your pain and discomfort are beyond the range of normal and usual if you experience them beyond the first 10 days after giving birth, you have cracked or bleeding nipples, or you are unable to tolerate your baby breastfeeding through an entire feed (approximately 20-30 minutes) talk to your doctor.

If you have very sensitive nipples, you may need a longer adjustment period (while still getting a consult and support from a Happy Family coach or another expert).

What to Do

Learn an effective latch for you

Read Breastfeeding Basics 101: Learning an effective latch for all the specifics. Remember to get the nipple as far back to the soft palette by having your baby open wide. With a good latch, your baby will not be clamping down on your nipples.

If your discomfort does not subside in 10-15 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 teaches your baby that he cannot stay on if he does not have a latch that is comfortable for you.

A frustrated or over-hungry baby will be more aggressive with the nipple when latching so try to catch your baby’s early feeding cues. Assess for pre-feeding hunger behaviors such as rooting, gaping, sealing and sucking on his lip, tongue, finger or fist.

You can also look for signs of an ineffective latch like creased or misshapen nipples after a feeding.

Try different nursing 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. See Breastfeeding Basics 101: Positioning for more tips.

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.

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.

For moisturizing, purified lanolin or virgin olive oil or coconut oil are popular for good reason: purified lanolin has been demonstrated to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and barrier-repairing properties, and virgin olive or coconut oil is thought to deliver similar benefits.

Keep your baby active at the breast

Your baby may drift off to sleep, “forget” he is feeding and lose his good latch positioning, especially in the first few days or weeks (which are also likely the most uncomfortable!). Sometimes he’ll pop right off the nipple, but if instead he’s pulling on it, rouse him gently to see if he wants to continue feeding or if he is truly finished.

Speak with a Happy Family coach if pain persists

If you continue to experience discomfort, even with what appears to be a perfect latch, do not hesitate to contact Happy Family coaching. The goal is to get help before you might get discouraged.

You may need further evaluation in person by a Certified Lactation Consultant or board certified lactation consultant if you suspect your baby has tongue tie, uncoordinated suck, weak suck, high palate or a highly sensitive gag reflex.

For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

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