There are a number of reasons for developing sore nipples during breastfeeding and each can be easily managed and treated. However, before treating the pain, it is important to determine the cause of the soreness and to treat the root of the problem first or the soreness will keep recurring.
Here are some reasons why your nipples might be sore from breastfeeding and what you can do about it. It is important to note that many of these reasons can overlap, for instance having a cracked nipple and a blocked duct at the same time.
1. When your baby hasn't latched on properly.
When you're new to breastfeeding, it can be difficult to tell what a proper latch should be like. To top it off, there are many other factors that can compound the problem, such as short nipples, inverted nipples, breast engorgement, etc.
The best thing you can do to identify whether your baby has correctly latched on is to check with a lactation consultant, a hospital nurse or another mother who is experienced in breastfeeding. Ask for advice and get them to check your technique when your baby is nursing.
One way to tell if your baby has a proper latch is to look and see how much of the areolar (the dark-skin area of your breast) is covered by your baby's mouth. Ideally, it should be most of the areolar, leaving only a thin ring of darkened skin visible. Another way (although I didn't find this particularly useful for me) is to check the shape of your nipple after a feed. It should still be relatively rounded after your baby comes off. A flattened nipple is potentially a sign of an incorrect latch.
To ensure your baby gets a correct latch on your breast, make sure that your baby's mouth is open wide with the tongue down before putting your baby on the breast. If the latch is incorrect, break the seal and try again. It is important to make sure your baby learns to latch on correctly because an incorrect latch will be the source of continued nipple soreness.
2. Cracked nipple
This is usually an indication of poor breastfeeding technique. In most cases, your baby isn't taking in enough of the areolar and is only suckling on the nipple. Sometimes it might be due to unusual anatomy within your baby's mouth, for instance a tied tongue. Getting someone experienced in breastfeeding to check will help you determine the exact cause if you aren't sure.
The first step is to correct the source of the problem, for instance, correcting your breastfeeding technique. To help your cracked nipples heal faster, applying a little breast milk onto the nipples after every feed can be helpful. Alternatively, you can apply a breastfeeding ointment like Bepanthen which promotes healing.
If nursing is too uncomfortable, try expressing the milk from the affected side until it heals sufficiently. You can also try nursing on the unaffected side first before switching your baby to the affected side as your baby usually suckles less vigorously on the second breast which shouldn't hurt as much.
Another option is to use nipple shields. These are plastic coverings that cover your nipples and provides a barrier against the friction of baby's tongue on raw nipples.
3. Blocked duct
This is usually due to your baby not "milking" your breasts effectively. Your milk is being produced faster than your baby is consuming it. As a result, the milk travels back along the milk ducts and is forced into the surrounding breast tissue causing swelling, tenderness and pain.
Blocked ducts usually affect only one side and are localised. There is a hardened lump in the area of the breast associated with the blocked duct. Aside from the tenderness you feel, the skin in the area is usually reddened and feels warm to the touch. Blocked ducts can appear similar to mastitis with the main difference being the absence of fever and the fact that usually only one side is affected.
Managing blocked ducts:
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Shen-Li is a stay-at-home-mum dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in parenting. She has a formal educational background and former work experience in healthcare. If you enjoyed this article, visit her blog Babylicious and follow her as she learns how to raise a happy, confident and successful person.
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