Breastfeeding 411: How to Prevent and Heal Sore Nipples

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Many women believe that sore nipples are a normal part of breastfeeding. But according to our lactation expert, nursing can be an enjoyable experience for mom and baby without pain and discomfort.

By Robin Hollen, RN, IBCLC

One of the most common concerns expressed by nursing mothers within the first week after delivery is sore nipples. Even seasoned moms who’ve nursed before struggle with this issue.

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Many women think it is an inevitable part of the nursing experience, when in fact it is actually a sign that something isn’t quite right. Nursing your infant should be enjoyable. So I’ve provided some information and advice for preventing and healing sore nipples to help you create a happy and healthy breastfeeding experience for you and your baby.

What causes sore nipples?

The most common cause of sore nipples involves incorrect latching. With a proper latch, a baby’s mouth should take in the entire nipple and some of the breast so that the nipple rests at the back of the mouth where the palate is soft. But with an improper latch, the mouth may slip down to the tip of the nipple while the baby continues to suck. Constant pressure on this sensitive skin causes discomfort and pain.

A board-certified lactation consultant can help assess less common causes of sore nipples such as improper tongue placement, clenching or incorrect breast pump use.

How can a mother prevent sore nipples from improper latch?

Breastfeeding is a learning experience for both mom and baby. Ask for help with the latch so your baby learns it correctly and maintains its depth.

In the past, new mothers were surrounded by a community of women — their own mothers, grandmothers, or other family and friends — to provide assistance and guidance with every latch at the beginning of an infant’s life. But in today’s culture, new mothers often find themselves on their own with no extended family to lend their experience.

Nurses, pediatricians and lactation consultants now fill that role; they are the eyes and hands along with the much-needed experience to guide new mothers. The experts at The Lactation Connection at Renown assist nursing moms with latch every day. Even a single visit wherein a lactation consultant observes your baby at the breast can provide valuable insight on achieving and maintaining proper latch and preventing nipple soreness and discomfort.

How can a breastfeeding mom heal sore nipples?

To heal sore nipples, you first must fix the cause, and correcting the latch prevents further damage. A lactation consultant can also help you address the pain:

  • Your own expressed breast milk is an excellent product to rub into the nipple for anti-bacterial protection.
  • For those moms who need more lubricant or fat than breast milk offers, use a lanolin or cream that is marketed as safe for the baby.
  • Soothies are a gel pad that provide comfort in between feedings, but should not be used in conjunction with lanolin products.
  • Breast shells, not to be confused with other products such as shields, can guard the nipples from irritation or pressure in between feedings.

If you have questions about how to prevent and heal sore nipples or general breastfeeding concerns, talk to your pediatrician or a lactation consultant. 

The Lactation Connection at Renown offers private appointments with board-certified lactation consultants. It’s a wonderful resource for expertise, guidance and safe, medically approved supplies for the breastfeeding mother.

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