9 tips you need to know about nipple care while breastfeeding

Sore nipples can make breastfeeding extremely uncomfortable and painful. Although experts say that some nipple sensitivity is normal in the early weeks of feeding, breastfeeding in itself should not be a painful experience, so if your nipples are continuing to suffer and it’s making breastfeeding an unhappy experience for you, it’s time to address whatever is causing the problem.

Here are nine ways you can take care of your nipples during breastfeeding:

1. Check the latch

If your baby hasn’t latched on deeply enough, your nipple won’t be far back enough in his mouth, meaning it will be in contact with your baby’s hard palate area. If you can slightly adjust his positioning while feeding, you might find that the latch automatically adjusts without having to take him off the breast. If this doesn’t work, take him off the breast by inserting a clean finger in the corner of his mouth to break the suction, and try again. Never just pull the baby off your breast without breaking the seal, as this will cause further nipple damage.

2. Dealing with sore nipples

To ease sore or cracked nipples, squeeze some breastmilk from your nipple and spread it around the sore area, then leave it to dry, as the healing qualities of your milk will help your nipples recover just as effectively as any nipple cream or lotion. Give your nipples plenty of air time to help everything heal faster and make sure any bras and clothing you wear are soft against your skin. Cracked nipples in particular are usually due to latch and positioning; you may find contacting a breastfeeding counsellor or lactation consultant can help you rectify the problem before even more damage is caused.

3. Take a break

If one nipple is more damaged than the other and you can’t bear the thought of breastfeeding with it, give that breast a break from your baby and feed from the less affected side for 12-24 hours. You will need to pump the resting breast regularly to avoid engorgement and maintain your supply. When it’s time to reintroduce the recovered nipple to your baby, start with short feeds and build up gradually.

4. Be cautious about using nipple shields

Not all experts agree that nipple shields should be used for sore nipples or to help a baby with a poor latch, as they can mask the core of the problem, which means that latch issues continue. However, using a nipple shield the right way could be a saviour for you in your individual circumstances. To make sure it’s the right decision for you, be sure to consult with a breastfeeding counsellor or lactation consultant, who can help you assess the problem and come up with a plan to use nipple shields in the best way possible.

5. Encourage your baby to self-latch

Many babies can self-latch quite efficiently, which ensures that your nipple is taken deep into his mouth and hits the soft palate right at the back, where your nipple will be well protected. To encourage self-latch, recline slightly and place your baby tummy down against your body, with your baby’s head near your breasts. Your baby will work his way towards your nipple by bobbing around and latching when he finds his way to it. It can take time, and may require a little assistance from you, but it often results in an effective and pain-free latch.

6. Know your baby’s early hunger cues

Some babies get frustrated when they’re very hungry, which can make latching on more difficult, as your baby might thrash about or clamp down too hard and too early on your nipples. Instead of waiting for your baby to be overly hungry, put him on the breast before this when he may be demonstrating early hunger cues, such as rooting around for the nipple or sucking on his fists.

7. Is it something else?

Although sore nipples are often due to latch and positioning, there are times when this isn’t the case, as sore nipples can also be caused by medical conditions that need specific treatment. Conditions such as thrush or an infection can also cause nipple pain and inflammation, so be sure to be on the lookout for other symptoms and discuss these with your health professional.

8. Check for tongue-tie

Tongue-tie in your baby can make it hard for him to move and use his tongue in the right way during feeds which can cause his latch to be too shallow, forcing your nipple into the hard palate areas of his mouth and causing you pain as well as making milk transfer less effective. Have a health professional check this out; they can clip the tie to free up your baby’s tongue, which should have a positive effect on the feeding experience for both of you.

9. Seek help!

While some nipple pain is normal early on, this shouldn’t be long lasting and shouldn’t interfere with feeds too much. If it continues, get in touch with a breastfeeding counsellor, lactation consultant or child and family health professional sooner rather than later, as nipple damage will just get worse without proper attention. Remember, sore and damaged nipples are very often due to latch and positioning, and this is a problem that’s resolvable with the right support. This means that early intervention can have you back on track with your breastfeeding journey as soon as possible. If you’re concerned about nipple damage during breastfeeds, contact the Australian Breastfeeding Association on 1800 686 268.

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