What To Do About Cracked Nipples During Breastfeeding
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If you’re suffering from cracked nipples during breastfeeding and want to know how you can overcome this common hurdle, you’ll get the best tips in this post.
In This Guide
Cracked nipples during breastfeeding can make or break a woman. It’s a painful and fickle experience which can result in utter resignation of the entire process and for many women, the pain caused by this condition leads them to stop breastfeeding altogether.
If the intimate, powerful experience of breastfeeding has been compromised for you by the pain of cracked and bleeding nipples, it may be nice to know that you’re not alone!
One study showed that over 30 percent of women experienced cracked nipples within the first 30 days of giving birth (source).
If you’re suffering from cracked nipples and want to know how you can overcome this common breastfeeding hurdle, keep reading! In this post, you’ll learn what causes cracked nipples and the various effective treatments at your disposal.
What Causes Cracked Nipples During Breastfeeding?
Cracked nipples are a common postpartum problem in new mothers (source). While they are often a result of breastfeeding, nursing by itself is not a painful process with the correct technique. The most common causes for cracked nipples are:
1 Improper Latch
The most likely reason you’re suffering from cracked nipples is because of an improper latch. A poor or improper latch means your baby is not placing their mouth on your breast correctly and it can result in serious nipple pain.
An improper latch occurs most often when your baby’s latch is too shallow and does not get enough of the breast tissue in their mouth. The hard gums and the tongue creating friction on the nipple rather than massaging the areola as it should and causes the nipples to become irritated, leading to cracking and bleeding.
2 Misusing Breast Pumps
Another way to develop cracked nipples is by using a breast pump the wrong way. Breast pumps act as an artificial latch, using mechanical suction to pump your breast milk into a container.
Breast pumping may lead to cracked nipples if you use your pump incorrectly, have a poor quality pump, have the pump suction turned up too high, or use pump shields that are too small or too large.
Your baby could develop thrush which is a painful infection caused by the overgrowth of the candida fungus (source).
Because this is an infection, it can be passed onto you when your baby is breastfeeding but can also be caused by improper hygiene, certain medications, and even stress. Look out for signs of thrush including inflammation, itchiness, cracked and bleeding nipples (source).
3 Skin Conditions
If you are already prone to dry skin or suffer from eczema, this could be another cause of cracked nipples. Cracked nipples may simply be the result of changing hormones exacerbating an existing condition and this is especially true if you have a history of more serious skin problems such as eczema or psoriasis.
But cracked nipples can also be caused by irritation from certain fabrics, detergent, soap, or lotion. In that case, the nipple eczema usually heals once you find and eliminate the source of irritation.
Too much friction may also irritate the nipple area. Friction from the cloth of a loose shirt or a poorly fitting bra can rub against the sensitive nipple skin, causing chafing, cracks, and even bleeding.
Nipple fissures caused by friction may also occur in surfers and bodyboarders due to the board and seawater rubbing against the nipples while paddling.
Certain fabrics may be more irritating than others, with synthetic fibers, such as nylon, often causing more damage.
5 Allergic reaction
Nipple fissures may also be due to an allergic reaction to something touching the skin. These allergens can be chemicals or fragrances in products such as:
- Laundry detergent
- Fabric softener
- Shampoo or conditioner
- Soap or shower gel
- Lotion or moisturizer
If irritation and nipple fissures occur after applying a product, it is possible that the person’s skin is sensitive to the chemicals or fragrances in that product. Dermatologists may be able to recommend replacements to prevent the symptoms from coming back.
Symptoms Of Cracked Nipples
Although the symptoms of cracked nipples may seem obvious, new mothers experience so many different changes to their body during the postpartum period that it’s difficult to know what’s normal and what’s not.
Some common symptoms of cracked nipples are (source):
- Chafed, dry appearance
- Crustiness or scabbing
- Open cracks or sores
- Pain or discomfort
Keep In Mind
If you’re concerned about extreme pain in your nipples or they look infected, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your doctor or with a lactation consultant.
Is Pain With Breastfeeding Normal?
Most women will experience some sort of pain during breastfeeding. However, there’s a marked difference between normal and abnormal nipple pain while breastfeeding.
It’s normal for you to experience nipple pain during the first ten days of breastfeeding. This is due to your uterus shrinking back to its normal size (source).
You can also experience pain during breastfeeding if your baby’s teeth are coming through. There will be a transition period where they adjust their latch, so both you and baby are more comfortable.
