Breastfeeding can be messy, magical and a massive learning curve. Our first few weeks of feeding can often feel like we’re making it up as we go along.
Along with engorgement and getting to know your milk supply, one of the most common challenges you might encounter is sore and cracked nipples.
What causes sore and cracked nipples?
As the name would suggest, sore and cracked nipples occur when our nipples become damaged during feeding. It’s most common during our early weeks of breastfeeding as our body adjusts to this new skill.
From sensitivity to stinging, burning, aching or tenderness, it’s normal for our nipples to feel more delicate than usual when we begin our breastfeeding journey. In most cases, this discomfort will resolve itself within a few days or weeks.
That’s because the most common causes of sore, tender and cracked nipples include:
Poor attachment: while attachment might feel uncomfortable for the first 30 seconds of the feed, it shouldn’t persist for the entire feed.
Incorrect positioning: getting your breastfeeding position right is what will ensure your baby is latching deeply and properly draining your breast (which can prevent things like engorgement, blocked ducts and mastitis).
Infection or dermatitis: if these issues are present on your nipples, they can lead to discomfort and damage.
Anatomical problems: if your baby is experiencing tongue-tie (a condition that can restrict a baby’s tongue movement during breastfeeding), you may continue to experience cracked and sore nipples.
Incorrect use of a breast pump: if this device is placed incorrectly on the breast, it can lead to soreness, damage and cracking on the nipple.
How to support sore and cracked nipples when breastfeeding
If you find yourself navigating sore and cracked nipples, there are practical steps you can take to manage your pain and discomfort.
- Take care of your nipples by washing them after every feed (and sterilising nipple shields after every use).
Use your breastmilk as an ointment, or consider gel compresses/wipes that you can leave inside your bra to avoid your nipples drying out, prevent infection and provide some relief. We like these.
Continue breastfeeding if possible (it’s safe to feed even if your nipples bleed).
- Consider using a breast shield. If your nipples are badly damaged to ensure you have the right product and fit for your needs.
If you need a break, give your breasts a rest for 24 to 48 hours and feed your baby expressed milk instead.
- Focus on finding proper attachment and the right positions to secure a deep latch.
What to avoid when navigating sore and cracked nipples
Plus, there are a range of things to avoid if you’re navigating sensitivity and pain, including:
Any drying and damaging materials or substances on your nipples (such as alcohol-based products or rough towels).
Poorly fitted bras and nursing pads that are plastic-backed.
- Breast pumps that use a strong suction or strain your nipples.
Above all else, know that this will pass. Be gentle with your body and mind, and make sure to seek professional help if you need it.