Breastfeeding can be magical, tiring, frustrating and serene – sometimes all at once – but when it's painful too, that's a problem. Sore or irritated nipples will only get worse as your baby continues to nurse. Ending your discomfort is a two-part process. Nail down the cause of your pain, because once you fix the problem, your nipples should stop hurting. In the meantime, soothe your nipples to make breastfeeding as pleasant as it can be.
Pain's Not Normal
"Honestly, while common, nipple irritation is not normal. There shouldn't be nipple irritation after a feeding," says Paula Santi, a lactation consultant based in Walnut Creek, California. "Breastfeeding should not hurt," agrees fellow lactation consultant Cass Romero-Schroeder, a fellow Californian based in Riverside. "It can be a little uncomfortable but it should never hurt."
While that's true in an ideal situation, KidsHealth allows for the possibility that you could feel pain during the first 30 to 60 seconds of a feeding without that signaling a larger problem – but that discomfort should quickly go away.
Fixing your latch is the quickest way to get to the root of your discomfort. Nipple pain is often a sign that the baby is holding your nipple too shallowly in his mouth, Santi says. Make adjustments to your positioning; if the pain and irritation disappears, you'll have your answer.
In a good latch position, says Romero-Schroeder, the baby's ear, shoulder and hip should all be in a straight line, and mom and baby should be tummy to tummy. Aim to get your baby to take in as much of the bottom of the areola as he can. Tickle his nose with your nipple to get him to open up and latch on. If his mouth doesn't form a tight seal around your breast, or if he's only sucking on the nipple and not the areola, slide your finger into his mouth to gently break the latch, then try again.
Culprit Two: Physical Issues
If you're still routinely experiencing pain or irritation after adjusting your positioning and your baby's latch, consult an expert. Romero-Schroeder advises ruling out mouth issues in your baby, such as upper lip ties, tongue ties or thrush – your pediatrician or a lactation consultant can help you with that.
An infection or breast inflammation, called mastitis, can also make breastfeeding painful. Consult your doctor if your breasts feel unusually tender, swollen or red, or if you notice any other sudden changes in their appearance. Clogged ducts can also cause pain. Warm showers, warm compresses and using a breast pump may help break up the clog.
When mom and baby are both ruled healthy but nursing still hurts, a lactation consultant can help troubleshoot. Look for one who is certified by the IBCLC.
A little pampering will soothe painful, cracked nipples. Both Santi and Romero-Schroeder recommend applying coconut oil to the nipples after every feeding or pumping session. Lanolin can also soothe sore nipples. Santi also recommends twice-daily Epsom salt soaks. Dissolve a spoonful of Epsom salt in warm water, using shot glasses or medicine cups as containers. Lean forward against the cups to create a seal around the nipple. Lean back and hold each nipple in the water for a minute or so. Rinse with warm water and pat your skin dry before applying coconut oil or lanolin.
While your nipples heal, wear breast shells. These small cups fit inside your bra and protect your nipples from pressure or friction from your clothing.