While it can be normal to feel a small amount of discomfort during breastfeeding, it shouldn’t be painful. Abnormal pain includes:
- Nipple pain that lasts longer than a minute after latching
- Cracked and/or bleeding nipples
- Small, tender lumps in the breast (blocked milk duct)
- Hard, red lump in the breast accompanied by a fever (mastitis)
The blanket rule is any other time during the breastfeeding process. If you’re experiencing pain beyond the 10-day mark, or your baby isn’t teething, you may want to seek medical advice.
How To Treat Cracked Nipples
Try these ideas for preventing nipple soreness and solving the problem if it does happen:
1 Check Your Baby’s Latch
The best latch position is off-center, with more of the areola below the nipple in your baby’s mouth. One way to achieve this is to line up her nose with your nipple so her bottom gum is far away from the base of your nipple when she opens her mouth. Once her mouth is open, hug her on quickly. Your nipple should be far back in your baby’s mouth.
2 Try Different Nursing Positions
To help your baby latch correctly and to find a more comfortable nursing position for you, try experimenting with different nursing positions. You may find that certain positions make it easier for your baby to latch on correctly and are much more comfortable than others.
If you are breastfeeding sitting up, be sure your baby is tucked in close to you, tummy to tummy, and that your supporting hand or arm is placed behind her shoulders, not her head, so that she can tip her head back and bring the chin into the breast first. Your nipple should be pointed towards her nose so that as she opens wide and tips her head back, it will be in the perfect place to slide deeply into her mouth, aimed at the roof of her mouth.
3 Use Nipple Cream
Mothers with cracked nipples find great relief using nipple creams designed for breastfeeding mothers. These creams often use the ingredient lanolin, which has deep soothing and nourishing properties to heal your damaged skin (source).
4 Watch For Hunger Cues
Mothers with sore nipples often want to space feedings out as long as possible, and that’s definitely understandable! If something causes you pain, you want to do it infrequently. However, a very hungry baby isn’t going to have much patience and may try to grab at your nipple, causing more pain.
Try looking for early hunger cues. These will include your baby turning its head to the side, making sucking noises, and even pushing their tongue in and out. Feeding the baby as soon as he seems hungry will make it easier to work on getting a good latch every time.
5 Use Nipple Shields
Nipple shields are made out of silicone and sit over the nipple when you breastfeed. The baby will latch onto your breast through the shield, without contacting your breast at all.
However, they can sometimes cause more problems than they solve. Babies don’t always latch well onto the shield which leads the nipple to continue to be damaged and the different shape and feel may lead to the baby having difficulty in breastfeeding without it. If other things haven’t worked, though, it may be worth giving it a try with the help of a lactation consultant.
6 Apply Breast Milk
After feeding your baby, use your clean hands to rub some breast milk over your nipples and let it air-dry. One study showed that applying breast milk directly to the nipples helped them heal fast and without any negative side effects compared to using lanolin (source).
7 Go Without a Bra
If your nipples are sore and damaged, you may find that anything touching them makes them hurt even more. As much as possible, remove your bra and wear a soft, flowing t-shirt instead. Exposing your nipples to the free-flowing air will aid in your recovery and keep them dry and heal.
8 Seek Help
If these tips haven’t helped you resolve the problem, seek out a breastfeeding expert who can look at your particular situation and give you some suggestions.
Breastfeeding shouldn’t be painful, and a mother with sore nipples will often have more than one problem. What’s starting out as a poor latch can develop into a bacterial infection, and have Raynaud’s syndrome as well, triggered by the trauma to the nipple.
When To Visit A Doctor
As important as it is to know how to prevent your cracked nipples from worsening, it’s also important to understand why you’re experiencing all of this in the first place. A lactation consultant can give you practical latch tips to correct positioning of your baby and moral support. They can also provide you with feeding strategies that are tailor-made for your unique experience.
If your symptoms persist over a period of weeks or if you start to experience any of the following symptoms, you should contact your doctor:
- Spreading rash
- Nausea and vomiting
- Any abnormally colored discharge from the broken skin
If you feel something is wrong, trust your intuition and pay a visit to your doctor for some peace of mind.
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There’s nothing worse than experiencing pain with breastfeeding and cracked nipples can take a huge toll when experiencing motherhood for the first time.
The more you know about what’s causing your problems, the better equipped you will be to treat them correctly and be able to prevent them from getting worse.