Cracked or bleeding nipples is an unfortunate reality for many breastfeeding mothers.
As a new mum, it can take time, practice and lots of patience to get your baby latching correctly. Then, once you finally think you’ve sorted things — hello, sore nipples!
We’re here with some tried-and-tested remedies you can try to help ease that breastfeeding nipple pain.
What causes cracked or bleeding nipples?
Identifying the cause of your sore nipples can go a long way in uncovering the right treatment.
When breastfeeding for the first time, it is normal to experience some discomfort while your baby's mouth learns to suck.
A few weeks of sustained soreness or cracked nipples may be a sign that your baby is not latching properly to your breast, or isn’t positioned correctly.
It can feel a little awkward and uncomfortable to interfere with the way your baby naturally attaches itself to your breast.
However, if you are experiencing really sore nipples, you may need to make some changes.
Plus, painful nipples often equal squashed nipples that are actually restricting the flow of breast milk to bub.
Is it normal to have cracked or bleeding nipples when breastfeeding?
Yes! But there is also no need to suffer through the pain of breastfeeding in silence.
Once you have identified that your cracked or bleeding nipples may result from poor latch or attachment, it’s time to make some changes.
Try experimenting with different feeding positions and allow your baby to latch to your breast correctly.
Start by sitting or lying comfortably and position your baby’s chest against your chest with their mouth and nose facing your nipple.
Bring your baby’s head to your breast, not the breast to your baby’s head.
Then ensure the nipple, areola and some of the surrounding breast are in the baby’s mouth.
This asymmetrical latch helps ease the pressure on the nipple itself.
We know there is so much involved with breastfeeding, so if you’re struggling with latching or feeling overwhelmed, you may find it helpful to speak with a lactation consultant.
It’s also important to be aware that there may be another underlying medical condition causing your cracked or bleeding nipples, such as a breast infection like mastitis, blocked milk ducts or dermatitis on your nipples.
There’s also a possibility your nipples are being affected by incorrect breast pump use, or that your baby has an undiagnosed condition like a tongue-tie that is causing difficulties with breastfeeding.
With so many possible causes of cracked or bleeding nipples, when in doubt consult your healthcare provider or lactation consultant for an expert assessment and swift diagnosis.
What are the symptoms of cracked nipples?
Discomfort is not the only early sign of cracked nipples. Before unbearable pain hits, there are some physical signs of stress you can look out for.
Keep an eye out for nipple stripes and redness, especially a red nipple tip, as well as flaky, dry skin around the nipple.
Once cracks appear in your nipples, known as nipple fissures or tears, the pain often becomes too painful to nurse.
Symptoms can include itchy, raw, chafed, scabby and dry nipples and, at times, bloody discharge.
Nipple trauma can affect both breasts, or just one. The feeling is similar to chafing or “jogger’s nipple” experienced by runners and cyclists and is often worse in cold weather.
What is the best way to heal cracked nipples?
Healing cracked nipples is the first step to comfier and more enjoyable, pain-free breastfeeding.
Kin’s moisturising Nipple Balm can provide much-needed relief to cracked nipples.
Rubbing a small amount of your own breast milk onto cracked areas can also help soothe symptoms.
When applying creams, allow your nipples to air dry and wear breathable clothing and a cotton bra, or keep your bra off to avoid the nipples from becoming overly moist and promoting bacterial growth.
You may need to take a short break from breastfeeding and/or pumping (especially if your nipples are bleeding) to allow time for your cracked nipples to repair.
Also consider talking to your pharmacist or doctor about temporary, breastfeeding-friendly pain-relief medication while your symptoms clear up.
Once healed, there are some preventative steps you can take to limit the recurrence of cracked and bleeding nipples, such as creating a breastfeeding plan that involves applying a warm compress to the nipple prior to feeding and the use of nipple shields.
Should you stop breastfeeding until your sore nipples heal?
If symptoms linger or the pain becomes too much, consider pausing breastfeeding to allow your body to heal.
Try resting the nipple for 12 to 24 hours and express to maintain your milk supply.
Switch to a gentler hand-expressing over a strong suction breast pump during this time. If you are yet to try bottle feeding, consider using a cup to feed your baby to avoid “nipple confusion”.
Gradually re-introduce the breast when your sore or cracked nipples are feeling better.
Don’t forget, if at any stage you’re concerned that your baby isn’t getting the supply they need, seek professional medical advice.
Can you still breastfeed if your nipples are bleeding?
Deciding not to breastfeed while your nipples are healing is a personal choice (or a decision made with your medical consultant) and there is no fast rule about stopping breastfeeding while your nipples are bleeding.
Although a little blood can look scary, it is not harmful to your baby, so it is quite safe for you to keep breastfeeding.
How long does it take for bleeding nipples to heal?
With the right medical attention, your cracked or bleeding nipples should heal in 24 to 48 hours, especially if you’ve been able to identify the cause, and therefore seek the right treatment.
If symptoms linger or the pain becomes too much, please seek treatment from your doctor.
How to stop bleeding and cracked nipples from breastfeeding in the future?
Once you’ve “been there,” we’re sure you want to do everything in your power to avoid cracked or bleeding nipples ever again!
We’ve included some ways to help you avoid future issues.
1. Create a breastfeeding plan
If you suspect there’s an issue with the way your baby is latching, start working with a lactation consultant to figure out what positions need to be corrected and develop a breastfeeding plan which may include switching up breastfeeding positions.
2. Apply warm and cool compresses
Before feeding, assess which breast is “the less sore side,” or keep track of your breastfeeding sides using a hair tie on the wrist, or a tracking app.
3. Use a nipple shield
Nipple shields or breast shields are also great for preventing painful friction between bub and your nipples and help stop your baby from slipping down your breast while sucking.
Try not to remove the baby while they’re still sucking as that may cause nipple damage. You can break the suction by pressing down on the breast tissue near the baby’s mouth.
4. Avoid strong suction breast pumps
If you’ve already experienced issues with cracked or bleeding nipples, you’ll want to avoid vigorous suction pumps where necessary and instead, try expressing manually.
5. Use a (quality) nipple cream
You’ll want to avoid alcohol-based wipes or creams that promote dryness and opt for a moisturising nipple cream like Kin's Nipple Balm.
Not only does it help prevent nipple chafing, its all-natural ingredients mean that it’s safe for bub so you don’t have to worry about wiping it away before feeding.
Our Nipple Balm soothes and restores sore nipples while also building skin elasticity, combatting dryness and preventing nipple cracking — all of the things you need when breastfeeding.
When it comes to treating bleeding nipples while breastfeeding, patience and practice is super important.
With the right latch, proper attachment and the right tools to support you along your way, your breasts will be able to navigate this learning process as smoothly as possible.
Photo credit: Getty Images