You've made your way through nine months of pregnancy and finally, you're a new parent. Congratulations!
Movies and TV shows would have you believe that the pain associated with having a baby ends with the delivery of your precious bub into your loving arms.
Unfortunately, that's not the case for most breastfeeding parents, and when talking about women's health, it's important that we cover it all, from pregnancy to postpartum.
If you're experiencing sore nipples, cracked nipples or pain when breastfeeding, you're definitely not alone. In fact, one study from 2005-2007 found that 75.4% of women experience pain after their baby begins breastfeeding.
Although breastfeeding isn't for everyone for a variety of reasons (and naturally, we respect every mum's choice!), the World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding exclusively for six months after giving birth, then continued breastfeeding combined with solid foods for 1 year and beyond, if both mum and baby wish.
That's a long time to be dealing with sore or cracked nipples, and no one needs that.
In this article, we'll break down what's normal, what's not, and offer tips on how to soothe sore nipples.
Is it normal to experience nipple pain when breastfeeding?
The short answer is yes, it's pretty common to experience nipple soreness while breastfeeding.
While nipple pain and having trouble breastfeeding aren't as widely represented in conversations about pregnancy and postpartum as, say, labour pain, breast pain is very real, and very common.
One 2010 study found that 96% of new mothers begin breastfeeding their babies after birth, and a different study found that 75.4% of women have experienced breastfeeding pain, especially in the first few weeks after birth.
Of course, sore nipples can be caused by a number of different issues, and that will mean different kinds of pain. This can result in cracked skin, bruising, breast fullness, nipple sensitivity, even shooting pains.
Luckily, with the right care, most of these problems can be resolved.
What causes nipple pain during breastfeeding?
Most problems with breastfeeding arise in the first few weeks, while both mother and child are doing their best to figure everything out. And that's a whole process in itself!
In order to continue breastfeeding without pain, it's important to first identify what's causing the pain. These are the most common causes of nipple soreness while breastfeeding.
If you're dealing with nipple soreness, bleeding nipples, cracking or bruising, you may be experiencing issues with the way the baby's mouth latches to the breast. Usually, latch issues are caused by incorrect positioning or attachment of the baby's mouth, or incorrect use of a breast pump.
However, a short or restricted frenulum, aka tongue tie, can prevent your baby's tongue from achieving the proper latch and will cause the baby to break the suction frequently.
Tongue tie affects up to 11% of newborn babies. If you suspect that tongue tie is affecting your baby's latch, consult your lactation consultant or doctor.
Flat or squashed nipples
Incorrect and uncomfortable nursing positions can lead to squashing the nipple as they feed, resulting in flat nipples. This can be damaging and restrict milk flow, which can lead to clogged milk ducts and mastitis.
Clogged milk ducts
If you have a painful lump in your breast, you may be experiencing a clogged milk duct, which is a build-up of breast milk that hasn't been able to empty from the breast properly.
Tell-tale signs of a clogged milk duct include: a lump specific to one area of the breast, a white mark, milk blister or plug on your nipple, thickened milk, and sore breasts while breastfeeding or using a breast pump.
A blocked nipple pore can be caused by missed feedings, tight bras, restrictive clothing, and latch issues. When your baby prefers one breast more than the other, the less frequently used breast may also become blocked.
Affecting about 10-20% of new mothers usually within the first 6-12 weeks, mastitis is usually caused by a breast infection of the milk ducts. If you suspect that you might have mastitis, it's time to seek medical advice, as you might need antibiotics.
The common signs of mastitis include swelling, redness, pain, itching, underarm pain, fever, flu-like symptoms, and/or a small cut or wound in the nipple or on the breast tissue.
In the first few days after giving birth, your body will rapidly increase its milk supply. As engorged breasts can come on quite suddenly, your breasts may feel swollen, heavy and hard, which can cause pain.
This pain is likely to feel like tenderness and increased sensitivity, which can reach beyond the breast and into the chest and armpits. After the initial increase, engorgement might rear its ugly head if you miss a feed, or if you're dealing with oversupply.
If your nipples are flaky, shiny, or red, you may be dealing with thrush, a yeast infection. Another sign that points to thrush is deep breast pain, rather than just sore nipples.
If you think you may have a breast infection, it's important to speak to your doctor or lactation consultant, as you may need an oral or topical medication to treat it.
It's worth taking quick action too, because if the mother's breasts have thrush, then it's likely your baby will have it too. For your bub, thrush can be spotted via little white marks on the tongue, insides of the cheeks, or red and/or cracked lips.
Is it safe to breastfeed with sore nipples?
Yes, in fact, it's recommended in most cases. With the proper care, you should be able to treat sore nipples, but any cracking, bleeding or bruising won't be harmful to either you or the baby.
If you've tried at-home treatments with no signs of improvement, or have signs of infection, contact your doctor or lactation consultant.
Treating and preventing sorenipples during breastfeeding
Although sore nipples can be a pain — literally — the good news is that there are plenty of ways to relieve and prevent nipple pain, soreness, cracks and bleeding nipples.
Look after the skin around your breasts and nipples
A good way to prevent sore nipples is to look after the skin around your breasts and nipples, even before the baby arrives.
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.
When your nipples are damaged, gel pads can be an absolute lifesaver. Cooling silicone on one side, fabric on the other to prevent friction against your clothing, apply the gel pad to the nipple in between feeds to promote healing.
If you have flat or inverted nipples, or your nipples are very damaged, a nipple shield might be for you.
They can decrease the amount of milk transferred between mum's nipples and the baby, and could lead to a milk blister or mastitis, so it's best to speak to a lactation consultant about whether a nipple shield is right for you.
Wear breast pads in between feeds
When your nipples are extra sensitive and chafed, it's a good idea to wear breast shields in between feeds. Breast pads are also great for preventing nursing breasts from leaking through your shirt, which is always good!
Nursing pads will absorb any leakage quickly, which reduces the chance of developing thrush, but make sure to swap them out and keep your nipples and breasts dry.
Kin's sustainable Breast ads are made from super soft bamboo which wicks moisture, is thermo-regulated, breathable, naturally hypoallergenic and antibacterial to reduce the risk of infections such as mastitis.
The triple-later design absorbs your milk and protects from leaking through your clothes, ensuring you feel confident no matter where you go. They’re so comfy and seamless that you’ll forget you’re wearing them but will be glad they’re there.
You’ll also have less laundry to do for leaked-on clothes, yay!
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