Breastfeeding is a beautiful form of bonding between a parent and baby. It provides nutrients and substance for bub and special moments for mum. Everybody wins, right?!
However, some mothers find that breastfeeding feels less magical, and more awkward or uncomfortable than they first thought. It can also take a while to get the hang of.
Sore and tender nipples are, unfortunately, very common for those breastfeeding and many mums experience cracked nipples or bleeding nipples while feeding their newborn.
In fact, an estimated 38 percent of people who breastfeed experience these symptoms. And understandably, this can often prompt mum to stop breastfeeding early on.
Although breastfeeding doesn't always work out for a variety of reasons (no judgement here!), many early breastfeeding problems can often be resolved with nipple care and different feeding positions that encourage a proper latch.
Here, we'll break down what causes nipple trauma, how to treat and soothe symptoms, and when you need to call in the experts.
Causes of cracked nipples during breastfeeding
In the majority of cases, cracked or sore nipples are the result of a poor latch or positioning.
However, there are some medical problems that are the cause of sore and cracked nipples, such as mastitis, thrush infection, dermatitis, infection, or anatomical issues, like tongue-tie in the baby, which affects the baby's latch.
One study found that the most common attributed cause of nipple pain was incorrect positioning and attachment when a baby's mouth latches to the nipple. This was followed by tongue tie, infection, palatal anomaly, flat or inverted nipples, mastitis and vasospasm.
Is it normal to have cracked nipples while breastfeeding?
Sore, cracked nipples are common when for breastfeeding women, but that doesn't mean you have to endure endless suffering!
In fact, most breastfeeding pain can be treated fairly easily, so that nursing mums can continue breastfeeding without the pain and stress of dealing with sore or cracked nipples.
One study in the 1990s found that 96 per cent of breastfeeding mothers experience sore, painful nipples while feeding. This is often said to be the result of your baby latching incorrectly or misaligned positioning, which can be alleviated.
Seeing a lactation consultant can help give you a better idea of your individual circumstances.
Is it safe to breastfeed with sore and cracked nipples?
Nipple issues or not, your baby is still going to want milk, so it's important to take care of your nipples if your plan is to continue breastfeeding. Your baby with still latch onto a cracked or bleeding nipple and these symptoms won't affect milk supply, but for mum, this shouldn't feel unbearable.
When you should consider pausing breastfeeding, however, is when you have a nipple infection, like mastitis or thrush. If this is the case, you should let the nipples heal before continuing.
Read more about what's normal and what's not in our guide to breast and nipple pain.
If you can bear it and are getting proper treatment to soothe symptoms and enable healing, it’s safe for the baby to continue breastfeeding with cracked nipples. If you need to take a break, you can stop breastfeeding temporarily and try expressing your milk and then feeding your baby via a bottle.
This gives your nipples time to rest and recover, and nipple soreness should reduce. Alternatively, using nipple shields can also help protect the skin and nipple while feeding your bub.
Tips for breastfeeding with cracked nipples
Change breastfeeding positions to correct your baby's latch
The right position helps your baby's mouth latch correctly and get the breast milk flowing, and once latched, breastfeeding will likely be far less painful. You'll find a list of breastfeeding positions here in this handy guide.
Rinse your nipples after feeding and let them air dry
Once dry, apply a moisturiser or nipple cream. Do not use a hairdryer to dry nipples, as this can further dehydrate skin and lead to more cracking. It's important to air dry only.
Use a nipple cream to soothe and moisturise the area
Gently pat a small pea-sized portion of nipple balm onto each nipple to promote healing and prevent future cracking.
Kin's own Nipple Cream uses an Australian-made formula of all-natural ingredients designed to nourish and restore nipples.
With avocado oil, lanolin and shea butter, it works to build skin elasticity and prevent chafing and cracking. It's also breastfeeding safe! There's no need to wipe it off before baby latches on.
Effective ways to soothe and heal cracked nipples
Research shows that correction of positioning and attachment, use of a nipple shield, resting the nipples and expressing breast milk, and cold or warm compresses can resolve nipple pain and help to alleviate many symptoms.
If a nipple infection is present, oral antibiotics and topical treatments may be required.
Luckily, there are a handful of breastfeeding supplies out there that provide solutions to breast discomfort, pain and challenges and help treat cracked nipples.
Breastfeeding Essentials Bundle
Kin’s Breastfeeding Essentials bundle contains all-natural nipple balm and three pairs of sustainable breast pads.
There are many over-the-counter topical treatments that aim to reduce pain and soothe cracked nipples.
Lanolin-based nipple ointments, creams and gel dressings are commonly used to reduce pain and promote the healing of sore nipples. Lanolin ointment has been a long-used treatment for nipple damage or nipple problems.
Kin’s Nipple Balm is a leave-on nipple nourisher helps soothe and restore dry, itchy and cracked nipples.
Using balms like this during breastfeeding can help to build skin elasticity, combat dryness and prevent nipple cracking.
Breast pads are light-weight pads that cover the nipple and breast area in between breastfeeding sessions with baby. Breast pads soak up any leakage, which is important, because damp heat from leaks can lead to infection.
Kin’s Breast Pads are leak-proof, provide full coverage, and are invisible under-the-bra. These eco-friendly pads made from sustainable bamboo are easy on sensitive nipples and protect sore nipples from chafing.
Cold and/or warm compresses
Cold or warm compresses can help soothe pain caused from breastfeeding. Cold packs can help to reduce swelling from breast engorgement, and the warm helps blood circulation for let down.
Resting and expressing
Expressing milk by hand or a breast pump gives the nipples a rest from latching, and gives them time to heal and restore, especially when combined with a nipple balm.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association recommends expressing often for a newborn, between 8 to 10 times a day. Giving the nipples 12-24 hours to rest will help the healing process.
It's also important that the breast pump is fitted properly to express breast milk effectively while caring for any cracked nipples.
How long will it take to heal cracked nipples?
Cracked nipples can take hours, days or weeks to completely heal, depending on the irritation, inflammation and tenderness. If an infection occurs, then the healing process could be delayed until the root cause of the sensitivity is treated.
While your cracked nipples heal, you may like to try bottle feeding. Just to give you a well-earned break.
When to call in the experts
For any guidance on breastfeeding and treating cracked or bleeding nipples, your doctor is the best point of call. If you’re unsure about latching or any part of the process, your doctor or a lactation consultant can help.
They're the best go-to for trustworthy health information.
You can also find breastfeeding support groups, either online or in your local area, if you want a group to discuss your own experiences with others and gain some assistance with people who understand what you’re going through.
The Kin Mums Facebook group is the perfect place to ask for advice and share your remedies.